How to Teach Your Cat to Love Her Carrier

tabby cats in carriers

Does your cat freak out at the very idea of getting in her carrier? Do you have to get out the garden gloves to load her up to go to the vet? Wouldn’t it be easier is if Kitty was calm in her carrier? Read on for tips to keep Kitty calm and teach her to love her carrier.

Cats have memories.  When the only time Kitty gets put in the carrier is to go to the vet or the groomer, she will fear it and fight it.

If it is too stressful to get a cat into her carrier, it can lead her guardian to skip necessary vet visits and delay treatment of disease or needed grooming.  Physically forcing your cat into her carrier can cause her to fear her carrier and damage the bond between you and your kitty. Train your cat to be calm in her carrier from the time you bring her home.

Make Kitty’s Carrier Her Safe Space

Your goal is for Kitty to not see a carrier as a trap but a safe space. The younger you start the process of acclimating her to the carrier the easier it will be.

Scent rules in the cat world.  Their sense of smell is 14 times more sensitive than ours.  You can use that to your advantage when teaching Kitty to love her carrier.

Put her favorite bed or a blanket or towel she has slept with into the carrier.  Her scent on the bedding will comfort her.  You can also spray the carrier with Feliway, a stress-reducing spray.

cat in carrier
Katie has no fear of her carrier

Wipe the carrier down and leave it open in a common area.  Let it become part of the furniture.

Cats like quiet, enclosed, places to hide and relax. I have a row of carriers in my bedroom and there are always cats sleeping in them.  It is like a row of little cat apartments.

Make all the positive associations with the carrier you can. Your goal is for Kitty to not see a carrier as a trap but a safe space.

Make Being in the Carrier Rewarding

Make all the positive associations with the carrier you can.  Leave treats or toys in the carrier for your cat to find.  Catnip never hurts if your cat is old enough to appreciate it.  Work up to feeding her in the carrier.

When she will freely enter the carrier you can try teaching her to enter on command.  Cats aren’t as responsive to commands as dogs are, but they are trainable and they will react to food.  She will learn that she gets a treat when she goes in her carrier.

Once she is used to that, close the door for a few seconds before rewarding her if she stays calm in the carrier. If she gets upset just let her out and try again later.   Close the carrier door and leave the room when she is comfortable.  Let her out in a few minutes.  When she tolerates that, pick up the carrier and walk around the house with her inside.  Release her and give her her treat.

When Kitty has reached that point, take her for a short ride around the block. Gradually increase the length of your drives.  You want to let her know not every trip out in her carrier is a trip to the vet!  Before long Kitty will be staying calm in her carrier and you’ll be hitting the open road with ease.

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What to Look for in a Cat Carrier

Choose a carrier designed for transporting cats.  It should be big enough for the cat to stand up, lie down and turn around.  Make sure it has adequate ventilation. Using a pillowcase, a basket, or a box is not a safe or secure way to move your cat.

Carriers come in hard and soft sided versions.  Soft carriers are easier to carry and good for around town travel and for cats that don’t get carsick, stress pee, or freak out and try to scratch their way out of their carriers.

Hard side versions with metal doors are sturdier and better for longer travel and for cats who might get fractious in the carrier or the car. Get one you can take apart if Kitty is resistant to get out of the carrier at the vet or wherever you are going.

Some cat backpacks can double as carriers. If Kitty is used to adventuring in her backpack, she is less likely to mind it for a vet visit.

Buckle in your carrier.  If your carrier doesn’t have a buckle attachment built in, you can purchase something like Kurgo Carrier Keeper.  In a pinch, run your seatbelt through the handle of your carrier.

Check with the airlines if you are purchasing a carrier for air travel.  There are federal guidelines but each airline also has their own rules.

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How to Get Kitty in Her Carrier Safely in an Emergency

Sometimes you just can’t wait. You can reduce Kitty’s stress if you have to get her into her carrier before you have trained her to be calm in her carrier.

Don’t force her into her carrier face first.  That is scary for her. She will fight you and grab the sides of the carrier for all she is worth.  If you have a top loading carrier, it is easy to just pop her in the top.

If your carrier doesn’t open from the top, then stand it on the end. Pick the cat up holding one hand around her back paws, and one around her chest.  Hold her facing your chest so she doesn’t see the carrier.  Lower her into the carrier tail first.

You can wear those work gloves or wrap your cat in a towel if she is especially fractious.  Cover the carrier with a towel or blanket.  Reducing her sensory overload will help Kitty relax.  Staying calm yourself will help Kitty calm down.

Put the carriers back out in their usual locations when you return from a trip. Throw a few treats or her favorite toy in the carrier if she’s avoiding it. You want to get back to normal routines as soon as possible.

It is possible to train your cat to love her carrier. Teaching her to be calm in her carrier will make both your lives easier.

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16 thoughts on “How to Teach Your Cat to Love Her Carrier”

  1. Fantastic advice! We needed to put a number of these suggestions into place, recently. Our foster, Isabella, made several trips to the vet. we weren’t able to handle her easily and had to figure out ways to make getting her in the carrier with as little blood shed (ours) as possible. Treats in the carrier definitely helped.

  2. All great tips! We only have a feral kitty we adopted almost 7 years ago (where does the time go?!) and I did managed to get him into the carrier several times to get him to the vet, and that first time he came out faster than a speeding bullet and I literally bounced off the vet’s walls! He has adapted and now seems to like being in the carrier, although it has been awhile. I hope he still won’t mind when it’s time to get him to the vet again as he can still be so skittish even after all these years! I’ll keep these tips in mind!

  3. Great advice! My girls were fine in their Sleepypod Mobile Pet Beds until both of them got really sick this year and had to spend a few days at the vet and go back and forth several times. They are a little leary of the carriers now, but I’m working on getting them comfortable again. One positive thing about the Sleepypod Mobile Pet Beds is that the lid can come off and the veterinary hospitals use the bottom in the cages and the girls slept in them.

  4. This is great! Teaching a cat to love his/her carrier is basically the same as teaching a dog to love his kennel/crate. Slow introductions and positive associations are key with any new thing you try to introduce.

  5. The Dash Kitten Crew

    If I need to get one in a carrier I do it fast before they have time to realise. Works with the pet stroller too. They are liking the stroller more and more too which is amazing for me (I was worried).

    I have a soft sided carrier and for urban use I would recommend it 100%

  6. I wish I would have known this when we first got our cat. He was okay with it, but he did equate the carrier with vet visits. My sister has a kitten now and is doing what you suggest.

  7. This is smart, if your cat thinks of their carrier as a moving apartment, they’ll hopefully feel a bit less stressed when they’re at the vet or traveling with you. Adorable photos!

  8. I do not have a cat but with Layla she is not mad about the carrier but does have an indoor kennel which she loves as it is open all the time. She loves her backpack which does make life easier for me. I just take it out of the closet and she is jumping for joy. I am training her more with the carrier at the moment for emergencies.

  9. This post feels so timely for me…I actually don’t have any cats but I just bought my small dog a new crate this morning. It’s weird how so many people know the basics of crate training a dog but wouldn’t think to do the same for a cat. My dogs are both crate trained and will often go to their open crates to nap or just get some alone time. I think it’s important to give pets a space in the house that’s their own.

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