Stress free approaches to getting your cat in the carrier
copyright 2009-2018 Frania Shelley-Grielen all rights reserved

As a general rule your cat, being the highly territorial creature that a cat is, would
prefer staying home to traveling whether to a new home, for the holidays or to the
vet.  Even so, a visit to the vet is an occasional necessity and what about when your
travels may be extended and you choose to bring along your feline or your ticket is
one way rather than round trip. For times like these, low stress and pain free
methods to help get your cat in the carrier in the most feline friendly way can make
all the difference to how you and your cat start the journey.

For most cats, the carrier is not a positive place: they're trapped, moved to a strange
new place with no familiar sights, sounds or smells, get taken to the vet for poking and
prodding and very rarely spend any time in one that ends up in positive situation (to
their way of thinking). Now, your cat may or may not have already been in a carrier,
we can bet that even if a cat is  not a stranger to the carrier, they didn't like it either
way. While humans may know that cat carriers are safe havens for moving cats around
the only time kitty may agree is when it's time to leave the vet's office. So what do you
do when you have to use one?  You can remedy the negative association of the cat
carrier with a few tricks of the trade:

  • A new carrier, where nothing bad has ever happened, to start your new
    cat carrier friendly experience can help.  Make sure the carrier can be
    easily accessed and separated into two distinct parts if it is rigid.   Soft sided
    or rigid, become familiar yourself with assembling and closing the carrier
    before introducing it to your cat.  Avoid "cat bags" that immobilize a cat or
    carriers intended for human babies.  Being restrained in this sort of transport
    is not only highly stressful but dangerous if a stressed cat escapes  

    An added plus is allowing for a cat friendly veterinarian who will perform
    most, if not all of your cat’s exam by leaving the cat in the carrier, making
    your cat’s visit less stressful and you more likely to return for more.

  • In the time you have before leaving (or to prepare in general) start leaving
    the carrier out and open in either a secure and elevated resting space (top of
    a dresser)  or a corner of which ever room your cat spends the most time.    

  • Make sure your cat has independent access to enter and leave the carrier.   
    Remove the top half or leave the soft sided carrier open.   Over time you will
    progress to closing the top of the carrier but leaving the door open (making
    sure to remove the door to the carrier if possible or securely propped open at
    all times during this step).

  • Placing a small, oval cat bed with raised sides in the carrier will add to the
    comfort of the open ended, enclosed space.  Make sure to add additional cat
    beds to your cat’s general living space for a more cat friendly environment
    and to act as cat transport to the carrier (details follow).

  • Sprinkle cat nip or valerian root around and inside the cat bed in the carrier
    and around the entry outside of carrier.

  • Favored cat toys strategically positioned around the carrier will also add to
    its appeal.

  • Take a few moments each day (morning and evening) and begin playing with
    your cat's favorite interactive toy next the carrier (that wand with the sting
    and the feather on it not your foot).

  • Offer treats close to the carrier (the kind of treats that are really high value
    like dried salmon as opposed to those manufactured kitty treats) and progress
    to leaving them as close to inside the carrier as possible.  If your cat does not eat
    the treats this is an indication that the cat is still not comfortable with the steps
    in the process.  Try placing the treats a further distance away from the carrier
    and increasing your playtime.

Do not force with any of these steps. Do whatever time permits you to do. Repeat as
often as possible.  With any of these next steps if your cat is becoming stressed by the
approaches stop and give both of you a break for the rest of the day.  Begin again by
going back to what was last working.

Once you have your cat comfortable around the carrier, onto the steps to getting
kitty inside it.  Always remember, the fewer and smaller your movements here,
the better:

  • Consider offering some valerian root sprinkled over the meal your cat will
    have before your trip.

  • Have the carrier open, in place and ready to receive the cat before you pick
    up your cat.  

  • One of the least stressful and easy ways to put a cat in a carrier is by picking
    up the cat (burrito style) in their cat bed and sliding cat into carrier (if you
    are using this approach, make sure there is no bed already in the carrier).

    If you can pick up your cat and the cat is agreeable to going in the carrier,
    pick up the cat, keeping the cat close to your body, and deposit in the carrier
    in one fluid motion (if you have never done this practice with a stuffed animal
    or doll).  

  • Place a worn article of your clothing in the carrier. A recently worn tee
    shirt or sock will go miles towards making your cat more at ease when it is
    in the carrier.   The familiar scent of you on the garment will offset some
    of the stress.   Dig in the bottom of your hamper for the most "comforting"
    shirt/sock scent wise.

For the approaches, where you have not sufficiently worked with your cat to acclimate
to the carrier, here are some strategies.  Know that over utilizing these approaches will
not make the carrier a friendly place for your cat and should be last ditch only:

Last ditch option one:
Use the smallest space, possible such as bathroom.  With a
resistant cat, turn the carrier on its end with the door facing upwards.  This way
you are lowering the cat back legs first into the carrier.  Know that your next
approach with the resistant cat means a cat that is also wise to what is coming.

Last ditch option two: The next option is to position the carrier by advancing it toward
the cat in such a way as the cat has no other option but to enter it. Only, if you know
how (do not do this if you are not well versed in doing so because you can really hurt
the animal) pick up the cat using a towel.  "Scruffing" or grabbing a cat by the nape of
the neck to immobilize the animal is painful and inhumane.  Towel wraps are more
effective and when employed by experienced handlers with minimal restraint, work
well with even the most extreme fractious, worst case cat.  Speed, handling and fluidity
are key here.  

  • Once your cat is in the carrier it helps to drape a towel (not too long, you do not
    want to trip on it when you are carrying it) over the carrier to cut down on the
    visual stimulation. (Consider also using one of the towels from the bottom of
    your hamper for this as well.)

  • If you are working with a cat that is absolutely panicked with the prospect of
    the carrier no matter what, consider utilizing a product that will soothe your
    pet such as Rescue Remedy (this also comes in an easy to administer spray on
    the muzzle for once your cat is in the carrier).  Lavender oil is known to soothe
    and a few drops placed on a piece of flannel (never give by mouth) should be
    added to a stressed cat’s carrier before hand and remain in the carrier with
    the cat.  

  • Layering the bottom of the carrier with newspaper will also aid in absorbing
    urine should the cat become frightened enough to lose control of his bladder
    in the carrier.

Individual cats react differently to being contained in carriers. Some will huddle
towards the back and some will howl piteously. Speak softly and reassuringly to
soothe your cat with one of two sentences.  Do not act as if the sky is falling, this will
really scare kitty.  Poking your fingers through the grid in the carrier door (
do not
do this if you need to release any openings such as latches, clasps, zippers,
etc.
) and making contact can also help.

The sooner you start working with your cat on positive cat carrier associations,  the
sooner the carrier will be stress free for you and your cat!  Used a last ditch option?  
Click here for a great review on cats and carriers from
Catalyst.
Low stress
ways of
getting your
cat in the
carrier
Never rush a cat through any of the steps to get them comfortable
your cat would rather be home with you than anywhere else
Robert Couse-Baker
Liz West
"Do not force with any of these
steps. Do whatever time permits
you to do. Repeat as often as
possible.  With any of these next
steps if your cat is becoming
stressed by the approaches stop
and give both of you a break for
the rest of the day.  Begin again
by going back to what was last
working."
Request an individual consultation
Frania Shelley-Grielen
Frania Shelley-Grielen is AnimalBehaviorist.su
info@animalbehaviorist.us
212-722-2509 / 646-228-7813

Entire website copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
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Working with your cat you can make the carrier a more comfortable place
Carriers can be safe places during moves and for vet visits
Bart Everson


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