Holidays, trips to the vet cats and cat carriers
We all love spending time with our pets and what better time to do this than when we go on holiday. Admittedly this is easier with a dog than a cat but plenty of our clients successfully take their cats on holiday with them.
We also know of plenty of cats who really don’t like the thought of getting into their cat carrier which brings on thoughts of why this is and how we can help cats to think of the cat carrier in a better light.
The Cat Carrier
When travelling with your cat use a cat carrier that is secure. This might sound obvious, but it is surprising how many cat carriers are prone to opening up just when you don’t want them to! Check it before you buy and check it again if it has been a while since you last used it.
The type of bedding in your carrier is important. Ideally put a few sheets of newspaper in the bottom of the carrier as this will soak up any spills or urine should your cat need a pee. On top of the absorbent layer, provide a wicking material that allows any liquid to drain through to the absorbent layer and keep your feline friend dry. Fleece has this quality and is a popular choice but ‘vet bed’ is excellent as it is thicker than fleece and is good at staying in place.
Some cat carriers are designed to fit food and water devices. These are handy if you are going to travel regularly or over longer distances. If you are only going to be travelling to the cattery or the vet then you probably don’t need this design feature.
Introducing the Cat Carrier
Unfortunately, there are not many cats who really love getting into the carrier! However, we can improve the situation. If your cat already dislikes the carrier it will take significantly longer than introducing the carrier for the first time, but I would still hope that with patience improvements can be made even for those that appear to have made their minds up!
Getting your cat used to the carrier in simple stages.
Start by making the carrier familiar, just leave it in view and accessible in the home for a few days (longer for those who already don’t like it) with the door open and a few tasty snacks inside. This should mean that the first encounters are positive! If you can remove the door entirely so that it doesn’t close by accident and frighten your cat, this would be preferable. With luck your cat will have explored the carrier a few times over the days or weeks and regularly found treats to reinforce the positive behaviour of getting into the carrier. To build confidence move the carrier to a new location in the house and repeat this stage.
Throughout the stage described above there is no closing the door on the carrier and no moving the carrier with your feline friend inside. You will need to judge how confident or nervous your cat is and keep your cat on side by progressing at their pace.
Once this stage has been accomplished with confidence you can then start formally introducing your cat to the carrier by seeing if he/she will go in readily by pointing out that there are fresh snacks in there.
You can then progress into placing your cat in the carrier with fresh snacks, lots of praise and hopefully nobody feeling too much stress or anxiety.
If you feel you will not achieve this, it would be a good idea to try using ‘Feliway’, this is a pheromone produced by cats that means ‘all is well- relax’. If life means that you don’t have time for the slow steady introduction to the carrier then it would be a good idea to use ‘Feliway’ and ‘Nutracalm’ from the beginning as this will give you the best chance of starting off on the right foot, and make your lives easier in the long run.
My cat still doesn’t like the carrier
If your cat is reluctant to play this game, you can change tack. Start feeding your cat with the carrier nearby. Like any desensitisation process this will be a little uncomfortable for your cat as they have already made it clear they do not wish to interact with the carrier. Slowly but surely over the days (longer if required) move the carrier and food closer to each other until your cat is happily eating all of its meals in the carrier. Remain at this stage until you are sure you could move the carrier to a new location in the house and feed happily there too. You can also use ‘Feliway’ and ‘Nutracalm’ to help.
Once your feline friend is happily going in and out of the carrier try closing the door, picking the carrier up and placing it down again gently, reward your cat for remaining confident. Treat and open the door stroking and praising all the while. Repeat this over the coming days and progress to moving through the house and build up in stages to getting in the car with the engine off.
If your feline friend becomes stressed and reluctant to continue the process try moving back a couple of stages until you find the level they can accept and move forward more slowly if time will allow.
If you have used the carrier for a trip to the vet or cattery, use it for a while afterwards for positive experiences such as feeding. It would also be a good idea to do this when it is not associated with a trip to the vet.
All that is left to do is to wish you good luck and happy travelling with your feline friend.
Feliway and Nutracalm are available over the counter from most vets.