Help! My Cat Hates Her Carrier!
How to get her in without getting mangled 😬
Traveling with your cat can be a total pain, especially if she refuses to get inside her carrier.
All you want to do is make your cat comfortable in the very thing she needs for a safe ride in the car.
The Dodo spoke with Dr. Vanessa Spano, a veterinarian at Behavior Vets in New York City, and Dr. Crista Coppola, a certified cat behaviorist for SeniorTailWaggers.com, to find out how to get your cat to actually enjoy being in her carrier.
Why your cat hates her carrier
The main reason your cat might dislike being in her carrier is because she associates it with things that aren’t exactly pleasant.
“Many times, it is because the only time they are placed in it [or] taken out of the house is to go to the vet's, which is not always a fun experience for them,” Dr. Spano told The Dodo.
These negative associations could also include physical ailments, like car sickness.
“Additionally, if they are moved around a lot in the carrier or associate it with, for example, a car ride, and they experience motion sickness, they may associate being in there with not feeling well,” Dr. Spano explained.
It’s also possible that the carrier you have makes your cat physically uncomfortable. So when you’re looking for a carrier, make sure you’re getting the right size.
“It should be large enough for your kitty to get up and turn around, or at least 1.5 [times] the length of the kitty from tip of the nose to their tail,” Dr. Spano said.
You also want to make sure your carrier is made of a sturdy material that will make your cat feel nice and secure.
How to get your cat in her carrier
There are a few tips and tricks that will help you actually get your cat inside her carrier.
Tip #1: Start with a completely new carrier
According to Dr. Spano, the trick is to start with a clean slate.
“Get a brand-new, comfortable carrier so that there are no pre-formed negative associations,” she said. “Associate this new carrier with only positive things, such as her favorite treats, toys, bedding, etc. This is to encourage her to investigate it on her own without being forced.”
Tip #2: The first time using it shouldn’t be for a stressful trip
If you bring your cat somewhere scary, like the vet, the very first time you put her in a carrier, she’s going to associate that carrier with the scary place you brought her.
“The reason most cats don't like their carriers is because they only experience their carrier when going to the vet, groomer or boarding,” Dr. Coppola told The Dodo. “All of these places can be stressful for a cat, so the carrier becomes a predictor for this stress.”
Tip #3: Work on carrier training around the house
It’s important that you start this training at home — when you don’t have to go anywhere — so your BFF can just focus on feeling relaxed in her carrier.
“The best way to get your cat to be more comfortable with his carrier is to train him to use it well before you actually need to use it to go somewhere,” Dr. Coppola said. “Start by having your carrier out at home and the cat allowed free access to it.”
Leave the carrier out every day, and make sure to praise your BFF when she goes over to check it out.
“Anytime you catch your kitty investigating her carrier, reward her immediately,” Dr. Spano said. “Then she may connect the dots that this is a happy place and hang around it more often.”
You can even use treats to capture her attention.
“Place some treats and even possibly his meals near and/or inside his carrier,” Dr. Coppola said.
And if you even see her sitting or laying in the carrier on her own, you should definitely reward her, because that’s a huge step and a sign that she’s getting comfortable.
Tip #4: Get her used to it gradually
You can’t just expect your cat to be cool with her carrier right away, since it’s an entirely new thing to her.
“Let him explore the carrier on his own for several days before beginning to secure him inside,” Dr. Coppola said. “Once secured inside, gradually increase the duration without going anywhere with it.”
That means you should start off by only keeping your cat secured in her carrier for a couple seconds and letting her slowly get comfortable staying in there for longer chunks of time. (And make sure to reward her with treats for all that hard work, of course.)
Once your cat’s gotten pretty good about being inside her carrier, try picking it up with her inside.
“Practice short trips in the carrier by simply walking around the house, out to the car, to the mailbox, etc.,” Dr. Coppola said. “Gradually increase the duration of these trips.”
Tip #5: Never force your cat into her carrier
It’s important that you don’t ever force your cat into her carrier, because that’ll cause negative associations.
“Always be observant of your cat's behavior, and if he starts meowing or displaying stress behaviors, you know he isn't comfortable yet,” Dr. Coppola said.
The ultimate goal is to make your cat feel relaxed and safe in her carrier, which should make it easier to get her inside before a trip to the vet.
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