When my cats leave the house, they are in a carrier. It really isn’t optional. It is truly the only safe way to transport cats for veterinary appointments, travel or in emergency situations. Humans should not try to deal with a panicked cat who’s teeth and claws can turn into lethal weapons. The cat has a safe place during a potentially scary and stressful time.
Here are some tips to do the carrier thing properly:
1. Get a good carrier: The best type of carriers are hard sided and allow for entry from both the end and the top. The entire top of the carrier should also be easy to remove, so that during veterinary exams the cat can nestle in the familiar confines of the bottom section.
2. Keep the carrier out in a good location: Don’t hide the carrier away in the basement, attic, or garage and only bring it out when a trip is imminent. Cats need to become familiar and comfortable with their carriers and can best do this when they are allowed to investigate the carrier at their own pace. The carrier should be left out in a quiet, warm part of the house with its doors open. Once a cat doesn’t consider the carrier as “an enemy” his or her stress level will diminish dramatically.
3. Make the carrier cat-friendly: Line the bottom of the carrier with a soft towel, blanket, old shirt, etc. Items that smell like home and/or a favorite person are ideal. If the cat is still hesitant to enter the carrier, spray or wipe the inside with a synthetic feline facial hormone product (Feliway). This product can be provided by the Cat Hospital of Portland. Meals and treats may also be fed inside the carrier to allow the cat to associate positive experiences while in the carrier.
4. Getting a cat comfortable moving while in the carrier: Once the cat is comfortable inside the carrier, close the doors and cover the carrier with a towel. Take the carrier out to the car, place it in the back seat secured with seat belt, and give the cat a few treats. Close the car door for a few minutes, bring the cat back inside, and open the carrier door. Repeat this process, gradually increasing the amount of time the cat is in the car, starting the engine, going for short drives, etc, always ensuring that the cat continues to remain calm.
5. Extra steps for cats that already dislike carriers: If a cat already dislikes its carrier, consider buying a new type that is not associated with past, negative experiences. Follow all the steps mentioned above but understand the process may take longer to gain the desired results. In extreme cases, veterinarians can prescribe anti-anxiety medications that may make the process easier on everyone.
These tips should help to make your cat’s car travel experience a better one…for both of you!