Posted on: July 24th, 2016 by Dr. Dale Rubenstein
Last summer we did an article on traveling with your cat in a car, which included a little bit about getting your cat used to the carrier. But as this is the first (and often limiting) step towards smooth travels, it seems useful to pass along some additional tips.

Bunny’s Story…

“Bunny” is one of our patients, a very sweet diabetic kitty who is almost 11 years old. As diabetic cats need insulin twice daily, Bunny has boarded with us often, whenever her family is away. She is generally happy at the clinic, and purrs when she gets special attention from our wonderful staff.

But, Bunny HATES the carrier. She currently has a large dog-crate but getting into the carrier is still a battle.

Recommendations for a smoother trip

  1. Take the carrier apart and leave just the bottom half out in an area where Bunny spends time. Put a soft blanket or towel inside and just leave it there for a couple of weeks.
  2. Bunny doesn’t get treats but she does get special diabetic dry food. I recommended putting a few pieces of her dry food outside the carrier but nearby. (Any dry or soft-moist treat will work. If your cat has diet issues, please ask us what would be a safe treat for your cat).
  3. Then, put the dry food into the carrier, first just outside, then just inside, then all the way in the back. This way, she will need to walk into the carrier to get her treat.
  4. Next, start over with the top on the carrier with the door left open. You may need to start back at step one, but go slowly until she goes into the carrier to get her treats.
  5. For some cats, the car is the worst part, and they (logically!) associate the carrier with riding in the car. If this seems to be the issue, see our article on De-stressing Veterinary Visits and call us about either anti-nausea or anti-anxiety medication.
  6. “Feliway” wipes and spray that are applied to towels and the carrier have calming benefits and can be helpful also.
  7. Bring treats with you so after the car ride in the carrier, she is rewarded. When she gets home, she gets more treats. Even when weight is a concern, “positive reinforcement” can be very helpful.

And, some cats do well in something other than a traditional carrier. One patient would arrive in a pillowcase, although this takes two people: one to drive and one to hold the wiggling pillow case. But it makes sense to try this if your cat likes to hide under blankets on your bed. Some cats prefer two plastic laundry baskets laced together so they can see out more easily.

Getting your cat used to the carrier can take several months, so you can’t start the day before the appointment. And it helps to do refreshers periodically when you’re not going to the vet. Even if your cat learned as a kitten to tolerate getting in the carrier and going for a ride, if as an adult they only go to the veterinary office once a year for an exam and vaccinations, they will soon only remember the stress associated with the carrier. So practice periodically and reward every time. Getting your cat used to the carrier makes for a much easier visit, and it will be well worth the effort in the long run!