Looking for advice on cat carrier training? Read our expert guide to find out everything from which one to buy to how to train your cat to use one.
3 ways to reduce stress when using a cat carrier
- Nervous cat? Drape a familiar towel over the entrance
- Use a pheromone spray, like FELIWAY®, to help them feel safe
- Place a treat for your cat in the carrier from time to time to attempt to build positive associations
Why do you need a cat carrier?
If your cat disappears at the sight of your cat carrier, you’re not alone. Many cats find the experience unpleasant, either because they don’t enjoy being in a cat carrier, or they have had a negative experience in there.
One thing is for sure, there are times when you’ll need to use a cat carrier. Vet appointments, moving house or travelling anywhere can be stressful for your cat, and ensuring they are safe and well while they are being transported, is important. Never consider travelling with your cat loose in the car – aside from potential accidents, your cat could find it very traumatic.
What is the best type of cat carrier to buy?
Knowing what cat carrier to buy can be difficult, especially as there are numerous, different types on the market. While cardboard cat carriers are available, they can get wet easily and most are not strong enough to safely transport your cat. Instead, opt for a sturdy plastic or metal wire model. Whatever you choose, the ideal cat carrier should be strong, lightweight, secure and easy to clean.
Other things to consider when buying a carrier include:
- Size – the carrier needs to be large enough for your cat to lay down comfortably and adjust their position but snug enough to ensure they don’t fall about inside. Many of the ‘backpack’ style carriers do not allow a cat enough space to move or reposition, larger and sturdier handheld carriers are preferable
- Opening – cat carriers with a top opening are usually easier to use as you can lower in your cat from above. However, front-loading carriers that have the option to remove the entire top section are generally easier to use to train your cat to like the cat carrier
- Ventilation – choose a carrier that has openings on at least two sides. This will prevent your cat from overheating or suffocating inside the carrier
Setting up your cat carrier
Once you’ve chosen a cat carrier, you’ll need to set it up. Place newspaper or a washable blanket or towel inside to deal with any toileting issues en route. Ideally, choose a synthetic material that will absorb any liquid and ensure your cat is comfortable.
In addition to bedding, take a familiar blanket or towel with you to drape over the top of the carrier while you’re travelling. If you’re visiting the vet, your vet might want to use it to surround your cat during the examination. A familiar scent can be comforting for cats, particularly if they are feeling anxious.
For nervous cats, spraying the inside of the cat carrier with a pheromone spray like FELIWAY® can help. Spray 15 minutes before your cat is due to travel, using it sparingly. The pheromones in the spray, although synthetic, can help them to feel safe.
A guide to cat carrier training
- Training your cat to use a cat carrier is a great idea. A cat that is comfortable with the cat carrier will be less stressed and in turn this will make the owner less stressed. As all cats are going to need to be transported in a cat carrier at some point, it is advised that everyone take the time to get their cat comfortable with the carrier. Remember to take time with cat carrier training, only progressing to each step once your cat seems completely comfortable.
- Leave your open cat carrier in a quiet space so that your cat can explore it at their leisure. Alternatively, if your cat is nervous about the cat carrier, ensure they are not around when you place it out. Cat especially nervous? Begin by placing some bedding near the carrier. As your cat gets more comfortable, move the bedding steadily closer to the carrier.
- Now your cat is feeling more relaxed, it’s time to move the blanket into the cat carrier. Placing a treat inside the carrier will give them additional incentive to explore the carrier and help build good associations.
- After your cat is happy ‘finding’ the treats in the carrier, get them used to your presence while they are exploring. Try throwing some of your cat’s biscuits or a treat into the carrier while your cat is in there.
- Once your cat is comfortable spending a few minutes in the carrier, you can begin closing the door. Don’t rush this step – you don’t want to risk spooking them! Remember: if your cat doesn’t seem happy at any point, repeat the process again.
- Once the door is closed and your cat is safely inside, try lifting the carrier so they can get familiar with the feeling of being transported. If your cat still seems nervous, try draping a blanket or familiar bedding over the entrance.
- When you’re not training your cat to use the carrier, keep it out and visible at home. You can even try giving them treats in there from time to time, to show them it’s a great place to be!
How to get a nervous cat into a cat carrier
Some cats are more anxious than others when it comes to using the cat carrier. Got a nervous cat that won’t go near the carrier? Use the ‘over the cat towel wrap’ technique to ensure they’re kept safe with minimum stress. You’ll need:
- a cat carrier
- a large towel
- a blanket
- Calmly approach your cat from behind, holding the blanket with two hands.
- In one quick movement, place the blanket over your cat. Make sure you cover their entire body and head.
- Firmly but gently, place your hands over the towel and on your cat’s shoulders. Scoop up the cat, folding the blanket underneath as you do.
- Straight away, place the cat directly into the cat carrier.
- Cover the carrier with the large towel to help keep the cat calm.
While this is a useful method in the short term or in an emergency, it is advisable that you do not rely on it throughout the cat’s life. Take the time after this to train your cat to be comfortable with the cat carrier and thus help them live a less stressful life.
Top tips for travelling with your cat
Find out more about travelling with your cat
- Always make sure your cat has a carrier to itself. No matter how loving your cats are towards each other, it isn’t advisable to let them share
- Keep any cat flaps, windows and doors closed before your journey. If your cat does get nervous, the last thing you want is for them to escape!
- Unless you’ve been told otherwise by your vet, try to limit food for a few hours before the journey to avoid vomiting and toileting en route
- If you’re travelling by car, ensure the carrier is safely stowed. Keep the carrier upright and secure it carefully using the seatbelt – this can avoid your cat from getting car sick too
- Ensure your car heating or air con isn’t directly aimed at your cat to keep them comfortable
- Drive safely and smoothly, with as little noise as possible
- Remember not to leave your cat unattended in the car – especially in hot weather
How to clean your cat carrier
Cleaning your cat carrier is important to avoid infection, especially if your cat has vomited or toileted on the journey. While cats like a clean space to enjoy, they aren’t keen on strong cleaning scents.
Instead, use mild non-toxic soap and water to clean the carrier with a scrubbing brush. Then, rinse it with water and leave it outside to dry. Cleaning the carrier will give it a neutral scent and may even avoid it smelling like a vet surgery – making your cat more inclined to use it!