Skittish tabby and white cat in a red and white carrier

Cats go to the vet half as often as dogs and miss out on important preventive care and vaccinations. The number one reason people give for not taking their cat to the vet is the stress and struggle of getting their beloved feline into a carrier and listening to her howl in the car all the way there. 

Wouldn’t it be great to load up even a difficult, skittish, cat into his carrier without scaring him, stressing you out, ending up with Kitty terrified and you scratched and bitten? The best way to do that is to train your cat to like her carrier by desensitizing her to it when she’s young. But what to do if your cat hates his carrier but still needs to go to the vet? 

How To Get An Unwilling Cat In A Carrier

I’m sure we’ve all experienced the situation where we try to put our furbaby into that carrier and suddenly it feels like she’s five times her normal size. Cats try to make themselves bigger, stretch out those paws, grab the sides of the carrier, and hang on for dear life.

You can still get Kitty in the carrier without all the drama if you don’t have time to train your cat to like her carrier.

You can read more about carrier training by clicking on this link.

Don’t Chase Her

Chasing Kitty around the house with the carrier just makes her more frightened. Stand your carrier on end propped by a sofa or the bathtub. The easiest time to approach is while she’s eating or sleeping. Approach from behind so she doesn’t see you coming. Stay calm. Your stress will just wind her up more. 

Purrito Him

Take a blanket or towel that is big enough to wrap around the kitty but small enough to fit in the carrier. Approach Kitty from behind with the blanket, drop it over him in one movement securing it to his sides. Wrap it under him as you pick him up and lower him into the carrier tail first. He’ll unwrap himself in the carrier. Spraying the blanket with Feliway beforehand can help calm your cat.

Think Backwards

Your cat is a lot more likely to freak out if you try to push him into a carrier face first. To him it feels like a trap. It’s unfamiliar territory. He thinks predators could be hiding in there waiting to grab him. Lowering him into the carrier tail first prevents him from hitting that panic button so fast. 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.

red cat in a blue and white carrier. Owners hand closing door to carrier.

Tips for Calming a Cat in a Carrier

What do you do now that you’ve gotten Kitty in his carrier? Is there a way to avoid all the mournful howling on the way to the vet? Probably not if Kitty isn’t used to car travel. You can try some things to make it easier on him though.

  • Consider a carrier cover. Some cats prefer less stimulation during that drive. It can be as simple as throwing a towel over the carrier, or you can purchase something pretty and made for your carrier.
  • Buckle Kitty in where he can see you. He’ll find security in knowing you are there. Cats trust their human guardians as much as dogs do.
  • Talk to her. Again, knowing you are there will calm her.
  • Play soft music on the radio. Skip the loud rock and roll with a strong beat.

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How to Choose the Right Carrier for a Difficult Cat

Choose a hard side carrier for a difficult or skittish cat.

A determined, frightened cat can tear through the mesh and fabric of a soft side carrier. He can bite you through the mesh when you attempt to remove him from the carrier. Hard side carriers are also easier to clean if your scared cat pees in the carrier.

Think bigger.

A small carrier is more frightening to a skittish cat when you are trying to stick her into it. Look for one designed for pets in the 20-25lb range.  Don’t go so large you can’t easily carry it. 

Top loading is a plus.

A top entry option makes it easier to get your difficult cat in the carrier without having to stand it on end. It’s also less stressful for both Kitty and the vet staff who have to get him out of the carrier. No grabby hands reaching in while he shrinks to the back and presents his teeth and claws. 

If you can’t get a top loading carrier, consider one designed with an easily removable top. The vet can examine your cat right in the bottom of the carrier and put the top back on without the stressful in and out scenario.

My Favorite Cat Carriers for Skittish Cats

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I own all of these carriers, most of them in multiples. While our favorite carrier will always be the Sleepypod Mobile Pet Bed, it is not my choice to use with my difficult to load or skittish cats, aggressive cats, or cats that are likely to pee in the carrier. These are my top recommendations. They can all be purchased at Amazon or Chewy, but you can most likely find them at your local pet store as well.

Petmate Compass Kennel

  • This carrier comes in a variety of sizes and fashion colors if you like. I suggest the medium size if you are working with a difficult cat.
  • The door has latches on both sides, or can be removed altogether to make loading and unloading Kitty easier
  • It is fairly easy to assemble.
  • Durable, secure, and easy to clean

Petmate Two-Door Pet Kennel

This carrier has all of the feature and benefits of the Compass Kennel except the removable door. It does have a top loading door when makes it much easier to load a difficult or skittish cat. No head first or tail first issue. I recommend the larger of the two sizes offered.

Petmate Vari Kennel

Another sturdy, well made, carrier. I own several of these too. The 24″ small size even holds my larger cats just fine. These carriers do not come with a top loading option, my only negative feature.

  • Easy to assemble. Can be used without the screws to make the top easily removable in the vet’s office.
  • Durable plastic sides and metal door.
  • Lots of ventilation
  • Notch on the top for a seatbelt
  • Compartment on the top for storage
  • Channel designed to keep Kitty dry if he pees in the carrier.
  • Easy to wipe clean.

Budget Friendly Options

Both Amazon and Chewy offer a private label version of these style kennels:

Amazon Basics Two Door Top Loader has all the features of the Vari-Kennel but it does have the top loading feature, and a lower price tag.
Chewy offers their Frisco brand carriers that are similar to the Vari-Kennel and the Compass.


Your skittish cat will be easier to get in a carrier if she is introduced to it as a non-threatening, normal piece of her natural environment. But if you haven’t time to train him and need to get him to the vet it is still possible to get your cat in a carrier safely. Choosing a larger, hard-side, top-loading carrier will help make the job of getting a difficult cat in the carrier less stressful for you and your cat.

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2 thoughts on “How to Put a Skittish Cat in a Carrier”

  1. I think the more important question is how to get a skittish cat OUT of a carrier! I’m mostly kidding – you shared some great carriers that come apart to make that easy. When taking Bear to the vet, we always had to take the carrier apart to get him out. This is one of the reasons I LOVE our SleepyPods!

    1. Oh it’s so true. I hate dumping them out or risking the tech’s face pulling them out. Fireball and Minnie go tomorrow and both of them glue themselves to the back of the carrier. We just unscrew everything. I don’t trust them in the sleepypod, they’re pee-ers. Treeno rides in it anyway.

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