We regularly hear from our clients how much of a wrestling match it can be when trying to place their cats in carriers. Fortunately, this process needn’t always be a battle of wills! According to this Baltimore Sun article, the solution is desensitization.
Q: I’ve thrown in the towel. I can’t get our cat, Chico, to go to the vet. I don’t get it because once he’s there he tolerates the exam. But as soon as the carrier comes out of the closet, Chico checks out. It’s impossible to get him into the thing anymore. Any advice? — V.S., Orlando, FL
A: Many cat owners can sympathize with your problem. The good news is, desensitizing and counter-conditioning most cats to their carriers is possible, although it takes time.
Begin with a new carrier, and choose a type with a top that can be lifted off, so you never have to ‘dump’ Chico out the door.
Leave the carrier out as if it’s a piece of furniture. Periodically, toss treats inside, or place a sampling of tuna, sardines or salmon inside. It’s best if Chico doesn’t see these goodies are coming from you. And don’t overdo it; you don’t want a tubby tabby. The idea is for the carrier to become an inviting treat dispenser. Once Chico feels more comfortable about the carrier, begin feeding him inside the carrier.
Once you’ve established this routine, toss a treat inside the carrier, let Chico run in, and close the door. Then pick up the carrier and calmly put it down. Open the door and place Chico’s dinner inside. Eventually, he’ll learn that a meal follows a trip in the carrier. Cats can be trained with a command to run into a carrier, knowing dinner will follow. Or Chico may even remind you it’s time for dinner by meowing from inside his carrier!
Next, put Chico in the carrier and place the carrier in the car. Turn on the ignition. If Chico panics, back up a step; you don’t want to reward that behavior. Hopefully, Chico will be fine driving to the end of the driveway, then returning home for a meal. Again, the hope is Chico will associate a trip and the carrier with mealtime.
After a few driveway jaunts, try running a quick errand with Chico in his carrier. My guess is, he’ll accept the ride. Spray Feliway into the carrier 30 minutes before placing Chico inside. By this point, you may even be asking him to jump in the carrier on your request.