How To Train Your Cat To Use The Pet Carrier
Cats that aren't trained to use carriers will show its owners how disappointed and unhappy they are inside.
When you have problems getting your cat into the cat carrier, you may find yourself less likely to travel with your cat. If you have to force your cat into the carrier, they may end up viewing you negatively, leading to a breakdown in trust.
When your cat is comfortable traveling in its cat carrier, trips will be much easier, and your cat won't get stressed or anxious during the journey. This can be achieved by training them to be comfortable inside a carrier. It may take some time, but with some determination and patience, you can turn your cat's fear into acceptance.
Why Your Cat Hates the Carrier
The first step is to consider why your cat is having issues with the carrier.
Your cat's distress may not be caused by the carrier itself, but by the physical act of shoving them into the carrier. This is often because you believe your cat will get used to it.
Here are some other things to think about:
- Cats associate their energy to objects. If you have repeatedly been shoving your cat inside a certain carrier, you may have to buy a new one. You cat may have already associated this carrier to negative experiences.
- It could be that the carrier is too small for your cat. The size should be small enough to carry conveniently but should be big enough for your cat to move around comfortably.
- Another reason why your cat may hate the cat carrier is if it smells of another cat. If you use the same carrier for multiple cats that don't get along, this could cause them to become frustrated. Imagine being surrounded by the smell of someone you hate- no wonder your cat gets stressed out and annoyed.
- You may also be using a used carrier. In this case, your cat will be smelling strange cats which will cause anxiety. Always make sure that you wash the carrier after each use to remove any scents. This is one reason why a plastic carrier is a good choice.
Training your Cat to Get Into the Carrier
It's a good idea to think about when your cat uses the carrier. Is it only for trips to the boarding cattery or the vets? Imagine if you only rode in the car for a trip to the doctor for a shot. It's unlikely you would want to get in a car, right?
Cats are intelligent, and they'll quickly learn that their cat carrier is associated with the vet or another negative experience. What you want to practice is to ensure the carrier is present in your cat's environment at all times. This way, they can choose to sit in it whenever they like.
Have you ever noticed your cat loves to crawl into cardboard boxes? The idea is to get them to feel the same way about their cat carrier. Make it available, and they can choose to sit in it whenever they like.
It's important to note that your cat won't learn to love their carrier overnight. Instead, the process will happen over some steps or stages. For this reason, be prepared to begin working on training your cat to get into their carrier well in advance of any travel.
5 Steps To Cat Carrier Training
Your cat probably has a blanket that it already loves. Maybe it's the one it likes to nap on or the one you place treats on. The first step of carrier training doesn't involve the carrier at all, and instead is all about that blanket.
First, place the carrier in a room, with the top off. Make sure the blanket is in the same room. If you know your cat is terrified of the carrier, begin with the blanket as far away from the carrier as possible while still in the same room.
Every time your cat relaxes on the blanket, reward it with a treat or toy. Soon, your cat will have a positive association between the reward and the blanket.
Gradually (over a few sessions) begin moving the blanket closer to the cat carrier. Remember, this training is all about trust. Never make changes when your cat is using the blanket comfortably.
One of the best ways to help your cat associate certain behaviors with the reward is by using a clicker or word. If your cat is relaxing on the blanket, clicking the clicker or using a word such as "good," should be immediately followed by a reward.
If you place the reward away from the blanket, this will allow you to move the blanket closer to the cat carrier. That's why the clicker or word is important; you should let your cat know that you're rewarding it for being on the blanket, and not for moving off.
Short, frequent sessions will help keep your cat engaged and build a positive relationship between your cat and the blanket. Gradually move the blanket closer and closer to the cat carrier each session.
Eventually, place the blanket in the carrier (the top should still be removed). Be sure to lavish plenty of praise on your cat and reward it for sitting in the carrier.
You may find that your cat no longer wants to be near the carrier once the top is on. If this is the case, repeat the process when the blanket is placed near the carrier, and gradually moving back.
Your cat may only place its head inside the carrier at first. This could be followed by one paw inside, or head and front paws. Each time your cat gets closer to the carrier, continue to reward and praise them.
Eventually, your cat should have its whole body inside the cat carrier, while remaining relaxed. At no time should you need to push or guide the cat into the carrier- it should always be your cat's decision.
Once your cat is spending five minutes relaxing in the carrier, the next step is to close the door. Just like the steps with the blanket, this will take some time:
- When your cat is inside the carrier, close the door slightly, open it, and reward your cat.
- Repeat this step, shutting the door a little more each time, and opening it straight away to reward your cat.
- If your cat voluntarily walks towards the carrier, open it right away. That shows your cat that it can control the opening of the door and exit whenever it likes. This will make it feel more comfortable in the cat carrier.
- Keep working on this step until your cat is happy in the carrier for 3-5 minutes with the door closed (start with unlocked and then move to locked).
One of the biggest things to remember here is how long your cat will need to spend in the carrier if you take it out of the house. If it usually takes half an hour to get to your destination, the goal should be for your cat to relax in the carrier with the door open for at least that amount of time.
Eventually, you may find that your cat chooses the cat carrier as a place to nap through the day.
The next step is to ensure your cat will stay relaxed while the carrier is being lifted. It's not uncommon for cats to hate this process so you'll still need to work on this step in increments:
- With the door closed, begin moving the cat carrier slowly along the floor.
- Keep rewarding your cat with treats in the carrier, and immediately let it out if it begins meowing or moving towards the door.
- Progress towards lifting the carrier a few inches and then putting it back on the floor.
- Rewards are still crucial here, and the goal is to progress to walking a few steps at a time.
- Eventually, take the cat carrier outdoors and place it in the car.
- Keep the cat carrier stabilized as much as possible while you're lifting it, and reward your cat continuously.
As you can see, while there are many steps involved in training your cat to get into the cat carrier, the results will be well worth it. Keep training your cat each week, and retain the carrier within reach of your cat every day, so it can choose to spend time in the carrier whenever it likes.
Have you been training your cat to accept the cat carrier? How is the training going? Leave a comment below and let us know, or get in touch today.