Do you dread taking your cat to the vet because it’s so stressful? Does your cat run at the first sight of their carrier, then valiantly and determinedly resist going inside by muscling their way out? You’re not alone. Cats fear change, and many associate their carrier with negative experiences—like going to the vet’s office, car travel, or a bad memory associated with the car. Some cats become so stressed seeing a carrier or being inside of one—they immediately urinate, meow loudly, drool excessively, and some even vomit. It’s that traumatic for them. It’s enough to make a cat parent’s blood pressure skyrocket!
But what if you could transform your cat’s negative association into a positive experience? Here’s a step-by-step process for making your cat carrier a more inviting, welcoming and non-threatening place, and your cat’s trip to the vet a far more enjoyable, less stressful experience.
- Choose the Best Carrier – First you want to choose a safe, secure, and stable carrier. Hard sided carriers offer the safest protection; soft sided carriers provide the least protection and can actually collapse on your cat under pressure. Choose a carrier that has both top-loading and front-loading doors so you can access your cat more easily. Make sure your carrier is large enough for your cat to turn around and stand up, avoid getting a carrier that is too small or one your cat will outgrow when an adult. Your carrier should provide ample space and be comfortable for them for longer periods of time. Be sure to add a soft pad for the bottom, and if necessary add a pee pad in case they have an accident.
- Leave the Carrier Out in a Room – Get your cat comfortable with her carrier by making it less threatening. Keep the carrier visible inside your home to make it a positive experience. Put it in a location where your cat likes to sleep, nap or relax. Make sure it’s in a quiet place where there isn’t a lot of foot traffic. The best place is wherever your cat likes to comfortably hang out.
- Leave the Carrier Door Open – Get your cat accustomed to the carrier by leaving it out for days in advance of their vet visit or road trip. Leave it out as an optional place for them to sleep or nap, leaving the door propped open. Let them get used to seeing it, smelling it, and going inside—so the carrier is less threatening and won’t induce fear. Add a piece of your clothing as bedding (with your smell on it) or add a soft blanket or pad to make it more inviting for them. Consider placing it near a warm place or where the sun comes through a window—cats love heat and to be warm. You can also remove the top of the carrier to make it more like a cat bed for them.
- Reward Your Cat Inside the Carrier – Reward your cat with their favorite treat or meal inside, so they associate the carrier with a pleasant experience. Play with your cat by dangling a fishing pole or teaser wand-style toy inside the carrier, and surround their carrier with their favorite toys and catnip. Do this for several days or even weeks to really get them comfortable and relaxed with their carrier, associating pleasurable experiences with it.
- Use a Feline Pheromone Spray Inside the Carrier – Spray or wipe the carrier with a synthetic pheromone like Feliway Spray (by Comfort Zone) that contains calming pheromones to reduce stress and anxiety. Do it daily and again 30 minutes before leaving for the vet or a car trip. You can also spray the pheromone on a towel or blanket placing it inside the carrier, or by covering the carrier with it. Be sure to let the spray dry-down completely before putting your cat inside, it takes about 30 minutes to dry. Never spray the pheromone on your cat, only on their bedding or carrier. You can also use Rescue Remedy Spray or Drops (by Bach) that contains different flower extracts including Helianthemum, Clematis, and Impatiens to calm and relax. You can rub Rescue Remedy drops onto the inside of your cat’s ears or onto the pads of their paws where blood vessels are located, or drop a couple drops onto your cat’s tongue. The Rescue Remedy spray can be sprayed on surfaces but not directly on the cat. Both of these products are very gentle, safe and effective treatments for reducing your cat’s fear, anxiety and stress, and are readily available at drug stores, natural food stores, online and on Amazon. Be sure to add their favorite toy inside too.
- Practice Putting Your Cat’s Carrier in the Car – Ease them into car travel by putting their carrier in the car briefly and then taking it back out, releasing your cat back inside your home. Practice this several times to get them accustomed to going into the carrier, leaving the house, and being in the car. You can even drive around your neighborhood and return home, so the car isn’t always associated with going to the vet. This is a non-threatening way to get them comfortable with the prospect of leaving your home and being in the car. Then reward them at home with a treat or some food.
- Before Driving, Secure the Carrier with a Seat Belt – For your cat’s safety before driving, always strap your carrier into the car seat with a seat belt passing it through the handle of the carrier. You can cover the carrier with a towel or blanket if you think your cat will be more comfortable and less scared covered, but some cats enjoy seeing out the window and are happily distracted. When driving, remember to keep the radio volume on low to reduce noise and stress.
- Returning Home Use the Same Rewards – Before leaving your vet’s office or driving home, remember to spray Feliway or Rescue Remedy again 30-minutes before leaving and let it dry before putting your cat inside. Then once you’re home, reward your cat with their favorite treat or their favorite food, along with a lot of affection, so they will associate positive feelings with their travel.
Taking these steps will ensure that your cat’s experience will be as positive as possible. Taking your cat to the vet for routine health checks, diagnostic tests, and when your cat is sick is critical to their health and well-being. Regular veterinary visits are especially important for identifying the early signs of disease, chronic illness and preventing more serious health problems. Never avoid going to the vet for any reason. These steps will go a long way in making your cat more comfortable and happy in their carrier, and will definitely make your trip more enjoyable for both you and your cat!
There is also another option for transporting cats in the car that is an alternative to a hard or soft-sided carrier for transporting cats, but does not offer as much protection. One is called Cat-In-A-Bag and the other is called Cat Sack Bag, both function similarly, where the cat is constrained comfortably inside a cloth bag designed so that they cannot escape.
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Credit: Cover Photo by Stuart Rankin, sjrankin – “Why Me?” – on Flickr and Photopin, www.photopin.com