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How to acclimate your cat traveling in a cat carrier

Posted 07.21.16 by Christine Taylor, DVM

A common concern for feline owners is the stress associated with car rides and veterinary visits, which can often deter a client from bringing their cat in for check ups. Because early detection and intervention are paramount to successful treatment of chronic disease, regular veterinary check ups are very important for feline patients. Stressed kitties also make examination and treatment very difficult for veterinarians. With the help of your veterinarian, there are many tips and tricks for training cats to become more comfortable traveling in their carriers, making car rides and trips to the veterinary clinic far less traumatic and stressful. With a little preparation, and patience, you can improve your cat’s comfort level with traveling, as well as our ability to care for your cat appropriately. Here are some tips to help you lower the stress level of your cat:

Steps to improved cat carrier acceptance

1) Introduce the carrier as early as possible. Starting carrier training while your kitten is still young will teach your cat that the carrier is just another fun hiding place, or play area, as opposed to a confined space that is only used for transportation. When purchasing a carrier, choose one that loads from the top, or comes apart in the middle, so that your veterinarian can take the top off and begin their examination with the cat sitting comfortably in the bottom portion of the carrier. Be sure to place the carrier in your cat’s favorite room, perhaps a sunny location, with a soft piece of bedding to encourage exploration and voluntary use. Young kittens are extremely curious, and will happily enter the carrier, which will help them to acclimate to the carrier much faster than an older carrier 2

2) Encourage daily usage of the carrier. Each day, please a piece of kibble or a yummy treat in the carrier. When the cat enters the carrier and eats the treat, calmly praise and pet the cat, and offer a few more treats. If the cat doesn’t accept the treat right away, just walk away. Don’t try to persuade the cat, or they will become suspicious. It might take a few days, but the cat should start to eat the treats willingly, although it might be when you are not watching.

3) Gradually close the door. Once your cat happily enters the carrier when you are around, gently close the door, offer a treat, and then open the door so that the cat does not feel trapped.

4) Extend the door-closure period. After several days of closing the door with positive reinforcement, leave the door closed and walk out of the room for several seconds before returning and offering another treat. Gradually increase the time spent in the carrier, and work up to moving the carrier to another place in the house with the cat still inside.

5) Begin car rides. After a week of daily training sessions with the door closed, move on to placing the carrier in the car, and then work up to short car rides. Then take a trip to the veterinary clinic for a “happy visit”, and ask the staff to provide positive reinforcement in the form of petting and treats. If at any point your cat becomes nervous, go back a step and give treats until your cat is more comfortable. cat carrier car

6) Cover the carrier when traveling. A helpful tip is to cover the carrier with a blanket or towel while in the car. This will help your cat to feel safer while traveling.

7) Add toys, treats or bedding into the carrier. If your cat has favorite toys, treats brushes, or bedding, please bring them to the clinic when you visit (both for training visits, as well as actual visits). This will create a more familiar and comfortable environment for your cat, by surrounding him/her with familiar smells and textures.

8) Consider using Feliway just before traveling. Feliway is a feline-appeasing pheromone product that produces a calming effect in cats. This pheromone can be found in many forms – plug-in diffusers, sprays, and towelettes. Prior to your car trip, prepare the carrier by spraying with Feliway spray or wiping it down with Feliway wipes, and allow it to sit for 10 minutes before introducing your cat. With especially nervous cats, Feliway can help with the initial training steps as well.

By following these steps, use of a carrier will become routine for your cat, and he/she will be much more comfortable with trips to the veterinary clinic and traveling in general. However, some cats, despite your best efforts, will still become afraid of confinement or travel. In these cases, your veterinarian may consider prescribing additional anti-anxiety medications to help alleviate stress. The ultimate goal should always be keeping the experience as peaceful and pleasant as possible for everyone involved, including yourself and the veterinary staff.

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