It’s time to update little Toby’s annual veterinary exam and vaccines. The appointment is scheduled in 30 minutes, so you have exhumed the dusty carrier from the corner of the basement. Toby, who was moments ago sunning himself on the sofa is suddenly nowhere to be found. You’ve forgotten Toby knows what that carrier is used for, and he is refusing to be a party to your plans.
Fear of the cat carrier causes stress at home for you and your feline friend. This fear also contributes to an escalation of anxiety and behavior problems after arrival at the veterinary clinic. Luckily, there are steps you can take at home to train your kitten and even your perceptive senior cat how to accept their cat carrier.
The first step is to be sure the carrier is not taken out only for potentially scary events. If possible, keep the carrier out as a permanent fixture in the common living space of your home. Many cats love a cozy, covered bed, making his carrier ideal for naptime. Line the carrier with warm, soft bedding. Add tempting treats, toys or catnip to encourage exploration.
Once your cat is comfortable going in and around the carrier, we should reward his bravery. While he is happily resting in the carrier, briefly close the door. If he reacts calmly, he should be immediately given a tasty treat. Practice this step often.
Now that the carrier is seen as an inviting bed and place for snacks, you can further the training by closing the door and gently picking up the carrier with both hands. Again, if he reacts calmly, quickly provide a tasty reward. As he accepts this exercise, take the carrier from room to room. Eventually, taking the carrier all the way to the car. If he becomes visibly stressed during the process, go back to the previous step and spend more time practicing, giving treats for good behavior. You can even take short drives around the block to reassure your kitty not all rides must end in vaccinations.
If your kitty is highly sensitive, or has had traumatic experiences in the past, some additional help may be required. Pheromone products such as Feliway can communicate to your cat that all is safe and well. For the very stressed cat, oral sedative medications can be prescribed. If you think your kitty may need extra help, call your veterinarian to discuss safe and effective prescription options.
One final tip is to remember what we say and do around our cats can communicate volumes. Your kitty knows if you are stressed or worried, so try to keep your voice and movements casual and light.
Hopefully these tips will lead to many years of low stress travel for you and your feline companion.