As most cat owners will know, going into carriers is not something that brings cats much joy. But, it’s important to be able to easily get your cat into a carrier if they need to be transported to the vet, a new house, or if there’s an emergency.
Which carrier should I use?
You’ll want to make sure you have a proper cat carrier - one that your cat can sit down, stand up, and turn around in. You’ll also want to make sure the carrier is lightweight so that you can easily pick up and transport the carrier when your cat’s inside.
A carrier that has both a front and a top door that can be secured may be best, as this allows your cat to walk into the carrier and lets your vet to easily lift your cat out of the carrier during their visit.
If you have multiple cats, make sure you have one carrier per cat. Even if your cats get along normally, this doesn’t mean that they will when put into a confined space in a potentially stressful situation.
Where should I place the carrier?
You’ll want to set up your cat’s carrier in a neutral place in your home, so not somewhere that has great significance to your cat i.e., near their food, litter trays, or near their favourite hiding space.
Cats learn by association, so if a cat does something and the outcome of the action makes them feel good, they’re more likely to repeat the action. If you think back, most of the associations your cat has formed with their carrier could be negative. Carrier training your cat can change this and make going into their carrier a positive experience.
The end goal of carrier training is to reach the stage where your cat will voluntarily enter the carrier.
All cats are different, so this process could take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. As is the case with all training, patience is key. Just think how great it will be when you don’t have to wrestle your cat into their carrier!
Always use positive reinforcement when training your cat to go into their carrier. This means rewarding your cat for performing a desired behaviour, so in this case rewarding them (with a treat for example) for going in their carrier. Make sure to reward your cat immediately after they perform the behaviour.
Remember, it’s a gradual process – don’t rush or force your cat into doing anything they’re not ready to do.
Whether it’s training your cat to go into their carrier or to do something else, never ‘punish’ your cat. Cats won’t associate your punishment with what they’ve done ‘wrong’, instead this can negatively impact how your cat feels about you, or how they feel about the space you ‘punished’ them in.
Carrier training top tips
Take a gradual approach with training, for instance, start by giving your cat a treat for walking near the carrier, sniffing it, or simply looking in its direction.
Lay a blanket at the base of the carrier that smells like your cat.
You can also spray a pheromone spray, such as Feliway into the carrier. Make sure to spray it 15 minutes before your cat enters the carrier to ensure that it works properly.
Next, start luring your cat towards the carrier using treats, then place some treats inside of the carrier to encourage them to enter.
Repeat this process daily until your cat walks into their carrier without hesitation. This can be when a treat is placed into the carrier, or without. But keep in mind when it finally comes time to transport your cat you will most likely use a treat to get them into the carrier, then shut the door behind them.
When transporting your cat, place a towel or a blanket over their carrier to make them feel more secure.
Pro tip: Use your cats favourite treats for carrier training, so that way your cat looks forward to the treats and is more likely to enter the carrier. You could even try only giving them their favourite treats when carrier training. Of course, once they’ve been carrier trained you can give them to your cat whenever you’d like!
If you have the space for it, you can keep your cat’s carrier out permanently in your home, so they become desensitised to it. If you’d rather put it away and then take it back out when it’s needed, make sure you bring the carrier out at least a few days in advance of a vet appointment, or planned travel. Then repeat the process – put in some blankets that smell like your cat, place treats inside the carrier so they get comfortable going in it again (they should remember from when you trained them and enter the carrier with ease).
We hope these tips have helped make getting your cat into a carrier a less stressful experience for both you and your feline friend!