< Updated 20JAN19 >
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Using a carrier is the safest way to transport an animal from your home to another location. I would particularly discourage anyone from transporting a cat that is not secured in a carrier. No matter how well behaved your cat is, if you are in an accident your cat will be terrified and will do everything they can to get away.
Unfortunately, most cats only see their carrier moments before they are forced into them to be taken on a car ride, usually to the veterinarian, groomer or boarding kennel. Often the end result is a cat that runs and hides the minute they are aware of the presence of the carrier. Finding and extracting a cat from a hiding place without getting scratched or bitten can be a prolonged and stressful process; one that is terrifying for your cat and frustrating for you. Wouldn’t your cat be happier and your life significantly easier if your cat enjoyed their carrier and perhaps even walked right in? Getting there is not as complicated as you might think.
So how do you get your cat to like their carrier?
- Make sure you have a carrier that is safe– If you do not already have a carrier; an airline style carrier is the preferred choice. They are usually made of plastic and have a wire door at the front and sometimes a second wire door on the top. Don’t scrimp when you make this purchase. You want a carrier with doors that can be secured and stay secured. Card board boxes labeled as cat carriers can work, but they are not nearly as safe and we have known many cats to escape from these. Soft-sided carriers are easier to store and are lighter, but in the case of an accident offer your cat little protection
- Make sure that your cat finds the carrier to be comfortable – By itself, a plastic carrier is not going to be the most comfortable place; however, you can make it quite posh by inserting a blanket or a pillow that your cat already enjoys.
- Leave the carrier out so that your cat can explore it – If your cat is like most cats, they love boxes, bags and other things that they can explore and hide in. Take the door off your carrier and place the carrier in an area that your cat frequents. Do not try to coax the cat into the carrier, let them explore it if and when they are ready. To make the carrier even more rewarding, put a small dish with a tablespoon of your cat’s favorite canned food or some favorite treats at the back of the carrier. Now getting in the crate will be very rewarding. If your cat has favorite toys that they will chase and catch, toss a toy in the carrier and let them go get it and play with it. If your cat is hesitant about the carrier talk to your veterinarian or favorite pet care provider about Feliway®, a feline pheromone which has a calming effect on cats.
- Keep the carrier out and keep rewarding your cat for using it – Leave the carrier out as an alternative resting place for your cat and continue to reward them for its use by occasionally; feeding them in the carrier, tossing treats in the carrier, and tossing toys in the carrier,
- Put the door back on the carrier and practice carrying your cat – Put the door back on the carrier and continue to reward your cat for going in and exploring. After they are used to the door being back on, toss a treat into the carrier and after the cat goes in gently and quietly close the door, wait a few seconds, open the door and wait for your cat to come out. Repeat this a couple of times per day until your cat is used to hopping in and out of the carrier. When this becomes routine, close the door, pick the carrier up, hold it for a brief period and set it back down. Practice this for several days and then start carrying the cat around in the carrier. Eventually get to the point where you can get the cat in the carrier, carry them out to the car, and then immediately bring them back inside and let them out.
- Use the carrier to transport your cat to the vet or kennel – Many cats do not travel well and may get car sick. Make sure your cat’s favorite blanket or towels is in the carrier and if you have some Feliway, spray it on the blanket a good thirty minutes before getting the cat in the carrier. Secure the carrier in your car so it is not thrown in case you need to stop fast, and cover the carrier with another blanket to limit visual stimulus. When you bring your cat back home leave the carrier out and continue to reward them for its use.
With this little extra time and attention your cat can soon be an expert traveler. The time spent today helping your feline friend adjust to liking its carrier will pay off immensely in the future when it comes to getting your cat where it needs to go.
This great infographic from our friends at MightyDogGraphics can serve as a reminder as to how to get your cat prepared to travel. You can download the graphic as a PDF file by clicking on it.
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