So today’s post is inspired by a friend’s traumatic cat carrier experience (they shall remain nameless because I am a nice friend!) Their cat (let’s call him Dave) had not eaten for over a day and they were concerned. After a chat to their vet – they got the cat carrier down to Dave in for a check up. Now Dave took one look at the cat carrier and was off!
Dave returned home after 2 days of stress, hungry but fine! (You can imagine how worried his owners were). This is a story I hear all the time. Getting a cat into their carrier can be a horrible stress for all involved and although there are loads of dog trainers around, it can be hard to find someone to help with a cat!
Why are they worried?
Think about it – when did you last put your cat in a carrier and take them somewhere nice things happen? I bet the answer is never! It is usually to the vets or maybe a cat boarding facility. The carrier can start to predict something yucky is about to happen – so they avoid. This is made worse by a cat carrier reducing the cat’s ability to control anything about their environment – they are trapped, so are left feeling more stressed.
The cat starts actively avoiding the carrier (hiding, running – even in some cases showing aggression). Whatever it takes to avoid going inside. This in itself heightens the stress of the whole experience for everyone. It also means by the time they have arrived at their destination, they are anxious, stressed and hard to handle.
So what should we do?
The carrier needs to start predicting something good is going to happen. If your cat has an extreme reaction – like Dave’s, now might be the time to cut your losses and start again. This carrier was ‘poisoned’ for him – so I advised my friends to buy a totally different looking carrier (colour, shape) and start again.
What carrier is best?
Make sure the carrier is big enough for your cat – they should be able to stand up easily and not have to crouch down. The floor should be sturdy, comfortable and non slip (a cut up yoga mat with towel on top works well). Ensure the whole top comes off the carrier – not just the front door, so they can be lifted rather than dragged out at their destination.
How do I re-train them?
- Start with the top off the carrier, so it doesn’t ‘look’ like a carrier, just a tray.
- Surround the carrier bottom with treats, watch your cat’s body language – they shouldn’t be wary – no ears pinned back or crouching! If they are, start scattering the treats further away.
- Over time bring treats nearer, to the tray – and then inside.
- Once they are happy entering the carrier, put the lid on and start the process again.
- Once they are happy entering for treats, put the door back on.
- Then start closing the door for periods of time – ensuring they have yummy food inside to eat.
Once they are happy entering a fully re-constructed carrier, start leaving it out in the house, placing treats in every day or so. This way your cat will be rewarded for entering and it will lose its scary association. Feliway spray may also help to make the carrier a more pleasant place to be – just ensure it is sprayed 30 mins before your cat enters.
If your cat is overly worried about trips to the vet or boarding, contact me for advice – as it’s really important we address this as a separate issue.
Dr Julie Ashton, BSc, BVSc, MANZCVs (Veterinary Behaviour), MRCVS
Life on Four Legs