Why is carrier training is good for your cat?
Training your cat to willingly enter the carrier and be comfortable in it means less trouble for you when it comes time to take your cat to the vet, on the road, or to briefly keep them enclosed.
Your cat will learn that the carrier is a comfortable, safe place to be and won’t experience the stress and fear of being put in a carrier. Studies demonstrate that carrier training cats not only makes it easier for you and your cat at home, but it also reduces stress during the car ride and at the veterinary hospital!
Steps to Get Started
Over the course of days to months, you will train your cat to associate the carrier with good things: a comfortable spot to rest, a source of treats, and a safe place. Luckily, this is easy and only requires that you move your carrier somewhere in the house that your cat likes to be and put in a few moments of effort per day. Food motivated cats learn quickly to associate treats with the carrier; training other cats often needs more time.
To set up, place your carrier out in the open where it will stay. Choose a quiet area that is a place where your cat frequents already. Make it into a comfy haven with a soft blanket inside and secure the door open. If you have a carrier where the top can be removed (e.g., a hard-sided plastic carrier) and your cat is hesitant, start with using only the bottom half of the carrier. Some cats may like an additional towel draped over the top so it’s more cave-like. If you have multiple pets, please try to make sure no cats get cornered in the carriers.
For cats that are fearful of the carrier or have negative associations with its use, use Feliway Classic wipes or spray on the inside of the carrier and its contents to make the carrier more safe for your cat. This should be used about 15 minutes prior to training.
1. Entering the Carrier
Two to three times a day, encourage your cat to approach the carrier by tossing toys inside, putting one or two treats within, or playing with wand toys in and around it. If your cat is hesitant to enter the carrier, just start by rewarding your cat for being near it. Gradually work up to having your cat enter and relax inside. Your cat will hopefully even choose to rest in the carrier. Keep the door firmly secured open.
Reward with more play, treats, gentle petting, or calm verbal praise – whatever your cat likes best. If your cat enters the carrier on their own during training or outside of it, reward all the same! This phase usually takes 1-2 weeks, but longer for some cats.
2. Closing the Carrier Door
When your cat is reliably entering the carrier, practice closing the door part way while they are comfortably resting inside. Reward and praise as before. You can gradually work up over the course of days or weeks to closing and latching the door. It may help to feed treats through the opposite side of the carrier to keep your cat away from the closing door. When closing the door, keep in mind that some carriers will move around or make noise, which may startle your cat. Practice latching the door while your cat is not in the carrier first to get the technique down.
3. Carrying off the Ground
Once your cat is happy to be enclosed in the carrier, you can work on training your cat to be calm while you pick it up and set it down. First lift the carrier up a half inch from the floor and gently set it back down right away. Reward your cat immediately after. Over the next few weeks, you can progress to lifting the carrier higher up, moving it in other directions, and keeping it elevated for longer.
For instance, you can move your cat from one room to another while in the carrier. Eventually you can progress to moving the carrier with your cat within to the car, going for a ride around the block, and coming home.
Remember that you are rewarding for entering the carrier and being calm within, but not when your cat exits. Make sure to give treats, toys, or praise when your cat is inside the carrier, and don’t make a big deal when they choose to exit. You may need a second person to reward if your cat goes on a car ride, so a constant supply of treats or petting can be given.
Remember that you are praising and rewarding your cat for calm. If your cat is meowing, trying to escape, or demonstrating other stressful behaviors, this means your cat isn’t relaxed. Move back to the last step in the training plan where your cat was comfortable. There’s no need to rush.
If you need to get your cat into a carrier before they have been fully trained, you will use a different method. Medications such as gabapentin can be given beforehand and are helpful for your cat’s short-term stress reduction. You will have to use gentle handling methods to calmly move your cat into a carrier and keep the transfer as low-stress as possible.
Kindly provided for Cat Care Clinic by:
Ilona Rodan, DVM, Feline Specialist and Behavior Consultant, Cat Behavior Solutions, CCBC
Julia Pinckney, MSc. Applied Animal Behaviour and Animal Welfare