Few animals enjoy being confined in small places against their will and will get nervous under such circumstances. But there’s also a natural instinct to associate snug spaces with safety. In cats, either one of these impulses can be triggered by a carrier box depending on what attitude it picked up towards it.
There’s a lot that can be done to make a pet see the carrier as a familiar place — if not even comfortable and friendly! — and we don’t need to tell pet owners how much grief this can spare both them and their cat when the time for the next doc visit comes about.
Naturally, the first thing to do is to ensure that you get an excellent cat carrier for you and your pet. Most experts recommend hard sided carriers as these seem to be the most comfortable for cats. In addition to this, some models have removable roofs, so the veterinarian can examine its occupant without getting it out into the unfamiliar place of the clinic.
Carriers should definitely not be shared between owners, or bought second-hand, as these will inevitably retain the smell of the other cat it’s been used for. Cats have a very keen sense for this, and might get agitated at the thought of a rival nearby.
The cat should feel that the carrier is a space it owns, or at least an integral part of the world it inhabits. That’s why the box is best kept in a well circulated area of the house, where the little feline likes spending a lot of its time in. Otherwise, the carrier will get associated with the discomfort of traveling, and will make Mittens bolt out at first glance.
To ensure that the cat gets a pleasant feeling from its carrier, try to associate it with things it otherwise likes. You can place one of its favorite treats inside, or otherwise an item of clothing bearing the scent of the cat’s favorite person. This will entice it to use the box as a place to hang around in by its own volition.
The cat’s first “visit” to the carrier will always be a stressful experience. Entice it to go inside by using a trail of treats that will get it closer and closer to the door with the final prize at the back end of the carrier. Once familiarity is established, the bowl of food can be strategically placed near the door of the carrier, so the cat might decide stay inside while eating.
If your cat has already developed a negative association with the carrier, the best thing to do is take off the top and start using it as a cradle until the frightful pet is fully habituated.
Some cats might be terrified of the door, that’s why it’s recommended to remove it before beginning carrier training. Once the little Tomcat gets over its initial fears and starts using the box as a place to hang around in, put the door back in its place and start experimenting with closing it for incrementally higher amounts of time.