Get Your Cat Used to the Carrier

CatChannel behavior expert Marilyn Krieger discusses ways to take the terror out of the carrier experience.

Q: I have a Maine Coon cat who I rescued two years ago. He is very shy, does not want to be held and is always running from my husband and me. It is very difficult to get him in the cat carrier when he needs to visit the vet. My husband and I have tried to tranquilize him but even then we couldn’t catch him. He is a longhaired cat and his coat is all matted and he needs to visit the groomer since he hates us grooming him. I have made an appointment with a groomer and plan on tranquilizing him by using a “pill pocket.”  Can you give me any other tips about trying to get this cat into a carrier?

A: Your Maine Coon cat’s association with his carrier can be changed from trauma for you and your cat into to a gentler, stress-free experience. The best type of carrier for the job is a hard carrier since it can easily be disassembled.

Start by taking the top and the door off of the carrier and then placing the bottom of the carrier in an area that your cat likes to hang out in. The carrier needs to become a fixture in his room. Put a comfortable towel in the bottom of the carrier and proceed to change your cat’s association with the carrier by engaging him in activities he enjoys, in and around the bottom of the carrier. Toss delicious treats that he adores into the carrier bottom. Feed him his regular meals in the carrier. If he enjoys playing, then play with him using a fishing pole toy. Pull the toy into the carrier for him to chase. (But please, when no one is around to supervise, always put these types of toys out of reach of your cat.) If you use clicker training, click and then immediately treat the cat whenever he is in or around the carrier.

Only after your cat is comfortably going in the bottom of the carrier on his own, securely latch the top onto the bottom, minus the door. Continue to feed, play and clicker train him in and around the carrier. It may take a few days or a couple of weeks until your cat is feeling relaxed enough to spend time in the carrier on a regular basis. Don’t push it; only increase the criteria when your cat is comfortable with hanging out in the carrier.

The next step in changing your cat’s association with his carrier is putting the door on and leaving it open. Continue to engage your cat in all of the fun activities as before, but with the door in place and open. It is very important to reinforce your cat’s sojourns into the carrier with treats.

Keep gradually increasing the criteria, always reinforcing your cat when he is relaxing inside the carrier until you can close the door, pick up the carrier and carry him into the next room. At the first sign of anxiety, put the carrier down and open the door.

When you think you and your cat are almost ready for prime time, arm yourself with treats and a large towel. Coax him into the carrier with a treat, close the carrier, cover it with a towel and place him in the car. Take him on a short trip around the block or down the driveway. Make sure to reinforce his good behavior with treats. If he is anxious about it, go back a couple of steps where he was comfortable, and then desensitize him to the car experience at a slower rate.

It may take a few days to several weeks until your cat’s association with the carrier changes from terror to acceptance. 

Article Categories:
Behavior and Training · Cats