How to Make a Carrier a Cat’s Best Friend

By: Elizabeth Fowler, DVM

TVMA Member
New Braunfels, TX

Published August 2017

All cat owners know they will need to take their precious feline out of the house at some point in its life. This may be for a stay at a boarding kennel, veterinary visit, grooming appointment or even travel. While some cats travel well with a leash and harness, using a carrier to transport your furry friend is recommended. A carrier prevents several issues from occurring. For example, a cat outside its carrier in a moving car may end up crawling under the driver’s feet, possibly jeopardizing the safety of the pet, pet owner and passengers. If the cat becomes frightened when you are holding it, it may bite or claw you. It may even escape when you open the car door or walk into a building. A harness still has benefits when a carrier is being used. A harness provides an added means of handling for the pet and additional security as a way to catch the cat should it escape from the carrier.

Train Cats with Positive Reinforcement

While many people recognize the need to train dogs, pet owners easily forget that cats require training too. Cats do not learn from punishment or force; using positive reinforcement by giving rewards, usually in the form of a treat, is beneficial for helping to mold the cat’s behavior. This is especially helpful in reducing stress for veterinary and grooming visits. A cat can be given a treat for sitting calmly near a carrier or being handled with little resistance. Other rewards that are commonly used include affection and play time.

Transform the Carrier into a Safe Haven

Provide your cat with opportunities to develop a positive relationship with its carrier. It is best for cats to have these experiences at a young age. One way to ensure your cat associates a carrier with a positive experience is to make the carrier feel familiar and safe. When you remove cats from their usual environment, it takes time for them to adjust to the new sights, sounds and smells. Make the carrier welcoming by placing it in the room where the cat spends most of its time. Leave the carrier door open and put familiar bedding, toys and treats in it. Hopefully your kitty will decide the carrier is a safe and comfortable space. If started as a kitten, the cat probably will take to it quickly. If started as an adult, it may take several weeks before the cat feels it can trust the carrier.

How to Quickly Acclimate a Cat to its Carrier

If you need to visit the veterinarian before you familiarize your cat with the carrier, here are some tips. Bring the carrier in the house and put it in a room with few hiding places. Put a familiar blanket or bed in the carrier and spray it with Feliway. Feliway is a feline facial pheromone that calms cats and can be sprayed at least 30 minutes prior to transport. You have a couple of options if your cat will not walk into the carrier. Flip the carrier on its end and place your cat inside backwards. This allows for more control of the feet and head so you quickly get it into the crate. If the carrier comes apart, sometimes it is easier to remove the top, place the cat in the bottom half of the carrier and then slide the top back on. Be sure all parts have been securely reattached prior to lifting the carrier. Carriers with a top opening are very helpful in getting the cat inside without having to take the carrier apart. Calming music may reduce stress during the journey. Portable music can be placed in or near the carrier.

A Positive Return Home

When you return home, find a quiet place to put the carrier. Give your kitty a couple of minutes to acclimate and realize it is home prior to its release. This reduces post-visit stress.

Visit the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) website for more tips to help with traveling with your cat. You also can search this site to find a certified cat-friendly clinic in your area. These veterinary offices have practices in place to reduce your pet’s stress. Hopefully these tips will make your next trip with your cat less stressful for both of you.

Elizabeth Fowler, DVM, lives in New Braunfels, Texas. Dr. Fowler practices at County Line Veterinary Clinic.