Pet Kit Cat Backpack Carrier

Cat carriers: How to make travelling less stressful for your cat

Last Updated SUN 25 OCTOBER 2020

This article is written by Pet Circle veterinarian, Dr Nicole Simpson BVSc (Hons)

So many cat owners know the stress of the dreaded vet visit. The carrier comes out of storage then the cat goes missing, or runs underneath the bed! It could be another half an hour before you can get them out from underneath the furniture, and no-one is having fun.

It's a battle to get cats to willingly enter the carrier, because they know a negative experience will follow their capture. This is further reinforced every single time they are in the carrier. There are ways to minimise the cat's stress when transport is required; it can also make the process much less time consuming and painful for owners!

The Carrier

Size of the Carrier

The cat carrier should be large enough for the cat to sit or stand up, turn around and lay down. Each cat should be transported in their own carrier. Multiple cats in the one carrier are often cramped and uncomfortable. Although we might think it is comforting for our cats to travel with their sibling or friend, this is not the case. In a high stress situation, cats are more likely to want their own space, even if they are the best of friends at home!

Type of Carrier

There are many cat carrier designs on the market. The ideal carrier is one that has a door that opens at the front and access from the top if your cat doesn't want to leave voluntarily. Carriers that allow the top half to be removed are ideal for training at home. The bottom half can be used as a safe place for cats to stay for part of the vet visit or if the cat requires a hospital stay. If your cat is particularly fearful at the vet, you can purchase carriers that have a moveable floor that can be pulled out so the cat doesn't have to be forcefully removed from their safe haven.

State of the Carrier

The condition of the carrier is something to consider. If the carrier is stored in the garage for 11 months of the year and full of cobwebs and dust, this is something that no pet will want to enter willingly. Giving the carrier a good clean, putting some comfortable bedding and spraying with Feliway will make it far more appealing.

Starting from scratch

If your cat really hates the carrier, I mean absolutely hates the carrier, throw away or donate that carrier to a shelter/clinic, and purchase a different one. Cats that have a strong negative association with a carrier can be quite difficult to break.

Our Top Selling Cat Carriers

Feliway, Feliway, Feliway!

Feliway is a synthetic analogue of the feline 'calm' pheromone. Cats release this pheromone when they rub their cheeks against objects as a way of marking their territory.

Feliway should be considered in households with an anxious cat. Feliway comes in a diffuser delivery, allowing large areas to be covered. The Feliway spray is also useful for travelling or concentrating on bedding.

If you are preparing to travel, spray Feliway Spray into the carrier 30 minutes prior to the cat going into the carrier. Cats do not like the spray bottle sound, so it is ideal to do this away from the cat.

Feliway: How Does It Work? View more helpful videos on Pet Circle's Youtube Channel.

Tips for Travelling with a Cat

When travelling with your cat, it is best to bring a towel or blanket to partially cover the carrier and reduce the amount of visual stimuli. Taking a cat out of its environment can be really stressful, so allowing them to hide from the outside world can really help with anxiety. Adding some bedding from home can make it smell familiar.

Try to avoid feeding your cat a few hours before your veterinary visit. This should prevent your cat emptying its bowels in the cat carrier. Always provide fresh water for your cat.

While you are in the car, try to avoid having air conditioning blowing directly on the carrier. If you would like to listen to music in the car, have it on a low volume and listen to something relatively soothing. If at all possible, try to avoid any manoeuvres that will send the carrier flying off the seat.

The entire carrier doesn't have to be covered completely, you can still keep the door uncovered so the cat can see out. Always allow some sort of ventilation, this is important with warmer climates where pets can overheat.

Training cats to love their carrier

photo: @maui_themeowy

Patience is key - it can take a long time to get your cat comfortable with the cat carrier. The pace of training will vary with each individual cat, especially if they have negative associations with cat carriers. It is important not to force anything while training.

Step 1

Place the bottom half of the carrier in a common area your cat likes to sleep, so it becomes a familiar part of the furniture. Lay some comfortable bedding in the carrier. Spray some Feliway around the carrier.

Step 2

Give treats in the carrier. If your cat likes toys, you can engage play and make it enjoyable. You can also give food and water in the carrier once they are comfortable.

Step 3

Once your cat is comfortable with entering the bottom half, time to add the top half. Keep the nice comfy bed, and use the Feliway. This step can take time for some cats. Continue to give treats in the carrier or toys at the back to encourage the cat to walk in. Always have the door open for this step, and never force the cat into the carrier. The idea is for the cat to walk in willingly.

https://www.catster.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Brown-tabby-cat-in-a-red-carrier.jpg

Step 4

If your cat is comfortable walking into the assembled carrier, it is time to try closing the door while giving treats. Repeating this process helps reinforce the training.

Step 5

You are ready to transport your feline friend! Remember the Feliway, carrier cover and plenty of positive reinforcement.

Medication

If your cat is extremely anxious or aggressive at the vet, talk to your regular veterinarian about your options. Zylkene is a natural supplement that contains casein, a protein found in milk. Casein promotes the feeling of relaxation and calm in pets. In capsule form, most cats will eat it mixed in food.

Gabapentin is sometimes used in healthy cats that are very stressed or aggressive at the vet clinic.

Further Reading

Want to read more? Check out our other articles:

Managing separation anxiety in dogs

Premium pet food: is it worth it?

Dental care for dogs

What is the best grain-free dog food?

What is the best flea and tick treatment?

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