Beware The Dreaded Cat Carrier

It is time to go to the vet, and suddenly Fluffy is nowhere in sight. You just brought the carrier out of the closet, and thought you saw Fluff dive under the bed, so you peer underneath the bed and there she is hunched in the farthest corner hissing at you. Try as you might, you can’t get her out, so with a red-face you call your vet make your apologies and reschedule the appointment. Now what do you do?

You return to basics and in doing so, you will allow your cat to become desensitized to the perceived threat of the cat carrier. The idea is to reassure your cat that every time she goes into the carrier, bad things will NOT occur. You can achieve this in several ways and by making this carrier a part of your cat’s daily routine, as well as using it during the all-important trip to the vet you minimize your cat’s stress in dealing with it.

Familiarize Your Cat With The Cat Carrier

Keeping the carrier visible in your home at all times helps to acclimate the cat to its presence. The first steps in getting your cat used to the carrier begin long before the trip to the vet. You need to familiarize your cat with the carrier slowly and gradually.

  • First off, before you even begin, wash the carrier out well with hot water and vinegar. Let it air dry for at least 24 hours.
  • Bring the carrier inside, and start feeding your cat inside of the carrier. Leave the door propped open, and place a bowl of tasty canned food at the very back. If the cat doesn’t go in on her own free will, don’t force her to. Simply leave the food in place for 10-15 minutes, then remove it and store it so it won’t spoil. Try again later. Do not feed her in-between times anywhere but in the carrier.
  • Sprinkle catnip on the bottom of the carrier, and toss a few toys inside. Ping pong balls or golf balls work well. They make a wonderful sound when batted about the floor of the carrier.
  • Spray the inside of the carrier with Feliway Spray, saturate it well, put some nice padding inside to make a comfy bed, and see if kitty will go in and curl up. You can either leave the door propped open, or take it off completely.
  • Once the cat is comfortable about going inside the carrier, close the door for about 5 minutes, than release your cat. Give kitty a nice treat like Kitty Kaviar or kippered herring. Do this about twice a week. Increase her time of confinement, but never more than 10 minutes.

Before Taking Your Cat To The Vet

Prior to the vet visit there are a few things you can do to further calm your cat and prepare her for the trip.

Transport the cat to the vet, and instead of putting your cat carrier directly on the floor or the seat of your car, prop it up on a soft pillow (to cut down vibrations) and cover the carrier with the cloth IF it is not so hot outside that the cat will end up suffering. Try and place it in the best position you can, away from any sun that might come shining through the windows. If it is a hot day, leave plenty of air space and put the cloth from front to back, leaving plenty air holes on the side for air to pass through. Also be sure to use a seat belt to keep the carrier in place.

  • Before placing the cat inside, spray the carrier with Feliway Spray.
  • Pad the top of the carrier bed with soft bedding. Place disposable diapers down on the bedding padding side up to catch any accidents that occur when cats are stressed out.
  • Take pipe cleaners and thread the pipe cleaners through the slats of the carrier so the ends are sticking out inside and high above the cat’s head. Twist the pipe cleaners around to hold them firmly in place, and then attach a lightweight feather toy to the end. The toy floats high above the cat’s head, and she can bat at the toy when she becomes stressed.
  • Place the cat inside the carrier, lock the door, and cover the carrier with a dark cloth.

At The Vet’s

Arriving with your cat to the vet, you want to keep your cat as calm as possible and try to minimize any traumatic effect. Here are a few tips –

  • Before you get out of the car to go in the office, place a small dab of vanilla extract under the cat’s nose. (Do this through the wire; don’t take the cat out of the carrier to do this) Or put this under her chin prior to her being placed in the carrier.
  • Keep the cat covered with the cloth while in the waiting room to help reduce the stress and minimize the odors/noise she will encounter there.
  • I always carry a can of spray cheese with me. The vet uses this cheese to give my cats a treat or two so they don’t view him as the enemy. I always wear an older long-sleeved shirt over my clothes, because most cats stress shed enough to sculpt out three cats during a vet exam.

By following the above tips, you will allow your cat to be as relaxed as possible under the circumstances, and show her that fearing the carrier is unnecessary. I have a total of six carriers in my home at all times, all with the doors off and nice padding inside and most of the time you can find one or more of my crew inside catching naps.

I also use a carrier for after-care for my cats, draping the sides to create a nice dark den where they can sleep if they are ill. The doors are taken off so the cat doesn’t become upset thinking she is being confined.

You can have a pleasant vet experience with your cat, as well as cut down on the time that some spend chasing their cat all over the house just to get them to go inside the dreaded carrier. Because for some cats, that are unaccustomed to seeing the carrier except right before a vet visit, all you will see during the crucial time of getting them into the carrier, is the tip of their tail as they dive under the bed to get away from “the dreaded carrier.”


Written by Mary Anne Miller
Mary Anne Miller is a free-lance writer, and member of the Cat Writers’ Association. She is a web copy writer, and passionate about feral cats/kittens and bottle babies. You can read more by Mary Anne at her Feral Cat Behavior Blog.


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12 comments on “Beware The Dreaded Cat Carrier

ruaryx May 6, 2015
Don't know if I agree with the vanilla extract.
ann5458 May 4, 2015
Oh my gosh that describes my poor Ellie Mae.  It takes me and the landlord tipping her upside down to get her in her carrier.  I will try these tips next time.
kntrygrl256 April 27, 2015
Mine loves the carrier. If I leave it out and open he will get in it and go to sleep. My others will get in it and look around and play with each other around it. I guess that started when they were babies. I would leave it open as a safe zone for them and play with them around it.
2catlady April 22, 2015
My cats love to get into cardboard boxes-- so I have ditched the cat carrier and buy the cardboard carriers at the pet store to transport the cat.  It's easier to get the cat into the box to get to the vet, I am not sure the cat is any more comfortable or relaxed on the drive and certainly still does not like the visit--but I have a much easier time getting him into and out of the box for transport.
purrsngrrs January 19, 2015
My cats madly play hide n seek when I place carrier in the room. But the moment I put them inside and close the door, they sense that something is wrong :D
mewlittle October 21, 2012
hahaha all my cats don't mind the carrier actually one of my cats BuckyC wont eat otherwise in the carrier with the door shut if i dont do that he'll walk away from his food and get distracted i think he has a small cause of adhd lol and i never really had to get my cats used to the carrier i think its because i leave them around with the doors open :P
matts mom October 5, 2012
Matt sleeps in his carrier, at least once a day. we stopped in at the vets on our way to the shelter and they sprayed it with feliway, and it's been his only ever since.i do not allow any other animals into it, so it is fully saturated with his own scent. it's a big one too, big enough to hold a retreiver puppy...so he has all the room he wants to look around in the car and when we go out he watches the world go by.....he's a great traveller now that he knows he's safe
haileyedge February 24, 2012
Very good to see that someone has written an article about this, I originally made the carrier my cat's bed when I first got her, now she absolutely loves it. It's in the living room and if we're all in there watching a movie she'll sleep in her carrier voluntarily as if it's her own seat. I'm happy to see that other people are passionate about making the carrier a pleasant experience, It'd kill me if I had to fight with my baby to get her in there every time we had to leave the house. :)
flinch4me February 7, 2012
Well I washed it out and put some comfy things in it for them as well as some food in the beginning... then at around the same time during the night I get them both and put them away...they don't meow anymore so I think they are getting better with the idea :3 they do meow when they need out in the mornings but otherwise they are good kittens
fluffycakes January 27, 2012
So good to read this! My cat hates the carrier!
Anne January 22, 2012
Thanks for the feedback! I'm glad we can help!
raquel queiroz January 22, 2012
www.thecatsite.com helps me and my cat a lot!!!!!!!!!!!

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