As cat owners, we've all experienced it- the war that starts when it's time to put your feline friend in a travel carrier. The sweet, purring ball of fluff can suddenly turn into ten pounds of fury. Fluffy might straighten and stiffen her legs in an attempt to make her body too big to fit into the crate. She may even use her claws to try and get away, or urinate due to the stress of the situation.
The trouble is, most cats only see their carriers when a trip to the veterinarian is on the horizon. Like any animal, cats develop associations. So it doesn't take long for Fluffy to connect the mere sight of her crate with the vet's office. To lessen her fears (and your guilt), here are a few ways you can gently, gradually help your cat learn to like, if not love, her carrier.
Start with a crate Fluffy can feel good about
Does your cat hide under the bed when she sees her carrier? For Fluffy to feel comfortable with the idea of a crate, you have to help her develop positive associations with it. You may want to consider buying a new one that's a different color or shape. Starting from scratch with a new carrier may be far easier than trying to get Fluffy to change her mind about her first one.
The goal is to get your cat to think of her carrier as a safe, low-stress place. Begin by leaving her carrier out where she can see it, perhaps near her litter box or feeding area. If she only sees this giant, plastic contraption when it's veterinarian time, she'll definitely find a hiding spot when it appears.
Make her carrier a haven
Next, make the carrier a place where Fluffy can relax. Think of it as her home away from home, her portable bed, her kitty hotel. Leave the carrier door open and place a comfortable, cushy bed in it. Some plastic carriers have a top that unlatches from the bottom, so you can take the top off and let Fluffy use the carrier as a bed. After a while, when she seems comfortable with her cozy new sleeping spot, you can put the top back on. Whenever possible, leave the crate in an area that's fun for Fluffy, such as in front of a window, in the family room or wherever she likes to snooze.
Help her feel right at home
Once Fluffy seems relaxed about the crate's presence, feed her in it. Not all cats will take to this idea right away. If she resists at first, leave treats or food near the carrier. Start at a distance that's comfortable for her, even if that means placing the food twenty feet away. Gradually move the goodies closer to the crate until finally placing them inside.
Put treats in the carrier regularly. By helping Fluffy develop a positive association with her crate, she can begin to think of it as a place where she can safely eat and sleep. Lastly, as time goes on, close the carrier door while she's inside and feed her a treat. Get her used to the concept that sometimes the door will close.
Take a trial run
Now that Fluffy is comfortable eating and sleeping inside the crate with the door closed, it's time to get moving. Pick up her crate and carry her slowly and gently to the car. If she appears to tense or panic, go back to the house until she is relaxed. Remember to take baby steps and let her get comfortable with the idea of being on the move. Eventually, you'll be able to put the crate in the car, close the doors and drive around the neighborhood a few times. Just remember to take each step slowly and watch for cues from Fluffy. When she's ready, she'll let you know.
Make Fluffy's carrier a special place that's all her own. By helping her form positive associations, you're making the next trip to the veterinarian a lot less stressful for both of you.
This article was a part of the HomeAgain Newsletter, November, 2011 - http://public.homeagain.com/.