The time has come to take your feline friend to the veterinarian for her annual visit. You go into the garage, search for her carrier and find it hiding under a box of Christmas ornaments. You dust it off, take out the old newspaper lining the bottom and bring the carrier inside. A brief glimpse of your cat is seen as she takes off and wedges herself under the couch…it’s almost as if she knows carrier equals a vet visit. You ask yourself, “How in the world am I supposed to get her in this thing?!”.
It might take time, especially if your cat has already associated the carrier as a stressful trigger but you CAN get her to love it! Here are some tips and tricks to turn her frown upside down:
1. Pick the right carrier
Each cat may have her own set of preferences when it comes to their carrier, but there are some general guidelines to keep in mind when first purchasing a cat carrier. First, make sure the carrier is large enough for your cat to comfortably fit in and easily turn around. It should also be made of sturdy material. Most cats appreciate being able to see their surroundings, while also hiding. Therefore, some of the best carriers have a solid bottom with slits or mesh on the top, where your cat can see out if she chooses. Finally, purchasing a carrier with a removable top will most likely make it easier for your cat to get acclimated to her new space. You can remove the top as needed to encourage your cat to go inside. It will also come in handy for those trips to the veterinarian where most of the exam can be done in the bottom of the carrier if the top is removed. This reduces stress for your cat and still allows the veterinary team to provide the care needed.
2. Keep the carrier in a friendly space
Most owners decide to store their carriers somewhere out of the way since veterinary visits are often seldom; this could be the garage, on a shelf in some closet, or under a bed. Since your cat never sees the carrier except for the one time a year she has to be stuffed into it feverishly and carted to the vet, it becomes a scary and stressful place. Instead, try putting the carrier in a well-used area such as where you store her litterbox, hanging out in the family room or near where she likes to sleep. Leave the door of the carrier open so she has the option to go in and out. She might initially avoid the area where the carrier is placed, but over time she should begin to disassociate it with fear once she can see it means her no harm.
3. Make the carrier less scary
If your cat comes running from the farthest room in the house when she hears you rattle her favorite bag of treats, use this to your advantage! Try adding some aspect of the carrier into your treat routine. You can first start by having her find treats placed on the floor around the carrier, then on top of it. Eventually, trying giving her a trail of treats that lead in the carrier so she walks inside. From there, anytime she goes into the carrier praise her and give her a treat! You can even reward this behavior with a high-value treat (something she doesn’t get often) such as tuna or a lick of baby food.
If your cat prefers playtime over food, swap out the treats for her favorite mouse or catnip-filled toy. Make sure to continue to play with her once she’s in the carrier as well.
4. Nix the newspaper
Try lining the bottom of your carrier with something your cat likes such as her cat bed or a blanket she seems to sleep on or near at home. Cats like to have a place to hide if they feel scared and a blanket or towel is the perfect hiding place.
5. Spray it, don’t say it
It might take a little extra step to get your cat loving her carrier, and Feliway can help with that. Feliway is a synthetic pheromone spray made specifically for cats. It mimics the pheromone that cats are marking when they rub their cheeks on people or objects…this marking is how cats define their territory. The smell provides the cat with a sense of safety and comfort. Spray her blanket or towel in each corner about 15 to 20 minutes prior to trying to place her in the carrier. You can order Feliway directly from our online pharmacy.
6. Let us know how we can help
At West Park Animal Hospital, we’ve created an environment to minimize stress for all of our patients, and have specially designated spaces, including a waiting area and exam room, for our kitties. Our hope is that a trip to the vet is no longer something that they dread. We also know that cats are individuals so if there is something specific that your kitty likes, or doesn’t like, please let us know. We’ll do our best to accommodate them. Finally, should you just not be able to get them to us, our veterinarians do offer house call appointments in the communities of Westchase, Keystone, Odessa, Oldsmar, and Citrus Park. Many cat owners find these visits to be less stressful for the feline friends. If you’d like to schedule an in hospital visit or a house call, call us at (813) 749-6863 or request your appointment online through our website.