Getting an unwilling cat into a cat carrier can be a hard task. Almost every cat owner will confirm this. But what about your cat going in to their carrier of their own free will? Many of you are probably shaking your head no and say that it’s not possible.
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How do you make your cat more comfortable in their carrier?
Here’s a little surprise for you. It is possible to train an unwilling cat to go inside a pet carrier. Of their own free will too.
We aren’t gonna lie to you, this can be hard. Very hard but possible. In some cases, when a kitten has no previous experience with their carrier, it’s as easy as saying: “One, two three”. However, if you are encountered by a feral cat who lived in a good distance from humans, or even has been abused in their early life, you should really consider if you really want to get them in there.
Like all things involving our four legged fur babies, nothing is black or white. Most commonly problems arise when a household cat visits their veterinary in their carrier. This can be because every time their owner struggles in getting them in there, it is less than a pleasant experience for both them and their cat. This is when the cat associates their carrier to something bad.
And here’s how to change it.
7 Steps: How to get an unwilling cat into a carrier
1. Keep the carrier accessible all the time
First, your cat must form new associations to the carrier. If you want to get your cat into it voluntarily, it’s necessary that they see that it really isn’t a torture device. You want your cat to see their carrier as an everyday item instead. The best way to do it would be removing the door off the carrier and placing a soft blanket inside. Make it an inviting place to hide, sleep in peace, and not something to fear.
Next, place the carrier somewhere in the room your cat spends most of their time. Most importantly, don’t make a fuss out of it. If your cat changes their habits and spends time in that particular room less and less, the carrier may be too close. Move it to a more distant corner or maybe to the another room that is occasionally visited by your cat.
2. Let the carrier just sit there
Now, just leave it there and do not force your cat’s attention to it. Depending on your cat’s aversion level, it may be necessary for days, weeks or even months. Play with your cat in the same room as if the carrier wasn’t there. When and only when your cat is able to ignore or shows a positive curiosity about their carrier, move forward.
3. Leave a line of cat treats near the carrier
Next, place a few treats on the floor somewhere on the floor between your cat and their carrier. Don’t make a big deal about it and go away yourself. Your cat knows you are the one who puts them into the carrier. Thus, if you aren’t around, they may feel more secure about being around it.
Now if your cat eats the treats, gradually move forward. If they didn’t touch them or avoids the treats closest to the carrier, you should increase the distance of the treats to the carrier. Adjust it each time you give them depending on your individual cat. Another point to remember is that when you place the treats will make a difference. For example, right after a meal, a cat treat will not be as interesting. Gradually, move the treats closer and closer to the entrance of the cat carrier. You may also create a pathway of treats that leads to the carrier. Eventually you want to have treats on the entrance and all the way inside of the carrier. Creating a positive association with the carrier is key.
What we want to achieve is that when you place a treat inside the back of the carrier, your cat goes into it, eats the treat and leaves. Most likely you will have to repeat this over and over. Patience and consistency is the key to closing the distance between the carrier and the treats. Depending on your cat, this may take days, weeks, or even months to get your cat comfortable to go into their cat carrier.
4. Put the carrier door back on
Now that your cat is comfortable going inside the carrier with you being in the same room, you may put the door back on. Initially keep the door open and repeat step three until your cat is comfortable with the carrier door being on. When you see that your cat is comfortable with being inside their carrier, try to close the door for a very short time. Five seconds would be enough in the beginning. This may or may not increase the stress level of your cat. You will either have to keep practicing with them going in and out without closing the door. Your goal is to gradually increase the amount of time that the door is closed with them in the carrier. We’ve found that our patients that have the best success, make sure the door is quiet by oiling it, and try to close the door while their cat is eating a treat in the back of their carrier with their head facing the back of the carrier.
When your cat comes out of the carrier, pet, praise, and play with them. You want them to feel good about being in their carrier.
5. Pick the carrier up and gradually move it around
Now we are ready to move to the potentially dreadful part. You want to pick the carrier up. If you got this far in a positive manner, your cat may not be that afraid. However, carefully watch their attitude and stress level. The reason is that you want your cat to get used to being carried while in the carrier.
The movement can be scary, but your calm voice of reassurance should help. First, just lift the carrier off the ground and put it back down gentle. Immediately toss a treat into the carrier to reward your cat for being so good. Slowly increase the height that you lift the carrier off the ground. Eventually, you want to try to lift and carry the carrier a short distance. Carry the carrier round the same room, put it back in a same spot it was and open the door. After every lift, make sure to lavish your cat with a treat, praise, play, or pet them for their desired behavior.
Gradually increase the time you spend carrying your cat while they are in their carrier. You can go in the next room then back. You can carry your cat through several rooms for some time, and then let them out in a different room. After your cat has gotten comfortable with this, you can even go outdoors, walk around the house, and eventually you want to put the carrier in your car. The goal is getting your cat comfortable with being in their carrier and in your car. Definitely the first time you try it, place the carrier in your car but don’t close the door or start it.
Remember it’s all about gradual progress. Later you can close the door and get into it. Try to start your car’s engine without going anywhere. Then you can try moving back and forth in your driveway or driving around the block. Throughout this, carefully monitor your cat’s behavior and stress level. This is what tells you how quickly they are adapting and when you can go to the next step.
6. Visit somewhere
Are you ready for a veterinary visit? Our patients have found that visiting a pleasant place first, not the veterinarian office. While the most comfortable place is your home, visiting your grandma or your friends should seem nicer than visiting the vet. Once your cat is ready, talk to your veterinarian about your cat’s progress. You want to try visiting the clinic without doing anything to your cat. Our nervous cat got very agitated when she realized we had driven them to our veterinarian practice. She got quite upset as she knows that when we take her in there, she gets shots. Well, it only happened the first time as a kitten but it shows that cats will remember things.
Try taking your cat in their carrier and place it in the lobby of your veterinarian. Then try to bring them into an exam room. Each time, lavish praise, treats, and play with your cat to make it a positive experience.
7. Keep training your cat to be in their carrier
Because most cats visit their veterinarian clinic only once a year, many a cat only sees their pet carrier at that time. The problem with this is that your cat may forget they were able to tolerate their carrier. You have to keep the carrier around them. Consistency is key. Keep walking them around while they are in it or driving somewhere every now and then. Don’t overdo it though. Just because your cat is able to tolerate rides in carriers, does not necessarily mean they have to be taken whenever you go with them. Remember when we say: “There’s no place like home”, it’s just a saying. When cats “say” it, they really mean it.
At this point you have probably realized that this training process takes a lot of time and patience. In some cases, it may last for months and even beyond a year. But what if you need to visit your veterinarian or some other place right now? Please see our related articles below. First see our photo article with a step by step process where we show you how to get a cat into a carrier when he’s not at all willing to do so. If you do it right, it won’t be painful or too stressful for you or your cat.
However, if you are in the middle of the process described here, be ready to drop back in it. In many cases, you may have to start again with a cat that is even afraid to look at the carrier, not even talking about going into it on his free will. Good news is – the overall progression will be way quicker this time, because your cat still remembers what good can he get out of it.
If you are in the middle of the behavior progression described here, be ready to revert back to the previous step. In many cases, you may have to go back to a previous step if your cat’s stress level jumps. Remember patience and consistency will make pet care easier when they are comfortable to be transported in their cat carrier. You’ll be happier when faced with taking your cat somewhere and most importantly, your pet will be happy too. And a happy pet is what we are all about.