How To Get Your Cat Into a Carrier With Tips From a Pro
From unwilling cats to new-to-carrier kitties, we teamed up with fear-free training expert and Certified Cat Behavior Consultant Shannen McNee from the Toronto Humane Society to walk us through how to put a cat into a carrier. McNee says the first step to stress-free carrier interactions is positive association early and often.
"Start training your cat to love its carrier when you don't have any planned trips for them in the near future," McNee recommends. "The process can happen quite quickly for some cats and take more time for others. It will be easier for you to work through the steps at a pace that your cat is comfortable with if you don't have a set timeline." From choosing the best carrier to getting your cat into it, McNee gives us the step-by-step guide to everything cat carriers.
Familiarizing Your Cat to Their Carrier
Like many desensitization training techniques, getting your cat comfortable with a carrier requires finding a way for your cat to enjoy her space.
If your cat had a negative experience in her carrier, McNee says to start with a clean slate, or in this case, a clean carrier. By wiping down the carrier you'll remove any stress or fear hormones your cat might have released. Then, McNee says, you can begin to positively associate your cat to her carrier with the use of a few of her favorite things: food, play, and a cozy place to nap.
First, you'll want her carrier to become part of her familiar environment. So, leave it out and about with a cozy blanket inside. For cats with existing cat carrier anxiety, start with the top of the carrier removed.
We all know a cat's favorite time is mealtime, and there's no better positive association than feeding your cat her breakfast inside her carrier. Start by serving meals close to the carrier door, placing her dish farther inside the carrier each day. Between mealtimes incorporate play in and around the carrier and give your cat a treat when she chooses to interact with it.
The time it takes a cat to become comfortable with her crate varies from kitty to kitty, and it's best not to rush the process. Once your cat becomes comfortable, move on to closing the carrier door while she's inside. Work up to longer amounts of time until you can close the door, pick up the carrier, and walk around your house while your kitty stays cool and collected. Don't forget to reward her with a treat and verbal praise!
How To Get a Cat in a Carrier
If familiarizing your cat to her carrier was a success, she might willingly enter inside with a little coaxing or persuasion by a treat. If you're not so lucky, McNee walks us through a simple two-step process.
Step 1. Ready Yourself and Your Cat
There are two ways you can put your cat into her carrier: head first or bum first. Before you pick your cat up is the time to decide which direction she'll enter. While both are acceptable, McNee says bum first might be the better option for anxious cats. "If you choose head first, open the front door of the carrier. For bum first, open the top." McNee adds, "Whichever way you choose, prepare to move confidently, smoothly, and quickly."
If you have an anxious kitty prone to dashing at the sight of her carrier, place it in a room with a door and limited hiding spots well before travel, like your bathroom. And speaking of anxious kitties, if you have fear-free over-the-counter or prescription medication for travel, administer it to your cat before placing her in the carrier. You can also use Feliway spray on the blanket inside the carrier and/or inside of your car to keep your kitty feeling calm.
Step 2. Put Your Cat Into the Carrier
"When you pick up your cat, use both your hands so they feel secure; place one hand on their chest under their front legs with your fingers pointing towards their chin and use your other hand to support their back end," McNee explains. If your cat likes to hide under blankets, she might be comforted by a blanket or towel covering the carrier. Others may feel more comfortable with a clear view of their surroundings.
Cat Carrier Safety Tips
It's up to you to keep your kitty safe, McNee says. "Pet owners should take the same safety measures for their pets as they do for themselves in the car. People wear seatbelts to protect them from injury and owners should safely secure their pet during any travel in the car, too."
"To secure your pet in the car, put the seatbelt through the handle of a carrier that is large enough for them to sit, stand, and turn around in," McNee explains. If you have a clowder of cats, it's recommended that each cat have their own carrier, preventing overcrowding, stress-induced aggression, and other mishaps.
When it comes to what type of carrier to buy, McNee has some advice. You can choose either a soft- or hard-case carrier, and while either is recommended, your cat might have her own preference. Look for a well-constructed carrier that a cat with or without thumbs can't fanangle their way out of. And lastly, McNee says to check out this list of crash-test certified carriers and harnesses before you buy.