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Cat Carrier Stress – Tips to make a carrier a cat-friendly place

Author: Dr. Jason Nicholas

Published: June 19, 2016

Updated: June 1, 2022

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cat carrier anxietyPutting "Love" In This Hate-Hate-Relationship

Ok, so your cat doesn't like getting inside their carrier.

But before you label your cat stubborn, consider for a moment that the only time you pull the carrier out of storage is when you're heading to the vet's office.

And chances are those visits are not for routine wellness care (like annual check-ups), but for when they are "off" or sick.

It's hard to imagine any of us wanting to get inside of our cars if getting behind the wheel every time meant a trip to the dentist!

...that quick "carrier to car ride to vet visit" is typically
when they’re already not feeling well

cat carrier shouldn't just mean vet visit

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. cute cat by basket

  • 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 carrier out all the time, then take it out several days before their scheduled veterinary visitThis 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  
    Each day, spritz a few pumps of Feliway calming pheromone on a towel or mat and place the towel/mat into the carrier to help reduce and prevent stress. 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. (A carrier that also opens on the top may be easier for this, and such carriers are often also easier for getting cats in and out when at the vet, too.) 

  • Play with them in and around the carrier! Place some of kitty’s favorite toys in their carrier. Do they like chasing a laser pointer, or a feather dancer-type toy? If so, play those games around and even in the carrier.

Pro Tip: You can help encourage your cat to explore their carrier by tossing treats into it for them. Here are some great treats options and a clicker you can use, as well.

Cat Crave treats are great for cat training. They're low-cal and cats love them!

Pet Greens Semi-Moist Cat Crave Treats
Pet Greens Semi-Moist Cat Crave Treats

Feline Greenies Dental Treats for Cats Tempting Tuna
Feline Greenies Dental Treats for Cats Tempting Tuna

Note: Use these treats for cats that are over 1 year old, because it's likely that their larger size and hardness may be too much for a younger cat.

See the video below on how to use treats and a clicker to train your kitty to love their carrier.


Wash Your Cat's Carrier After Each Vet Visit – It Helps With Their Stress

When 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. Here are some veterinarian-recommended cleaning products.

Rescue One-Step Disinfectant Cleaner & Deodorizer Wipes
Rescue One Step Disinfectant Cleaner and Deodorizer Wipes

Rescue Ready-to-Use Disinfectant Liquid, 32 oz.
Rescue Ready-to-Use Disinfectant Liquid

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. 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. Watch the full video below or skip to the time stamp for each step.

  • Step 1: Choosing the right carrier for you and your cat (1m 17s)

  • Step 2: Choosing the ideal location in your home (2m 29s)

  • Step 3: How to make the carrier cat-friendly (3m 36s)

  • Step 4: Getting your cat used to the car ride to the vet (7m 30s). 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 (8min 44s)

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.


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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About the author

Profile picture for Dr. Jason Nicholas

Dr. Jason Nicholas

Dr. Nicholas graduated with honors from The Royal Veterinary College in London, England and completed his Internship at the Animal Medical Center in New York City. He currently lives in the Pacific Northwest.

Dr. Nicholas spent many years as an emergency and general practice veterinarian obsessed with keeping pets safe and healthy. He is the author of Preventive Vet’s 101 Essential Tips book series.