By Suzanne Denk, Dip. FBST, Animal Enrichment Specialist.
“Let’s go for a ride” is a phrase that may bring your dog running. But, you may notice that your feline friends don’t share that same enthusiasm. Being placed into a cat carrier is usually a signal to your cat that they are going to the vet or somewhere else that is unpleasant for them. The carrier may have a scary association and so we want to change the way your cat thinks about the carrier. Helping your cat feel comfortable with getting into a carrier is a simple but gradual process.
While it may not be the ideal décor for your home, begin by leaving the carrier out in a room where your cat spends time. The carrier should be familiar and not something that only appears for a scary situation like riding in the car or a visit to the vet. Cats like to feel secure, so choose a carrier that is comfortable but not too large. Place a bed or soft towel in the carrier to make it more inviting. Remove the door or securely prop the door open so that it doesn’t close unexpectedly or startle your cat while they’re getting used to it.
Place treats near the carrier. If your cat won’t eat them that means they may be too close to the carrier for comfort, so you can toss them a little farther away. When your cat is eating the treats without stress, you can begin to gradually place them closer to the carrier. This should be done over a period of days and is not meant to immediately lure them in. Eventually you will want to place treats in the carrier just inside the door so that your cat can start by placing one paw inside the carrier, then two and finally all four. You can also try this exercise by placing wet food near the carrier, just inside the door and finally at the back. Your cat should be able to eat the food and treats easily and freely go in and out of the carrier. You can also provide teaser wand play to encourage your cat to chase the wand toy into the carrier and back out. Alternately, if they like balls you can roll them into the carrier, too!
When your cat is able to go in and out of the carrier with ease, close the door then quickly open it and offer a treat. It’s important to recognize when your cat is comfortable before moving on to the next step. They may move quickly through some parts of the process but need more time with others. Creating positive experiences with the carrier will change the way your cat feels about being inside one. While they may not come running for a car ride, the stress of the carrier itself will be removed. When it is time for the carrier to be used, your cat will be in a comfortable and familiar space – making it a stress-free experience!