Herding Cats with Dr. Ashley Manos: 5 Simple Steps for Cat Carriers


5 Simple Steps for Cat-Friendly Carriers

Cats are creatures of habit, and are most comfortable withthe familiar. The visit to theveterinarian or any type of travel is often difficult because the carrier, thecar, and the destination are usually unfamiliar to your cat. Carriers provide safety for both you and yourcat for transport, and can provide your cat with a sense of security. Following these five simple steps can helpyour cat learn to associate the carrier with positive experiences and toroutinely enter the carrier voluntarily.

1. Choose the best type of carrier

The best carriers are hard-sidedcarriers that open from the top and the front, and that can also be taken apartin the middle. It should be sturdy,secure, and stable for the cat, as well as easy for you to carry. Avoid carriers that require the cat to bepulled from or dumped out for an exam.

Access to your cat should be easy;removal of the top will allow your cat to stay in the bottom of the carrier ifit chooses. A removable top is alsohelpful for the fearful cat, or for the sick, painful, or limited-mobilitycat. Some cats like to see out, whereasothers like to be covered. Cover thecarrier with a blanket or towel for the anxious cat.

2. Choose the best location for training your catto its carrier

The carrier should be placed in anarea inside the home in which your cat likes to spend time. The best location is one that is quiet andsecure, out of the way, and safe from intrusion by other people and pets. Catsare three-dimensional in nature and like elevated resting areas, so the bestplace for the carrier may not be the floor. If the carrier is placed in an elevated area, make sure it is stable andsecure in that area. Start with yourcats currently preferred resting areas.

3. Make thecarrier cat-friendly

The carrier should be welcoming toyour cat. Leave the doors open when thecarrier is in the home. If your cat is stillwary, leave the top of the carrier off completely. Place soft, warm bedding with a favoritepersons scent inside the carrier. TryFeliway spray in the carrier or on the bedding, and apply at least 30 minutesprior to exposure to your cat. You canplace a scratching post next to the carrier to encourage stretching andscratching after a nap in the carrier. Placea favorite treat, toy, grass, or catnip in the carrier. When your cat enters the carrier, immediatelyoffer praise and reward. Timing iscritical if your cat cant figure out why it is being rewarded the lessonwill be lost. You may offer meals insidethe carrier using a very desirable food, but dont skip meals if your cat wonteat inside the carrier. Try playing withyour cat by flicking a feather- or fishing-pole toy in and out of thecarrier. Reward your cat by letting hercatch it in the carrier.

Once your cat is comfortable inthe carrier, close the door and spend increasing amounts of time with the doorclosed. Make sure you reward your cateach time the door is closed with a treat.

4. Help your cat learn to ride in the car

Once your cat is used to being inthe carrier with the door closed, take a towel and cover the carrier and takeit to your car. Secure the carrier withthe seat-belt and provide a treat. Closethe car door for one to two minutes, then bring the carrier inside, open thedoor, and praise your cat in a soft voice. Increase these times, gradually turning on the car engine without goinganywhere. Open the garage door if yourcar is in a garage. Repeat and increase thetime, eventually introducing actual travel, and increase the time of travelslowly.

5. Help your fearful cat

If your cat currently dislikes itscarrier, you can still apply these same concepts. Use Feliway from the outset. Remain calm and reward desiredbehaviors. You may need to provide a newand different carrier. It may takelonger, but it is likely your cat will enter the carrier on its own.

Medications for nausea or anxietymay be helpful and can be recommended by your veterinarian.

Remember, it may take days or weeks before your cat startsto trust the carrier. Respect your catsneed for time to become familiar with the unfamiliar. Stay calm. Cats can sense our anxiety or frustrations,which may cause them to become fearful or anxious. Cats do not learn by punishment or force. Rewards should always be given to encouragepositive behavior.

Adapted from www.catalystcouncil.org Cats and Carriers: Friends notFoes and www.catvets.com Feline Handling Guidelines.


Dr. Ashley Manos, Associate Veterinarian, Nashville Cat Clinic



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