Do you ever struggle to put your cat in a crate? Teaching your cat to enjoy being in the carrier can help reduce the fear of travelling.
A cat carrier is a safe way to transport your cat, yet most cats perceive it as a fearful experience. When stressed, some cats become more vocal and hyperactive, while others may freeze, depending on their personality and coping strategy. Learning to recognise a cat’s fear body language (link) can help you to be a more prepared pet owner. With the correct setup, handling and teaching, cats can actually learn to enjoy their experience in the crate and during travelling.
Here is a checklist to create a safe haven in the crate for your beloved cat:
[ ] The ideal crate has 2 exit points: at the front and on top. It contains a perch that clips to the base and the perch is removable. Some crates use screws to secure the perch. Make sure they are free of rust and removable. Example
[ ] Comfortable bedding in the crate, such as a towel, a fluffy mat, or bedding your cat already loves
[ ] Keep the crate out in a private and safe (even surface that does not create noise, or is not easily fall off) location all the time and take the door off. The purpose is to make it a “safe haven” and accessible for your cat all the time. This allows your cat to interact with the carrier voluntarily and the learning method is called desensitisation.
[ ] Use a calming pheromone ”Feliway” spray that soothes anxious cats. Spray 8-10 sprays on the bedding 10-15 minutes before the cat goes in. The effects last about 2 hours after spraying.
[ ] Lure your cat inside the crate by using food (meals) and treats. You can begin by scattering food around and in the crate. This allows the cat to learn that whenever they interact with the carrier, good things happen. For fearful cats or cats who had previous negative experiences with the carrier, place food outside, but near the crate and bring it closer to encourage them to peacefully eat near – and eventually inside-the crate. This learning method is called operant conditioning.
[ ] Practice daily to make this a new habit or daily routine. This will reduce fear of the carrier significantly.
[ ] Take your time. Never force your cat to go inside. Spend weeks or even months creating this safe haven for your cat.
[ ] Introduce a cue to ask your cat to walk into the carrier such as “in your crate” or “inside”. Reward your cat for walking in the carrier. This will become a fun game for the cat!
[ ] When your cat is not hesitant or fearful of the crate, shut the door for short periods of time and reward the cat with treats, or give a long-lasting stuffed food puzzle inside the carrier for them to focus on.
[ ] Place the carrier in a higher location, like on furniture or on top of a shelf, most cats like being up high rather than on the ground.
Now your cat should love being in the carrier. We can then progress the training in a different context: the very scary car!
[ ] When you move the carrier, hold it with both hands and lift the weight evenly and carefully without jostling or bumping in the way you could carry a fragile present.
[ ] Ask your cat to go inside and place the carrier in the car without starting the car. Allow your cat to learn this is still a safe haven in a different context.
[ ] When travelling, cover the carrier with a towel on the outside to keep cats from spotting scary things happening around them.