Anyone who has ever tried to wrangle a cat knows just how tricky they can be!
They can hide in the most unexpected place, they can squeeze into tight spots you can’t reach, and if you do manage to grab them, well, those claws aren't just for show.
So what happens if you have a cat who hates to travel and despises trips to the vet, but you still need to take them in?
You need to get your fur baby into their carrier, but you know they will fight you every step of the way.
Not only are they impossible to force into a carrier against their will, but they're also straight-up dangerous when you try, and the last thing you want to do is accidentally hurt or scare your kitty.
Luckily, I'm here to help with some sage advice and tips on how to safely and easily get your cat into a cat carrier and on their way. Whether you're preparing for an emergency or you're making a routine trip to the vet.
I’ve also added a great educational video 📽️ on how to easily purrito your cat. This is a must watch!
As always, if you are looking for more cat care resources, I have sprinkled some great ones throughout the post. Alternatively, visit the toe beans pet parents blog, which by the way is loaded with 📚 resources, and you can search by topic.
Just like dogs, cats can jump around in a car which could result in accidents. So, for your own safety, your fur baby’s safety, and the safety of others you should always transport your cat with a carrier and a cat harness.
“Most cats aren't comfortable traveling in cars, so for their safety as well as yours, keep them in a carrier. It's important to restrain these carriers in the car so that they don't bounce around and hurt your cat. Do this by securing a seat belt around the front of the carrier.” The Humane Society of The United States
Understand Why Cats Hate Carriers
Before you can figure out how to get your cat into their carrier, you can benefit from learning why they hate the carrier in the first place.
And, if you give it some thought, you'll probably be able to guess the answer. Take a minute, go ahead, and think of your guess. Got it? Let's see if you're right.
The answer: we've trained them to hate it!
Let me put it this way.
If you were going about your day, and you were suddenly snatched out of your routine and thrown on a plane, where you're stuck in a small, enclosed space, and the plane has to fly through a turbulent storm only to land at the dentist's office, where you have to have a tooth pulled, you would hate flying? right?
Even if you know the dentist is good for you and even if you know you won't always fly through a storm, you're still going to feel anxious at the thought of having to get on a plane.
It's basically the same with your cat. They're going about their day, playing or sleeping in a cozy sunbeam.
Then, suddenly, you pick them up, stuff them in this tiny box, close them in, and carry them around.
You put them in the car and drive them to the vet, which is already probably a place they really don't like being.
They'll be poked at, prodded, maybe given a shot, or have blood drawn, who knows! To them, it's all one big scary unknown place full of noise and the scents of all kinds of other animals, many of whom are predators, all of whom are unfamiliar.
Cats are often traumatized by the vet and this sudden change of environment, and the one thing in their home environment that triggers that trauma is the carrier.
No matter how much your fur baby loves spending time in cardboard boxes or in small, enclosed spaces, they're going to hate that carrier because it reminds them of that experience.
Now that we know why cats are afraid of the carrier, but before we get into the tips for helping your cat get used to it, let’s chat about the types of cat carriers to see if you have what you need to set you and your kitty up for success.
From something as simple as a sack, to backpacks, to the traditional oblong carrier, there are a ton of options to choose from.
Opinions vary on the best kind of carrier for a cat – but many will suggest it should meet two main criteria.
It's made of hard plastic.
It has a fully removable top.
A hard plastic carrier is good for two main reasons. The first is so that an anxious and stressed kitty doesn't slice their way through it and escape, rendering it useless.
Some of the lighter fabric carriers are surprisingly easy to rip apart, especially when you have a bunch of sharp kitty claws at your disposal.
Even if the destruction doesn’t take place in one visit, repeated clawing or biting will lead to holes, potentially damaging the structural integrity of a fabric carrier or preventing it from being safely zipped shut.
Second, hard plastic won't absorb and retain odors. Stressed kitties can have accidents, and cars can cause motion sickness, both of which leave behind quite a mess!
Ok so your kitty isn’t known to have accidents, but did you know your carrier can pick up smells at the vet’s office?
Think about where you put your carrier, on the floor perhaps? With people and other pets coming and going those scents can get trapped in a fabric carrier.
A plastic carrier allows for easier cleaning and removal of any lingering smells. And if you use a blanket inside to make it comfier, it can always be thrown in the wash for a fresh experience at the next appointment.
As for the opening at the top, in my experience I think this is the most important feature.
A scared kitty is going to smoosh themself into the back wall of the carrier and reaching in from the front to pull them out is just going to add to their level of stress – and can even result in injury, to you and your cat.
A carrier that can easily have the top removed or opened allows for you to safely remove your kitty using both hands.
I’m personally a fan of soft sided carriers for one main reason, many have built in features that allow the carrier to be secured by a seatbelt.
There are a couple of fabric carriers that are even car crash safety rated and that to me is a huge priority as according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 69% of all car accidents happen within 10 miles of your home! Vet visits are important but getting to and from safely is also a necessity.
I also find that they offer other great benefits:
They are easier to carry given they are much lighter than their plastic alternative.
Many can also be used for air travel as carry-on luggage.
They usually don't take up as much space while in storage as you can usually collapse them
They tend to be cozier and comfortable for my cats.
Regardless of the type you choose, the size of the carrier is an important factor.
“Cats should be able to stand, sit and turn around in their carrier. Generally, a carrier should be one and a half times the size of your cat.” – Animal Hospital of North Ashville
Often, you're going to want a larger carrier than you might initially think. Just make sure your choice is still something you can manage to carry.
The easiest way to safely get your kitty into their carrier when needed is to help them associate it as a place that is safe and enjoyable.
If you already have a kitty that runs at the sight of their carrier, don’t worry it’s never too late to start desensitizing them.
In order to make the carrier a non-scary object, it’s important to have it available not just on vet visit days.
While this might not be as feasible in smaller apartments, do your best to find a place where the carrier can remain out. Here are some tips and strategies:
Keep the carrier in a social, central area. You want it to be present and available so your cat is comfortable with it being around. Remember, if you only pull it out before a bad thing happens, they will only it with the bad thing.
Use comforting items,like clothing with your scent on it, or scent-soaking toys, as bedding to line the carrier.
Pick a high-value treat and give it to them when they're in the carrier. If you can, onlygive them that specific treat when they're in the carrier. It's special and meant just for this one purpose.
Build it up gradually. If your kitty is already untrusting of their carrier, start the process gradually with just the bottom of the carrier, so it's little more than a bed to them. As they adjust, clip the top back on, but leave the door off, and keep the treat routine going. Later, add the door, but keep it open.
If your kitty still wants nothing to do with the carrier sitting in the room, encourage them in with a laser play session or place a treat or some wet food inside to encourage some initial visits.
If your kitty is starting to go in without issue, when they are inside, the next step starting to close the door. Do so briefly and reward with a treat. As they get used to the closure do it for shortly longer periods of time always with a reward in the end.
Basically, you're aiming for an association of "nothing is wrong" when your cat enters their carrier and is closed in. If 100% of the time the carrier means a stressful vet trip, of course they won't want to get in.
On the other hand, if 99% of the time it means treats and a brief trip around the room, and 1% of the time it means a vet trip, they won't associate it with the vet nearly as much.
One more thing: if you have more than one cat, you need more than one carrier. Every cat should have their own carrier, designated their own safe space.
In fact, if you've done this right, you might even notice that they treat their carrier as their safe space and go hide there when something else stresses them out. That's how you know it's working.
Case in point: When my boys were young, I sometimes took them to the vet in one carrier, because they seemed to comfort one another, but this won’t be the same for all cats.
Two kitties may both go in willingly, but actions can change as their stress level rises and they may lash out at one another. If you want to try bringing two kitties together, always bring the extra carrier just in case you need to separate them on the way home.
The emergency purrito is a technique that is best used only when you have to take your poor feline in for an emergency check-up and haven’t had time to follow a desensitization process.
In case you’re not familiar with the purrito, it’s basically turning your cat into a fuzzy burrito using a towel. You can also think of it like swaddling a baby.
Check out this 1 min video to learn how to purrito your kitty:
To implement this technique, start by pulling out your carrier, a large towel, and some treats and put them in a small, confined space such as a bathroom.
Ideally, you want to do this when your kitty isn’t around to see you. The idea here is to bring your kitty into the bathroom so they have fewer places to hide as you try to get them into the carrier.
When it's time to bundle up your cat and go, the process looks like this.
Prop the carrier on your closed toiletso that the opening is facing up, the door is out of the way, and you'll be able to lower your cat right in.
Grab the towel to fully wrap up your kitty in a traditional purrito. Wrap it loose enough to be escapable once the carrier is closed.
Bring your fur baby into the bathroom and close the door behind them. Some cats can simply be carried in; others may need some food or a treat to lure them in.
While they're occupied with a treat, bundle them up with the towel. You want the purrito to be tight enough to hold them securely, but not so tight that it hurts them.
It’s worth noting that this technique may not work more than once. As all cat parents know very well, cats are incredibly smart, and you might be surprised at what they remember and for how long.
They may also associate the bathroom with the negative experience, so I wouldn’t recommend trying this in an area that’s setup with a litter box or you may end up with a kitty that stops using their litter box.
If you continue to have a scaredy cat that refuses their carrier, consider trying CBD oil that is designed for cats!
CBD can help calm cats with situational anxiety, and it may make the experience a little more comfortable for both of you. For even more difficult cases, talk to your vet about a one-time medication that you can give at home prior to appointments.
Training is effective if you have the time and dedication to it, but regular reinforcement is important. And this is very important: don’t forget to clean the carrier after a vet appointment to get rid of lingering smells that may trigger a bad response the next time you have to put them in there again
Do you have any stories about your cat and their carrier, either good or bad? Please, tell them in the comments. I love to read your anecdotes and successful training stories! I know some people have other methods to wrangle their cat, so feel free to let me know about them too.
Training is effective if you have the time and dedication to it, but sometimes you just don't have the opportunity to do it, or an older adoptee or stray cat just never gets used to it. Let's chat!
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One more thing, if you are feeling like getting a little special something for your fur baby that is unique, made right here in the USA (or anywhere but in China) , 100% pup and cat safe, USDA certified organic and brought to you by a US company, check out Toe Beans online pet supplies store!
K Marie Alto
K. Marie is an animal lover, wife, kitty mom, dog auntie, writer, and co-founder of Toe Beans, a proud American family-owned online boutique pet supplies store focused on the improvement of the life of furry family members via pet parent education, better products, and advocacy. She has over 20 years of experience as a pet momma. She loves sharing her personal journey and experience as a pet parent via her blog and Facebook page where she currently has more than 30K followers (@furrytoebeans) and counting :-).