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 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
open any zippers
) 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.
How to get
your cat in the
carrier without
stress for them
or you
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

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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