Q: My 13-year-old cat, Cheddar, has an ear problem. He’ll scratch it when it starts to irritate him. He has scratched one ear so much it has sort of inflated then deflated in an odd way. Both ears bother him now. His brother also had an ear problem and had to be put to sleep three years ago because of it.
My cat completely refuses to get in the cat carrier and go to the vet so we have not been able to take him. I wonder what I can do for him since he refuses to go. I also think the carrier may be too small for him. Is there any way I can get him into a cat carrier and to the vet without any drama and protests so he’ll feel better?
A: Your cat’s vet needs to evaluate Cheddar as soon as possible. Because of the urgency of your situation, I recommend you search for a veterinarian who will come to your house and treat your cat. Regardless, you do need to change your cat’s relationship with cat carriers.
Get a dog or cat carrier large enough for your cat to turn around in comfortably. I find hard-sided plastic carriers are preferable to soft carriers for a few reasons. It is easy to take hard-sided carriers apart — minimizing the cats stress during clinic exams. Additionally, because the hard-sided carriers have a rigid, stable construction, cats feel more secure in them. I also find that cats acclimate faster to the hard-sided pet carriers.
Take your time and do not chase or try to corner your cat. Doing so will stress the cat and result in his doing everything in his power to avoid the cat carrier. Instead, gradually change his association with the carrier to a positive experience. Place your cat’s new carrier in an area where he usually hangs out. Make the carrier both a permanent fixture in his world and a place where only good things happen. Take the carrier apart, and put a towel in the bottom piece of the carrier. Feed your cat all of his meals and treats in the carrier bottom. If Cheddar enjoys playing, incorporate the carrier base into the play by dragging or tossing his favorite toys into it. Your cat’s favorite activities need to take place in the carrier.
After your cat gets comfortable hanging out in the bottom of the carrier, reassemble the carrier. Firmly latch the top to the bottom so that it can’t accidentally fall apart. At this stage, either leave off the door or keep it open. Continue the activities your cat enjoys inside the reassembled carrier, feeding him his meals and tossing his favorite toys and treats into the carrier.
You can close the carrier door for one second after your cat is leisurely venturing into the carrier. Immediately upon opening the door, reward your cat with a treat. Gradually increase the time the door remains closed, always reinforcing your cat with a treat.
I cannot predict how long it will take Cheddar to accept his new carrier. It is also possible that both providing Cheddar a new, large carrier and placing coveted treats inside will immediately improve the situation.