How to Get Your Cat Used to the Carrier

cat-in-carrier

A cat carrier is an important part of your cat’s life. For most cats, the only time they’re in a carrier is when they have to go to the veterinarian, so the association with carriers is often a negative and stressful one. But carriers can be vital in an emergency, and it’s a good idea to get your cats used to the carrier so that they can associate it with a positive experience.

Pick the right carrier

Carriers come in all shapes and sizes, from hard-sided crates to soft-sided carrying cases,and it comes down to your preference and your cat’s as to which one you choose. Make sure that the carrier is large enough for your cat to be able to stand and turn around in it comfortably. If you plan to travel with your cat, a larger carrier that can accommodate a small litter box may be a good choice.

Keep the carrier accessible at all times

Make the carrier part of your cat’s every day environment. Leave it on the floor and open so your cat can explore on his own and doesn’t view the carrier as something that only comes out when it’s time to go to the vet’s. By being able to walk in and out of the carrier, your cat will stop viewing it as something threatening.

Make the carrier interesting

Place a cat bed or soft blanket inside the carrier. If your cat responds to catnip, periodically sprinkle catnip inside the carrier. Leave treats or favorite toys inside the carrier. Some experts recommend feeding your cat inside the carrier.

Teach your cat the “in” command

Once your cat is comfortable with his carrier, you can use treats to train him to go in. Call him to the carrier, place a treat inside, and say “in.” When he goes in to retrieve the treat, praise him profusely. When he comes out, toss another treat into the carrier and repeat. Over time, you should be able to say “in” first, and your cat will go into the carrier on his own. Reward him with a treat while he’s still in the carrier.

Practice closing the door

Once your cat seems comfortable with the carrier, practice closing the door. Leave the room for a few minutes. If your cat is calm when you return, open the door and give him a treat while he’s still inside the carrier.  If he seems agitated or upset, don’t give him a treat (you don’t want to reward the undesired behavior), and try again later, with a shorter period of time.

Practice picking up the carrier

Once your cat is comfortable being inside the carrier with the door closed, pick up the carrier and carry it around the house. Give a treat once you set the carrier down and open the door.

Take your cat for a practice ride

Take your cat for short practice rides in the carrier. Even a short drive around the block will be sufficient. Reward your cat with treats when you return. The idea is to get your cat to associate being in the carrier and in your car with something other than a trip to the vet’s.

With the right carrier, and a patient, slow approach to getting your cat used to the carrier, you’ll avoid a lot of stress when it comes time for a vet visit, and you’ll be prepared for any emergencies.

How did you get your cat used to the carrier? Please share your tips!

Photo by frankleleon, Flickr Creative Commons

Stress Stopper banner for posts

18 Comments on How to Get Your Cat Used to the Carrier

  1. Janine
    September 28, 2016 at 8:29 am (9 months ago)

    I try to keep my cats’ carriers as interesting as possle with toys and soft beds. but I still struggle them inside. the only one I don’t have a problem with is the SleepyPod. They all want in that one. But I only have one and I have three cats. They each get their turn going to the vet in it, but when it’s tornado season and we take cover in our bathroom waiting for one to pass, two cats have to go in regular hard sided carriers and they aren’t happy. I haven’t thought of putting catnip inside. I may have to try that.

    Reply
  2. Judy Gilmore
    July 10, 2015 at 2:27 pm (2 years ago)

    My 5 1/2 year old little boy hates going to the vet or being boarded which is a must sometimes. He is very vocal about his dislike but doesn’t seem to strike out or otherwise become physical…he just hates the place. So now my house is for sale and having open houses, we need to vacate any and all living animals for a couple of hours. No problem with the dog and now my little boy has become accustomed to these pretty frequent rides in the car that don’t include a visit to the vet. He obviously doesn’t know until he get to the vet if that is the intended destination which he still vocalizes loudly about when he figures it out. He doesn’t protest going into his carrier anymore at all and I do leave it out for him to see and sniff if he wants to. Makes it easier for both of us! I believe after we move I will still take him for rides sometimes but of course, never leave him in the car unattended!

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      July 11, 2015 at 6:08 am (2 years ago)

      That’s great that your little boy got used to being in the carrier and the car, Judy. It sure will make the actual move less stressful for everyone.

      Reply
  3. Michelle
    July 8, 2015 at 6:14 pm (2 years ago)

    This cat is too smart…I tried leaving it out and putting treats inside of it. She will reach in with her paw, scoop it out, pick it up in her mouth and run away, barely even stepping a foot in there. Sometimes, I think that the treats aren’t a potent enough reinforcer because she will ignore the treats altogether. She isn’t really motivated by food. I have a feeling this will be a long-term project.

    Reply
  4. Tom
    September 7, 2013 at 7:45 am (4 years ago)

    We brought our cat home from the shelter in a hard-sided carrier. Obviously it was a stressful event for the cat (I had no idea cats could drool!) Whenever she sees that carrier, she runs away. What we did was to buy another carrier — one of those soft-sided travel ones. It’s smaller, and has mesh sides so that she can see outside. We left it out in the living room, with the door open, and put a towel inside. The cat would occasionally go inside, and sometimes she’d just sit at the edge.

    When it was time to go to the vet, we sprinkled a little catnip inside. Once she went it, we zippered it closed. She was too busy with the catnip to notice. The trip to the vet was fine. Afterwards, we returned the carrier to its spot in the living room, with the door open, and the cat continues to hang out in or around it. So, I think we’ll be OK. It’s just the hard carrier that has a bad association for her.

    Reply
  5. Tom Randall
    June 26, 2013 at 12:09 pm (4 years ago)

    Hi Ingrid, little Saul is so smart, he is learning the in command already. He is doing well with it even when it is not feeding time. I do have to put him in the crate sometimes when I am trying to fix food for us out in the kitchen, like I’ve said before he is the most food driven cat I’ve ever seen in my whole life. He also was starving when we took him in. If he decides he’s interested in something I’m fixing which is just about all the time he will be up on the counter with his head in whatever I am fixing and I cannot get anything done so at that point I do resort to the carrier.I of course never yell at him or anything when I put him in there and I always praise him when I let him out and often give him a Stella and Chewy chicken treat when I let him out. I say often because I don’t give him a treat every time because I don’t want him getting too many of them but I want to keep the carrier a positive experience for him. So that’s the latest news on the crate situation.

    Tom Mary Beth and the furries.

    Reply
  6. Ronnie
    June 18, 2013 at 9:41 am (4 years ago)

    My kitty of 23 yrs., now over the Bridge, was a “jet-setter” & hopped right into any carrier. My “new” rescue kitty does not like a carrier. I researched for a new carrier especially for her. She is large & can be feisty. I found a roomy, many “windowed,” well-ventilated, hard-sided carrier where I can scoop her up & put her in from the *windowed, acrylic TOP. Going in from the top stops the struggle to get in from the front & close the gate. The negative side is it is large & bulky, but collapsible to store. It is sturdy & safe! I recently had a high-impact car accident. My kitty was in this carrier in the passenger seat. She was jolted around, shaken-up, but not injured. A SEAT BELT is definitely needed to secure a cat car carrier. You-never-know. My cat carrier is $$$, but various prices at Amazon/Petco/Walmart, etc.: http://www.amazon.com/Nylabone-Cozytime-Pet-Home-Carrier/dp/B001CSA86K

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      June 18, 2013 at 9:48 am (4 years ago)

      That looks like a great carrier, Ronnie!

      Reply
  7. pam n
    June 17, 2013 at 4:31 pm (4 years ago)

    All my cats eat in their carriers in the kitchen. Each cat knows which crate is his or hers & the order of feeding, so when it is his or her turn, that’s the kitty goes. In the winter sometimes, they sleep in their carriers as I usually have a nice warm pad in the crate of those who never eat too fast & therefore throw up!

    So all my cats are used to the crates & going in & out of them. Plus during mealtimes it keeps order & prevents any cat from stealing food from any other & ensures that each cat gets his or her full portion.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      June 17, 2013 at 4:46 pm (4 years ago)

      Sounds like things are well-organized at your house, Pam! I’m curious: do you close the gates to the carriers while they’re eating?

      Reply
  8. Sue Brandes
    June 17, 2013 at 1:19 pm (4 years ago)

    Thank you for the great information. I would to do anything to make it less stressful for a vet visit since we are having to go so many times now.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      June 17, 2013 at 4:45 pm (4 years ago)

      You’re right, Sue, it’s especially important to try and make cats comfortable about being in their carriers as they get older, since vet visits do tend to be more frequent then.

      Reply
  9. Tom Randall
    June 17, 2013 at 10:53 am (4 years ago)

    Yet more wonderful information. We have a couple carriers here, a couple hard sided ones and a smaller soft sided one. We will have to find a convenient spot to leave the crate out and open so the cats can go in and out.

    It is unfortunately true that pretty much the only time our cats get in a carrier is to go to the vet. The only exception to this is Saul, we actually do feed him in the large crate that Tennyson Mary Beth’s guide dog sleeps in. The reason we do this is that he is such a food fiend that if we didn’t do this he would eat his food in five minutes and then go eat the other cats’ food. The result of this is he doesn’t mind going in the crate at all. I will have to start working on the “in” command. Never even thought of that.

    Thanks for the info.

    Tom Mary Beth and the furries.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      June 17, 2013 at 4:45 pm (4 years ago)

      What a great idea to feed your greedy little one in a big carrier, Tom. Let me know how using the “in” command works for you.

      Reply
  10. Amelia Hughes
    June 17, 2013 at 7:44 am (4 years ago)

    Great post! I believe that sharing this information will helps folks with taking their cats to the vet. When Steve Dale discussed that vet visits are down (especially for cats) at Blog Paws it feels more important than ever to help people break down the barriers for not going…and I think the carrier issue is one of them! This also reminds me as a foster parent that I need to take my kittens out for rides and make the carrier a comfortable place for them at an early age!

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      June 17, 2013 at 4:44 pm (4 years ago)

      I agree, Amelia, the carrier issue is one of the main reasons why cats are underserved when it comes to getting veterinary care. You’d be doing future adopters a huge favor is you get your foster cats used to their carriers even before they go to their forever homes!

      Reply
  11. Caren Gittleman
    June 17, 2013 at 7:37 am (4 years ago)

    I did exactly as you mentioned above, for both of my cats I ALWAYS kept the carrier out, with the door open. Both of my cats were always used to seeing it, so it wasn’t that traumatic when they were put in it to go to the vet. Occasionally they would even CHOOSE to sleep in it! (I always keep a comfy blanket in there!)

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      June 17, 2013 at 4:43 pm (4 years ago)

      Allegra will occasionally sleep in one of our carriers (I have three sitting out all the time).

      Reply

Leave a comment

First time visitors: please read our Comment Guidelines.