Whether they’re consciously aware of it or not, our clients often resist bringing their cats to us for veterinary care simply to avoid the stress and strain of getting the cat into a carrier and transported to and from our clinic.
This February, in honor of National Cat Health Month, we encourage all our cat-owning clients to devote the month (plus a few weeks more, if needed) to helping their feline friends conquer any carrier fears that may cause their owners to avoid vet visits.
The training is easy and takes only a few minutes a day. The benefits of having a calm, carrier-ready cat are well worth the effort.
Choosing the Right Carrier
Even if you already own a carrier, you may evaluate its suitability for your particular cat in terms of design, construction and size by reviewing advice about new carrier selection.
If you plan to bring more than one cat to our clinic at the same time, we strongly recommend you provide each cat with its own carrier. Even cats that get along well together at home may not be comfortable and peaceable within the confines of a single carrier.
To help you evaluate a carrier you already own or choose a brand new one to buy, we found an excellent article co-written by a veterinarian, “How to Choose a Cat Carrier,” on WikiHow.com.
“A Guide for Choosing the Best Cat Carrier” from Hill’s (the pet food company) more briefly covers the basics of carrier selection.
We also found two recent articles rating currently available carriers:
- “The 12 Best Cat Carriers of 2024, Tested and Reviewed” by The Spruce Pets
- “The 8 Best Cat Carriers of 2024, Tested and Reviewed“ on the People website
People recommends one carrier saying, it “Fit our two large cats comfortably.” As noted above, we advise against transporting multiple cats in a single carrier.
Please note, too, that websites publishing product rating and review articles like these typically earn a commission if you purchase a product after clicking a link in the article.
Introducing the Carrier to Your Cat
Once you have the appropriate carrier in hand, carrier training begins with getting your cat familiar and comfortable with the carrier long before you need to contain the cat for transport.
If you’re storing your cat’s carrier in a closet, basement or garage, bring it out now into an area where your cat spends time so it becomes a familiar part of the room’s furnishings.
If the carrier has been used for previous stressful car rides, there may be stress pheromones still present and detectable by your cat. Before putting the carrier out for your cat to explore, wash and rinse it thoroughly, leaving it to dry in the sun.
Here’s a brief video from the American Association of Feline Practitioners, “How Can I Get My Cat to Become Comfortable With the Carrier?” on the benefits of familiarizing your cat with the carrier well before any trips to the vet.
Seeing Carrier Training in Action
Here’s an easy-to-follow, step-by-step demonstration of carrier training in action. Each of the 6 parts of this video series averages less than 2 minutes’ running time, allowing you to use the embedded link below to watch the whole playlist in less than 15 minutes.
Here are links to the individual steps:
Step 1: Settling on a Blanket
Step 2: The Open Base of the Carrier
Step 3: The Open Door Carrier
Step 4: Closing the Door of the Carrier
Step 5: Building Duration
Step 6: Moving the Carrier
We suggest using the embedded link to the entire series to get an overview of the training process and then using the links to the individual steps to complete each one according to your cat’s own timetable. With patience and lots of treats, you will almost certainly ease your cat’s anxieties about its carrier.
For more carrier advice from the American Association of Feline Practitioners, see “5 Tips to Help Cats Accept Their Carriers.”
The Day of the Appointment
On the day of the appointment, you may withhold your cat’s food to help reduce the risk of vomiting caused by motion sickness.
Cats use feline facial pheromones to mark their territory as safe and secure. You may consider spraying a synthetic version of feline facial pheromone into your car and the carrier itself at least 10 to 15 minutes before leaving your house for the appointment. We offer Feliway® brand synthetic pheromone spray for sale in our online store.
You may also place a favorite toy and familiar-smelling bedding or clothing in the carrier to further ease your cat’s anxieties.
The Drive to the Clinic
Once your cat is contained in the carrier, carry it to your car—not by gripping the handle on top—but by supporting the carrier in your arms from the bottom. Use the handle only for lifting off the top half or moving an empty carrier.
In the car, place the carrier on a level, secure surface, such as the floorboard behind the front seats.
Many cats are most comfortable with the carrier covered with a towel or blanket to block unfamiliar sights and muffle unfamiliar sounds during the ride to the clinic. You may leave the carrier covered in the lobby, but we suggest removing the cover after you’re alone with your cat inside the examination room.
Leave your cat inside the carrier until the doctor or a team member asks you to remove it. As an alternative to having you take your cat out through the door of the carrier, we may remove the carrier top and allow the cat to stay secure in the open bottom half while we conduct our examination.
Getting an Untrained Cat Into a Carrier
If you need to get your cat into a carrier immediately, before you have a chance to complete any training, here are steps you can take:
- Put the carrier in a small room with few hiding places.
- Bring the cat in, along with some toys and treats, and close the door.
- Use the treats and toys to encourage the cat to enter the carrier through the open door.
- If the cat won’t go in, and the carrier has an opening in the top, gently pick up and lower the cat into the carrier from the top.
- If your carrier’s top half can be removed, try getting your cat into the carrier base and then replace the top.
- If necessary, wrap the cat in a towel or blanket to contain it inside the carrier and avoid being scratched.
- Stay calm, move slowly and don’t chase the cat.
Allow yourself plenty of time to get your untrained cat into the carrier. By remaining calm and being patient, you will reduce your cat’s fears and anxieties and your own stress and frustration.
Bringing Your Cat Home to Other Cats
Cats who’ve visited our clinic may smell different and seem unfamiliar upon returning home to other cats in your household.
Once you’ve returned home, leave the returning cat in the carrier to see how the other cats react. If they hiss and seem aggressive, put the returning cat into a separate room with food, water, a litter box and a comfortable bed with the cat’s familiar scent on it.
Within a few hours back home, you may cautiously allow contact with the other cats to see if the returning cat’s normal scent has been restored. If the cats still seem angry or aggressive, or if they run away from each other, separate them for a longer time.
If problems persist, consider using a Feliway® brand synthetic pheromone diffuser kit to distribute calming pheromones into the cats’ home environment.
More Ways to Celebrate Cat Health Month
This year, we decided to focus on carrier training during Cat Health Month because getting your cat into the carrier is the first step in getting your cat to our clinic. We understand the harder and more stressful it is, the less likely you are to schedule an appointment.
For more general guidelines about cat health, we recommend these resources:
- “General Cat Care,” an article from the ASPCA
- “Routine Health Care of Cats,” an article for pet owners from the Merck Veterinary Manual website
- “How to Be a Responsible Cat Owner,” a collection of links to cat-related articles from The Spruce Pets
Cat Still Stressed? Let Us Help!
If, despite your best efforts at carrier training, you cat is still overly anxious and stressed by trips to our clinic, talk to your veterinarian about anti-anxiety drugs you can administer at home before your appointment.