Not long ago, my human shot a video of our ritual before we go on a therapy cat visit. People are often amazed because I am so casual about being in the cat carrier. There are loads of horror stories of people trying — often unsuccessfully — to get their cats into carriers. My human even has a couple herself, when it comes to trying to get friends’ cats to the vet. So I thought I would offer some suggestions that might make it a bit easier.
But first, I want to explain why cats hate the carrier. It’s not just that the carrier means they’re going to the vet, although that is part of it. It’s also the human’s emotions and feelings of stress. I’m not going to be coy about it — yes, the problem a lot of cats have about the carrier is your own doing.
Look at it from your cat’s perspective. You are your cat’s lifeline. You feed her, tend to her litter box, and give her a comfortable place to live. Hopefully you have a close and loving relationship with your kitty too. But whether you do or not, your cat’s feelings about you are wrapped up in her survival instinct. Your cat’s primal needs are a lot closer to her psyche than yours are to you as a person, and she is highly in tune with your every emotion. When you are worried about taking your cat to the vet, and how much trouble it might be, your cat knows. She senses your fear, and can even smell it. (I bet you didn’t know there is a fear scent! Humans can’t smell it, but most animals can.) And it’s frightening to her. The more stressed out you are about getting your cat in that carrier — no matter how much you try to suppress it — the more fearful she will be.
So the first step to get your cat into a carrier is to learn how to calm yourself down! You are probably stressed out about the carrier days in advance. So start practicing deep breathing, calmness and mindfulness the moment you sense yourself tensing up. Breathe in peace and breathe out your worries. Teach yourself how to relax your muscles, especially your shoulders and upper back. Understand the effect you have on your cat when you are upset, and learn how to let go. The more you can do this, the easier it will be for you to work with your cat when it is time to get her in her carrier.
In that frame of mind, here are some practical tips to make it easier on your cat when it comes time to get her in that carrier.
- Always put your cat into a carrier back end first. If you try to push her in face forward, she will be able to reach out with her front paws and brace herself against the entrance. That makes it extremely difficult to get her in, and raises the stress level for both of you. This is the biggest mistake people make with cat carriers. Back end first is much easier!
- Front loading carriers are also the most difficult. A top-loading carrier is much easier and less stressful for you and your cat. And even then, place her in back end first.
- Another carrier option is one of those models with a top that unlatches. That way, once your cat is inside it, the vet can unlatch it to examine her, rather than trying to pull or coax her out.
- Even better, you can try one of those carriers, like a Sleepypod Mobile Pet Bed, that doubles as a pet bed. Or you can add a cat bed and blankets to a regular carrier and leave it out as a place for your cat to nap. If the sight and smell of the bed is familiar, it may not be as stressful for your cat when it gets used as a carrier. When you return from your errand, your cat may shun the bed carrier for a period of time, but chances are she will return to using it sooner than later.
- The best time to get your cat into a carrier is when she is sleepy. If you are calm and quiet, you can scoop her up and place her in the carrier before she is fully awake. This is the technique my human uses on Binga and Boodie.
- Be swift and matter-of-fact about the carrier. Placing your cat in there for a vet visit is just another thing that needs to be done, like brushing your teeth and scooping the litter box. Really, it is. If you can be that relaxed about it, and quick, you may be able to get your cat in there a lot more easily than you think!
Want to really invest in getting your cat less stressed about the cat carrier? Then take the time to give her reasons to like being in it. Teach her how to be an adventure cat. Harness and leash train her, and take her places with you. If she associates the carrier, and being out with you, with positive experiences, she will stop fearing it. Of course, this won’t work with every cat, but if you have one that is outgoing and curious, it might be worth a try!
Disclosure: Link to the Sleepypod is an Amazon affiliate link, and I will receive a small commission if you click through and make a purchase.