9 Steps To Train Your Cat To Love Their Carrier + Car Travel

For a lot of cats, the sight of their cat carrier can be a sign that something ‘bad’ is about to happen (i.e. a visit to the vet and ride in the car) which causes stress, hence why many cats will often run and hide. Not ideal when you need to get them to the vet!


All cats should be visiting their vet at least every 12 months for health checkups and vaccinations, and some may visit more regularly depending on any health challenges they may have. So helping your cat, especially in their younger years, to have a positive association with their cat carrier, the car, and visiting the vet is going to drastically change their attitude towards these occasions, reduce their stress and make it a much more relaxing activity for everyone involved!


Being able to easily get your cat into their carrier is also really important if you need to leave your house quickly in the event of an emergency such as a fire or flood. Sadly, some owners have to leave their pet cats behind because they aren’t able to coax them into their carrier before they have to leave to get to safety.


A carrier with a removable door and removable top half can make it easier to maneuver your cat into their carrier quickly if needed.


1. Start Them Young

There’s nothing worse than putting something off and then, when an emergency arises, you wish you had done it sooner! The same goes for getting your cat comfortable with their cat carrier. Start your cat young, when it’s not an emergency situation, and it will make the entire process much easier.


If your cat is already a little older, just start now. No time is better than the present! Like we said, get them comfortable with the carrier and spend time doing it now rather than when it’s an emergency and you’re rushing to get them in there.


Trust us, it will be worth it when your cat walks into the cat carrier for a visit to the vet without any dramas!


2. Make The Cat Carrier a Normal/Everyday Item

We all know how weird cats are with something new, right! Cats like to be in control of their surroundings and aren’t fans of new smells or items in the house. So you could imagine the stress they may go through if you walked into the room with a new cat carrier, covered in new smells, and then expected them to get in there and go through a new experience like driving in the car and visiting the vet. It must be highly stressful for them.


Instead, introduce your cat to the cat carrier before you need to use it. Have it in the living space of your home, allow your cat to wander in and out of it as they please, they may even like to have a snooze in there every now and then. This way the carrier will begin to smell like the house and cat.


Cats are ultimate comfort seekers, so making sure their carrier is uber comfy will encourage them to spend some time in there and enjoy being in their carrier. Fill it with a cosy blanket, have it sitting in a quiet spot of the room, allow your cat to make their own way in and out as they please, and just give your cat their own space when they choose to go in there. All of these actions will help your cat to feel comfortable with being in the carrier and make it a nice place to visit.


3. Create Positive Associations with the Carrier

What cat doesn’t like treats? If your cat is responsive to treats, you can use these as a way to create positive associations with the carrier. You may begin by putting treats on the floor near the carrier and then as your cat gets more comfortable, slowly start putting treats closer and closer to the carrier, until you’re putting them in the carrier!


Once they’re comfortable with eating treats in the carrier, you may start feeding your cat their daily meal in the carrier for a while as well. Your cat will associate food as a positive interaction and having that interaction in the carrier will help your cat to feel positive towards the carrier as well.


4. Open & Close the Door Several Times

Once your cat is going in and out of the carrier freely and comfortably start to close the door every now and then. This will help you to slowly move to the next phase of your cat feeling comfortable with being enclosed in the carrier.


Start by first leaving the door closed for a short period of time and reward your cat with a treat through the door before letting them out. Gradually increase the time you leave the door closed and continue to treat your cat the longer they stay happy there. If they become distressed or upset, allow them to come out but don’t give them the treat. We want to train the cat to learn that being calm and positive in the carrier means they will receive treats for good behaviour.


5. Walk Around With The Carrier

Now your cat is comfortable with being inside the carrier with the door closed, it’s time to test them moving around. This may put your cat on high alert as they are being moved around and they feel unstable. Do your best to keep the carrier smooth and prevent jerking it around. Continue to reward your cat with treats if they remain calm and happy when walking around.


6. Go Outside With The Carrier

For a cat that is inside most of the time, being taken outside will expose them to new smells they don’t often experience. Once your cat is happy in the carrier inside the house begin to venture outside a little with the carrier so they can get used to the different smells, and once again feel like this is normal behaviour.


7. Put The Carrier In The Car

Lastly, pop your cat (in the carrier) in a safe spot in your car, where they won’t tip or roll if the breaks are slammed on. On the floor will be safest or on the backseat secured with the seatbelt. Take your cat for short drives to get used to the motion of the car. Your car and the feeling of driving will be another new experience for your cat. But as we’ve said, the more they do it, the more it will feel like normal behaviour. You should cover the carrier with a cloth or towel during the journey to help keep your cat calm.


8. Visit the Vet



Give your vet a call and check to see if it’s okay to just visit the reception area with your cat a couple of times. Doing this before your cat needs to see the vet may be helpful. Most often, a pet is taken to the vet because something is wrong or they have to get a needle and the experience isn’t much fun. This leads them to have a negative association with the vet and its smell.


However, if you were to simply visit the vet without a booking, just for a stroll around the reception area, your cat won’t build up a negative association to the environment and will be much more relaxed when you do have to visit the vet for the first time.


9. Practice Regularly

The more you do these steps, the more your cat will become comfortable with the process. As we have mentioned above, if you continue to go through the processes we have explained, your cat will begin to feel like it’s normal behaviour. Then, when it comes time to actually have to visit the vet, it will just feel like a normal outing for your cat, they will be far less stressed, and so will you!


Being a cat owner is so rewarding, they make great companions and are the perfect furry friend. However, as pet owners, we also have certain responsibilities, not only for our cat but also for our neighbourhood & wildlife. Here at TassieCat, we are advocates for responsible cat ownership and love sharing tips and advice with you to help us play an active role in keeping our cats, neighbourhoods, and wildlife safe & healthy.


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© Tasmanian Cat Management Project 2019

TassieCat is a state-wide initiative to promote and facilitate responsible cat ownership and management in Tasmania. The project is supported by Cradle Coast Authority NRM, Kingborough Council, and NRM North through funding from the Tasmanian Government.