Stress free approaches to getting your cat in the carrier
copyright (c) 2021 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
- 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,
- Consider offering some valerian root sprinkled over the meal your cat will
- Have the carrier open, in place and ready to receive the cat before you pick
- 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
- 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. NO "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.
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your cat in
|"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
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