Cats often have negative associations with their carrier, especially if it means a trip to the vet. This may make it difficult to get them to enter the carrier, therefore making it harder and more stressful for the owner to bring the cat to the vet. What causes these negative associations? Here we look at what to consider when choosing a carrier and how best to train your cat.
What to look for when choosing a cat carrier
Slats on the side – a carrier with slats on the side will allow the cat to feel more secure compared to a carrier which has slats all over it. The slats allow for air to circulate and treats to be given to the cat and a blanket can be used to cover the whole carrier when you transport the cat
Roof opening – a carrier that opens fully at both the top and the front allows the cat to enter and exit the carrier in two different ways. This is especially helpful with cats that are not yet comfortable with using the front door. A roof opening also allows a vet to examine the cat without taking them out of the carrier which can be good for nervous cats
Material and size – carriers made of strong plastic are ideal as they are easy to clean, and prevent escapes. The carrier should be big enough for the cat to lie down, stand up and turn around in
Familiar bedding – cats are very territorial and rely on scent to feel comfortable and secure in their environment. Placing familiar, comfortable bedding in the carrier will help the cat to feel more at ease when travelling in the carrier. A synthetic facial pheromone, such as Feliway, can also be sprayed on the bedding 15 minutes before the cat enters the carrier.
Questions to ask if you cat is experiencing problems using the carrier:
- Is the carrier too small? Without enough space to move or having a lack of control over their environment may make a cat feel uncomfortable
- Is being handled in the carrier uncomfortable? A cat may associate rough handling with the carrier itself
- Does the cat have negative associations with the carrier due to previous illness? For example, the cat may have been in pain when they were put in the carrier, and therefore associate the carrier with this feeling
- Does the carrier smell different to their usual territory? For example, if it is kept in a shed, a different smell may make the cat feel anxious
How to improve your cat’s emotional response towards the carrier
- Ask yourself why the cat may have negative associations with the carrier. If the cat has been forced into the carrier, or had a negative experience with a carrier, it’s usually best to source a new carrier to re-start the training process.
- Have other cats used the carrier? If cats share a carrier, albeit at different times, and they do not have a good relationship, this may cause issues with entering the carrier. Cats leave chemical messages (pheromones) for other cats, so they may pick up negative signals if another cat has used the carrier. In this case, wash the carrier with a warm solution of biological washing powder (approximately 10% washing powder) to remove any pheromones
- When starting to train your cat to use a carrier, ensure the process is not rushed. If possible, start before any vet visits are needed. The top of the carrier can be removed or opened, and the carrier can be placed in an area of the house that the cat feels comfortable in. Synthetic facial pheromones (for example, Feliway) can be sprayed on a favourite blanket inside the carrier. Try placing a treat(s) and/or catnip in the carrier and leave it there for the cat to investigate freely
- If the cat does not choose to go near the carrier, try moving their favourite bedding a little closer and give them a treat when they go near or on the blanket. In this way your cat will learn to relax near the carrier. Slowly place the blanket closer to the carrier over time until the cat is comfortable sitting on the blanket in the open carrier. This helps to form positive associations with the carrier
- This same technique can be used when it’s time to add the roof, and eventually the door, to the carrier. The roof should be placed on the carrier when the cat is not in the carrier. If the cat is not comfortable with entering the carrier yet, a ‘lure’ can be used to encourage them. Do not use a lure if they are very anxious. A lure could be a treat or toy placed inside the carrier. Once inside, a treat should be given to mark the correct behaviour. Build this training up over time with the cat spending increasing amounts of time in the carrier, before repeating the process with a door attached
When should you contact your vet?
- If you have any concerns or questions about your cat