The best way to get around these problems is to teach a cat to enter its carrier voluntarily. This is done by associating the carrier with positive experiences.
How to start training your cat to use the cat carrier
Before starting to teach your cat that going into the carrier is a positive experience, it is important that you have the right kind of cat carrier. The best, all-purpose choice is a medium-sized (large enough to fit one cat comfortably) plastic box with a handle and openings in the front and the top. These can be found at pet stores and online pet supply outlets.
The following training steps should be progressed through slowly, only moving onto the next stage once the cat is comfortable and mastered the current training stage.
Place your cat’s bedding (such as a blanket or bed that your cat is already comfortable with) near the pet carrier. If your pet is stressed by the carrier, start by placing the bedding further away. When your pet is calm and relaxed on the bedding, reward them with their favorite treats and/or petting. This creates a positive association with the bedding and with you.
If your carrier is able to be taken in half, remove the top portion of the carrier. All doors should also be removed if possible.
Gradually, over a number of sessions, move the bedding closer towards the career (do
not move the bedding while the cat is on it). With each transition, be sure to reward the
cats with their favorite treat/petting when they demonstrate calm and relaxed behavior on the bedding.
Eventually, the goal is to move the bedding into the cat carrier (best done with the top of the cat carrier removed and/or all doors removed.
Once your cat demonstrates calm and relaxed behavior inside the bottom of the carrier, begin to slowly put the carrier together over the next few sessions. If your carrier was taken apart in half, put the top back on. Once your cat is comfortable with this, put the door(s) on but leave them open.
If your cat is not keen to enter into the carrier at this stage, go back to the point where the blanket was not in the carrier and gradually begin again. Remember to do this gradually and reward each gradual movement towards entering the cat carrier fully. For example, your cat may only place its head in the carrier initially. Reward this behaviour and gradually build to head and one paw in the carrier, to head and two paws in the carrier to head, front paws and half of body in the carrier and so forth. The final goal here is to have the cat’s whole body in the carrier while remaining relaxed.
REMEMBER: At no point during this training should you ever force your cat into the carrier.
Once the cat is willing and able to spend 3-5 minutes in the carrier comfortably, it is time to begin working on closing the door(s).
When your cat is in the carrier, reward them and then close the door a very small distance then open and reward again. Each time, shut the door more and more. Be sure to open the door right away each time until you have reach the point where the door can be fully closed.
If at any point the cat moves toward the door or demonstrates any signs of stress, open the door immediately and let him/her out. This demonstrates to the cat that they control the door by moving towards it and can help reduce panic and the feeling of being trapped.
Over time, build up to a time of 3-5 minutes with the door closed before moving on to the next stage. In some cases, it may be warranted to train up to a time that you feel will be required for transport.
At this stage you will begin to lift and move the carrier. This can be a difficult step for cats who like to keep their paws firmly on the ground – so be sure to work in small incremental steps.
With the door closed, start by slowly moving the carrier along the floor without lifting. Remember to reward the cat with treats through the closed the door. If at any time during this stage the cat wants out (by meowing or pawing at the door) then stop and let the cat out immediately. This again demonstrates to the cat that he/she has control and will not feel trapped. If this happens, you will likely need to go back a step and allow for more time to become comfortable in the carrier.
Focus on increasing the lift height by gradually increasing the height and then sitting the carrier back down and rewarding the cat. Repeat this step and gradually increase the lift height until you are at full height. Then you can begin to walk small distances.
Continually increase your distances over a few sessions. Being to walk into other rooms and work up to being able to walk around outside.
Car rides are a completely separate stressor for cats. Even cats who are very comfortable in their carriers may become stressed in the car. Be sure to begin training for car rides only after your pet is fully comfortable in their career.
Being by placing the carrier in the car for a short period of time and rewarding the cat while in the car. NEVER leave your cat in the car alone even though they are in a carrier. Slowly work up to starting the car and letting it run for a period of time. Once your cat seems comfortable enough, begin with short trips (maybe just down the driveway at first, increasing to around the block, and so on). If your pet appears to get stressed, end the session and back up a few steps as needed.
WHEN NOT TRAINING it is important that the carrier remain accessible, with comfortable bedding, and in a stress free area of the home so that the cat can continuously rely on the carrier as a “safe place”. Choose a room that the cat is commonly found in and consider placing toys and treats in it periodically to encourage the cat to explore it.
When visiting your vet’s office, it is important to tell your care team about your training so that they can do their part to ensure the carrier remains their safe place. If possible, choose a veterinary team that is certified as a Cat Friendly Practice or professionals who are Fear Free Certified. These certifications demonstrate that they are committed to doing all possible to make you and your pets experience as stress-free as possible.