The first step in getting the cat into a carrier is finding the cat. Can’t find him, you say? Well that’s not an uncommon scenario. Carrier comes out and kitty turns into the invisible cat. Gone. Poof. No scent, no trail. Nowhere to be found. Why so? Well think about it. The only times most cats see their carriers is before being toted off to the veterinarian or groomer. Can opener = good times … Carrier = not so good times.
Cats can be very wiley about this carrier situation, often exhibiting super-sentient abilities. A woman who brought her cat in for an exam recently said that she does whatever she can to avoid thinking about her pet’s carrier on veterinary appointment days. She is convinced that “Stuff” (her cat) can read her mind and when her thought barrier breaks down, the cat disappears. Hmm, reminds me of the movie, Village of the Damned in which townsfolk focused on brick walls to prevent alien children from reading their minds.
Make it a fun space
The ultimate goal is to teach the cat not to be afraid of the carrier. To do this, he must have more positive experiences associated with the carrier than negative ones. For starts, you’ll want to leave the carrier out in the home so the cat sees it each day, not just when he’ll get stuffed inside for some unpleasant event.
The fastest way around most cats’ fears is through the tummy, and the ideal time to start training is when the pet is a kitten. Keep his food and water bowls inside, and occasionally place toys or very special treats (we’re talking chicken, shrimp, tuna – mega-good-stuff – whatever really turns him on) inside. If the cat is hesitant to enter, place the bowls in front of the carrier for a few weeks, then gradually move the bowls into it.
Teach him to enter on cue
Once he is real relaxed with the carrier, you can work on teaching him to enter on cue. Take a small piece of really special food and, as you toss it into the carrier, point to the carrier and give a cue, such as “Kennel up.” Leave treats nearby and every time you walk by gesture toward the carrier, toss a treat inside and say “Kennel up.” Repeat as often as possible. Solid learning comes from repetition. Make it a fun game the pet enjoys to play.
Moving on down the road
Once the pet is relaxed around the carrier and looks forward to entering it, you need to begin moving the carrier with him inside. Gently close the door, pick up the carrier and insert a tasty treat. Immediately set it back down. Repeat walking about with the carrier for short periods, gradually increasing the duration. You might even want to progress to very short car rides that end with something special such as more good treats or a vigorous play session.
Appointment time and no time to train
Get out your suit of armor, take your kitty shoehorn in one hand and the cat in the other. OK, seriously now, your most important tool is going to be patience. Carefully and calmly pick the pet up under the chest, back up toward the carrier and lower him through the door on top. For some cats it helps to gently wrap a towel around the pet and then slip the little kitty burrito into the carrier.
What type of carrier
I personally like rigid or soft carriers that have a second opening on the top. It’s a lot easier to slip the pet through a relatively large top opening if necessary rather than through a small front opening. It’s also easier for the veterinarian or groomer to get the pet out from the top.
There is a synthetic pheromone spray called FELIWAY(R) that has a calming effect on most cats. Applying it to the carrier for a few days prior to travel and 30 minutes prior placing the pet in the carrier has a calming effect on some cats.