Every cat should have a carrier. It is truly the only safe way to transport cats for veterinary appointments, travel, or in emergency situations. Problems arise, however, when cats dislike spending time in their carriers, often because they have had bad experiences there in the past or because they have never been exposed to carriers except under stressful conditions.
Below is a 5 step process for getting cats to like, or at least tolerate, their carriers.
1. Get a good carrier
The best types of cat carriers are hard sided and allow for entry from both the end and 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
Do not 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 them at their own pace. The carrier should be left out in a quiet, warm part of the house with its doors open. Cats tend to prefer elevated resting spots, but make sure the carrier is only placed on stable surfaces.
3. Make the carrier cat-friendly
Line the bottom of the carrier with a soft and warm 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 the inside with a synthetic feline facial hormone product (e.g., Feliway). Put a favorite scratching post nearby and play with the cat around the carrier. Place treats, toys, cat grass, or catnip inside the carrier. Meals can also be fed inside once the cat is comfortable with the carrier, but always make sure the cat continues to eat normal amounts.
Once the cat is comfortable with the carrier, start closing its doors with the cat inside for short periods of time and reward the cat with a treat while confined. Never force the cat to enter the carrier and understand that this process can take weeks to complete.
4. Start moving the cat and carrier
Gently pick up the cat, put it 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 a seat belt, and give the cat a few treats. Close the car doors for one to two 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 that the process may take longer than otherwise expected. In extreme cases, veterinarians can prescribe anti-anxiety medications that will make the process easier on everyone.