Putting "Love" In This Love-Hate-Relationship
Does your cat hate getting in their carrier to go to the vet? Unfortunately lots do. But if you think about it, it’s not surprising. For many (most?) cats the only time they see, let alone get into, their carrier is 2 minutes before they’re whisked out the door to head off to the veterinarian.
And since many cats aren’t brought for routine wellness care (like annual check-ups), and just brought to the vet when they’re “off” or sick...
...that quick "carrier to car ride to vet visit" is typically
when they’re already not feeling well
So it's really not surprising they don't like their carrier, and that your “carrier dance” usually involves a struggle with your cat being “placed” in facing backwards, and you with scratches on both arms. Sound familiar?
Steps to Getting Your Cat Used to their Carrier – Before Going to the Vet
Fortunately there are a few simple steps you can take to help make that a less stressful experience… for you both.
- Make the carrier part of their environment — Ideally keep their carrier out in their environment all the time, rather than squirreled away in the basement or garage. This can be in the living room, a bathroom, near where they sleep, or wherever they spend a lot of time. It's not recommended to start by putting it near their food or litter box (see next point below for why). Once they're used to the carrier you can experiment with different places throughout your home. There are also many fun ways to incorporate a carrier into your environment.
- If you don't have their crate out all the time, then take it out several days before their scheduled veterinary visit – This will give them at least a little bit of time to adapt to it and “settle down.” Don't put it near where they eat and/or go to the bathroom, as its sudden arrival in these particularly important locations may stress them out and put them off their food or drive them to pee or poop outside of their litter boxes.
- Help them form positive associations with their carrier – Keep a comfortable towel or blanket in their carrier. Spray that towel with Feliway / Comfort Zone, a calming pheromone that can work wonders to help reduce and prevent stress in cats — you don’t need much, just a spritz or two. With pheromones a little truly goes a long way! (Tip: don’t spray the towel while it’s in the carrier, rather spray it out of the carrier and then wave it around to help the alcohol “carrier” dissipate (ideally 15-30 minutes before your cat goes into the crate), as it can help prevent irritation of your cat’s nasal passages. You can also put a little catnip in their carrier on a regular basis, or spray a little catnip oil (diluted) on their carrier towel/blanket. Positive associations can also be formed by feeding them treats and petting or grooming/brushing them while they’re in their carrier.
Putting Your Cat In A Carrier – In A Pinch
If you've stumbled across this article and don't have enough time to prep your cat for the vet visit using the tips above then here's a handy technique to get your cat in their carrier that might work – check out this video.
Crate Training Your Cat
You’ve (likely) heard of crate training a dog, right? Well, did you know you can carrier train a cat? It’s true, and it follows very similar principles to the process in dogs. Patience and consistency are key — as is finding a quiet, relaxed environment and treats your cat really enjoys. Here’s a video showing the steps in the process of cat carrier training. So, as you can see it can be done, and when your cat is comfortable in their carrier, it's SO rewarding and will make life so much easier (and safer) for you both.
The CATalyst Council has produced a wonderfully informative video that demonstrates the steps you should take to ensure your cat has the best possible experience with its crate. From choosing the right crate to helping a cat that's fearful, practically everything you need to know is right here. You can view the entire video here or each step separately below:
- Step 1: Choosing the right carrier for you and your cat
- Step 2: Choosing the ideal location in your home (also see Step 3 for more location tips)
- Step 3: How to make the carrier cat-friendly
- Step 4: Getting your cat used to the car ride (to the vet). Carve out a little bit of time each week, or as often as you can, to get your cat in their carrier, load them up into the car (don’t forget to secure their carrier for safety — theirs and yours!), and take them for a brief drive. It doesn’t have to be to your vet’s office, it doesn’t even have to be to “somewhere.” Just drive around for increasingly longer periods of time. Then head home and spend some time playing or snuggling with them.
- Step 5: How to help your fearful cat to like their carrier
Wash Your Cat's Carrier After Each Vet Visit – It Helps With Their StressWhen you do actually take your cat to the vet, it’s always a good idea to wash their carrier afterwards. This can help by getting the smells of the vet’s office (and any urine that might have “happened” on the way there or back) out of and off the carrier and the padding or blankets inside. Those “smell memories” alone can stress your cat and make it more difficult to get them into the carrier the next time.
Acclimating your cat to their carrier is just one of the (very important) steps to reducing your cat’s stress — both general stress and their (and your) stress heading to the vet. According to the 2013 Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study, 58% of cat owners think their cat hates going to the vet, and 38% of cat owners get stressed just thinking about taking their cat to the vet. It's no wonder cats don't get the regular veterinary care and the medical oversight, they so deserve to be as healthy as possible – it's just too stressful for them and their owners. So please, for both of your sakes, I hope you’ll take some time to do these steps and reduce future stress levels. And let us know how it goes and what works or doesn’t work for you and your cats.
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