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Spending time with your cat at home is a joy, but every now and then you’ll have to attempt the dreaded task of transporting your cat. Whether it’s just across town to the vet, across state lines on a road trip or a move, or—and this one is particularly harrowing—on an airplane, it’s difficult to tell who is more upset about the task at hand: you or your cat.
To get your cat anywhere, you must first get them in a cat carrier. Humans and cats alike find these contraptions stressful. They’re bulky, uncomfortable, and for cats, often associated with unpleasant things like trips to the vet or hours spent in the back of a shaky car.
Here is how you can relieve some of your cat’s unease about carrier travel in the few days leading up to a trip, and in the process, make your own life a bit easier.
Step 1: Give the Carrier a Makeover
If the inside of your cat’s carrier is unpleasant, your cat will feel unpleasant. The carrier by itself isn’t particularly welcoming. It’s just a hard shell with a hard floor! Remove the top of your cat carrier and the door. Inside, place a nice plush cat bed. Cat expert Jackson Galaxy says, “Consider using one of your sweatshirts as bedding. Your scent will always be a source of comfort to them.” Your kitty will feel better already.
Step 2: Place the Carrier in Your Home
When not in use, it’s tempting to just keep the carrier in a basement or stored away somewhere in your house since they aren’t exactly the most aesthetically pleasing pieces of décor. But placing the carrier in a social area of your home where your cat frequents will help her get used to it. This could be near your bed or the couch. Being around the carrier will help your cat develop a positive association with it.
Step 3: Reward Her with Treats
Travel is stressful! Be sure your cat gets an extra special treat as a reward for enduring it. Choose an extra tasty cat treat that’s more delicious than your cat would usually get and give it to her while she’s in the carrier. In the days leading up to travel, practice getting her in the carrier, and once she’s in, she should always get this treat. This will help her associate treats with travel. You might even see your cat climb into the carrier on her own at this point!
Step 4: Put the Lid Back On
Once you feel like your cat has established her comfort with the bottom part of the carrier, put the lid back on. You might want to make sure you do it when kitty’s not around though, as it could be confusing to her.
Step 5: Put the Door Back on Too
Now it’s time to replace the door. This step can be stressful for cats because of the noisy sound the door makes when swinging open or shut. Try propping the door open for a few days so it doesn’t swing until your cat seems at ease again. Continue giving her treats when she’s inside the carrier. As she becomes comfortable, try closing the door while your kitty is inside the crate.
Final Step: Picking Up and Putting Down
Eventually your cat will be comfortable inside the carrier with the door shut, and you can try picking it up and putting it back down slowly before opening the door again. Repeat this movement many times so that your cat grows accustomed to it. Randomly picking up the carrier and closing and opening its door will also help your cat understand that riding in the carrier doesn’t always result in negative experiences (like going to the vet).
You might find that your cat actually turns to her carrier in emergency or scary situations, such as bad weather or earthquakes. By keeping the carrier in social areas like your living room, you’ll have immediate access to kitty and you’ll easily be able to find her.
When you make your cat’s carrier a stress-free and inviting place, you’ll be surprised how stress-free travel with a cat can be.