Cats love boxes and a carrier is just another box! However, your cat may have a love-hate relationship with her carrier – when the carrier comes out, she runs and hides under the bed. On the other hand, she may be relieved to enter it at the vet clinic at the end of her visit.
Carrier Training for your cat
Why your cat may not like her carrier:
- It only takes her to the vet
- The carrier is not comfortable – maybe it too small, too big or too open like a cage?
- The carrier is an unfamiliar object and does not smell like her – smell means a lot to cats who use odors to communicate.
One of the reasons to do carrier training is to try and give your cat some positive associations with her carrier. We want our cats to feel safe in their carriers. It should be a little piece of home that travels with them.
carrier training for your cat: carrier basics
Your cat should be able to stand up and turn around in her carrier. If she can’t, it is time for a new carrier. For tips on choosing and maintaining a carrier see https://www.felinepurrspective.com/tips-for-choosing-a-cat-carrier/
Start by cleaning the carrier.
- Hard, plastic carriers: clean with a mild detergent, rinse and wipe dry.
- Fabric carriers: Launder the “slipcover” on the pad in the bottom. Wash the carrier with mild detergent (unscented if possible) and water, then rinse and let dry. If you are concerned about urine in a fabric carrier, be sure to use an enzymatic (biological) laundry detergent.
Most laundry detergents these days contain enzymes to break down protein and fat based stains in fabrics. However, there are detergents designed to clean materials such as wool and silk that do not have enzymes. Check the list of ingredients on your detergent to see if enzymes are listed.
Once the carrier is clean, place a towel, blanket, or cushion in it. Select something that your cat sleeps on. We want something with her scent on it in the carrier. Place the carrier in a quiet place where your cat hangs out.
carrier training for your cat: three methods
Carrier training for your cat can be done in a number of ways.
Method I: You might be able to simply leave the carrier out with your cat’s blanket and some catnip in it. If your cat goes in and takes a nap, he is comfortable with his “home away from home”. You should be able to load him in the carrier with some treats or catnip.
Method II: Feeding your cat in his carrier
Another method to acclimate a cat to his carrier is to feed him in it. This is perhaps more appropriate for easily cleaned hard plastic carriers. The “Kitty Diner” can also be a way to separate cats while feeding, allowing each cat his own place to eat.
- Take the door off the carrier.
- Place your cat’s food bowl near his carrier.
- Over the next few days to a week, gradually move the food bowl closer to the carrier.
- Work up to placing it just inside the carrier.
- Move the bowl to the back of the carrier.
You should be able to coax him into the carrier with some treats or catnip when you need to travel.
Method III: Carrier Training for Your Cat using a clicker
This may seem more complicated but if your cat is food motivated and knows how to sit and target, it is fast and reliable. You can go a bit slower with a carrier with a removable top. One piece carriers can start at Step 3.
Keep sessions short. Make sure your cat is comfortable with one step before moving to the next. This entire process can take as little as a few days or maybe a week or more. Be patient and go at your cat’s pace. Click on this link for an overview of clicker training.
Step 1 : Top off
- Lure Kitty into the carrier with the target stick or a trail of treats.
- Once in, ask her to sit, then click and treat.
- Lure her out and click and treat.
Step 2: Door off
- Assemble the carrier leaving the door off.
- Lure your cat in with a target stick or treats. Once in, click and treat.
- Using treats or the target stick, lure her out. Click and treat.
Step 3: Door open
- Put the door on the carrier.
- With the door open, lure kitty into her carrier. Click and treat.
- Lure her out. Click and treat.
Step 4: Close the door
- Lure Kitty into her carrier and close the door.
- Click and treat.
- Open the door and have Kitty come out.
- Click and treat.
Step 5: Moving the carrier
- With your cat in the carrier, pick the carrier up and move it to another room.
- When you arrive in the other room, open the door and let her out. Click and treat.
All Done! Celebrate with treats!
A video presentation is available in the video gallery: https://www.felinepurrspective.com/aiovg_videos/carrier-training-your-cat/
Whatever method you use, leave the carrier out where your cat can nap in it or play around it. It will become familiar to your cat, a “part of the landscape”. It will be there in case of emergency, such as a house fire or wildfire, when you have to pack your cat up quickly and leave.
Consider making a cover for the carrier – it can match your decor and your cat will like the feeling of safety afforded by a cozy, dark space.