Cat carrier training
‘Training’ is a word closely associated with our canine companions –however, our feline friends benefit from training too.
So, our resident feline behaviour expert and Compliance Advisor, Layla, will be sharing her expertise in a series of articles supporting you and your cat on your training journey.
Our first cat training article is all about teaching your feline to feel comfortable in a carrier…
Why do I need to carrier train my cat?
Your feline friend may need to travel in a carrier for many reasons throughout their life, whether for trips to the vet or adventures to holiday cattery stays. This means it’s essential that their experiences in a cat carrier are positive and calm.
Unfortunately, most cats associate carriers with discomfort and stress, since they’re typically only ever expected to travel in one when they go to the vet for an illness or injury. This negative association with cat carriers can lead to stressful situations for both you and your cat, as you attempt a battle of wills whenever they see their carrier.
By teaching your cat that their carrier is a positive place to be, you’re improving their wellbeing (e.g. easier vet visits), as well as saving yourself from getting stressed, and possibly scratched too!
Step 1: Choose the right carrier for your cat
Finding a carrier that suits your feline friend is the first step in helping them feel comfortable with it.
Here’s a checklist to help make sure your cat’s carrier is suitable for them (and you):
- There’s enough space for them to stand up and turn around.
- You can attach food and water dishes to it on long journeys.
- It’s easy to clean (in case of ‘accidents’ during transit!).
- It should contain at least two openings, to allow for plenty of ventilation and airflow.
- A lightweight design that’s easy for you to carry.
- They shouldn’t be able to open it (some clever cats can unzip soft-sided or shoulder bag carriers!).
Top tip: For cats who get nervous during vet visits, carrier tops that unclip from the base can help your feline friend feel safer. Allowing your cat to stay cuddled up on the carrier base, in their comfort blanket, during a vet appointment might keep them a little calmer.
Step 2: Make sure their cat carrier becomes ‘part of the furniture’
As mentioned, one of the primary problems cats can have with a carrier is that they only encounter it before a vet visit – leading to a less-than-pleasant association!
Normally, cat carriers are stashed away and only brought out when your cat needs to go somewhere unpleasant, like the vet’s. So, placing the carrier where your cat likes to hang out will minimise the association that the carrier is always for a negative experience.
Your feline friend is less likely to panic at the sight of a carrier if it’s something they see every day, while they’re feeling relaxed and enjoying normal activities.
Please note: If your cat is in pain, it won’t matter that they’re used to the carrier because they may still not want to be placed into it.
Step 3: Cat carrier = fun!
Making the cat carrier a great place to be can help your cat feel better about spending time there.
When not in use, depending on the type of carrier you have, you can remove the door and place an item of clothing containing your cat’s favourite person’s scent inside.
Alternatively, you could place your cat’s bed inside, to help make the carrier less scary by filling it with comforting smells.
Another way to encourage your feline friend to see their carrier as fun, instead of frightening, is to include it in their playtime routine. Encourage your cat to chase something into and out of the carrier, put their favourite toy in there, or give them a treat whenever they venture into the carrier.
Remember: It can take time for your cat to feel comfortable with their carrier, so please don’t feel discouraged if each step needs to be repeated a lot; that’s totally normal!
Step 4: Encourage nap time in the carrier
Once your feline friend is comfortable with the carrier in their space, it’s important to craft a cosy environment within the carrier – so they feel like napping in it.
Most cats love small spaces where they can feel protected and safe, which provides an excellent opportunity for you to make their carrier a lovely place to snooze!
Step 5: Provide plenty of praise!
Have you noticed your cat napping in their carrier? As soon as they wake up, give your feline friend lots of praise, and offer treats as a reward for spending time in their carrier.
In case praise isn’t quite enough, you could use a vet-approved pheromone spray at least 15 minutes before placing your cat into their carrier.
Top tip: If you find that your cat still isn’t interested in their carrier, pop some catnip inside it!
Travelling with your cat safely
Now their training is complete, and your feline friend is happy in their carrier, it’s essential to maintain that positive association you’ve worked so hard to create.
When travelling with your cat in the car, it’s important to:
- Avoid using “Shh” to calm your cat, since it can sound like a hiss!
- Keep the car a comfortable temperature.
- Play relaxing music.
- Drive as slowly and smoothly as possible.
- Never allow your cat to roam freely during transit.
- Give them lots of praise before, during, and after the journey.
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