how to get a skittish cat into a carrier

How To Get A Skittish Cat In A Carrier? Techniques That Work!

I’ll be honest, I hate the day I have to take my cat to the vet. I hate it probably more than my cat does. It was especially annoying with one of my cats who absolutely dreaded carriers from day one. 

Lucky for me, this isn’t the case anymore. With a bunch of easy tricks, I now have the upper hand in these awful days. 

How to Get a Skittish Cat in a Carrier?

Try building your cat’s confidence up while you’re in the home by using feline pheromone plug-ins in different parts of the home, and give her plenty of places to hide like boxes, baskets, and a cat tree where she can run and climb.

This article is supposed to be a thorough guide on cat carrier training for all cats in general, and the skittish, timid ones in particular. 

*This page contains affiliate links to products I recommend. If you purchase something from this page, I may receive a small percentage of the sale at no extra cost to you.

It’s important to familiarize your cat around the carrier a couple of days before the actual event. If you don’t have enough time left, pet him with a cloth and wipe the carrier’s insides with it. 

When the day comes, you have two options. First, scooping the cat with a towel and pushing him inside the carrier. Second, scruffing the cat and lowering him inside, tail-first. 

The Carrier Will Make A Huge Difference

hard cat carrier vs soft cat carrier

Make sure you’re using a bigger carrier than normal. Scared cats have a tendency to make themselves bigger, so it will be virtually impossible to get them into a small carrier.

A small carrier will only make your cat more nervous and she will end up scratching you, which will make a bad experience for both of you.

Go with a hard carrier vs a soft one, as it’s easier to get her inside and she is less likely to tear it with her sharp teeth and nails. A top-loading carrier will make it easier to get her in and out. Be sure to check out these cat carriers for all types of cats.

Start by Preparing the Carrier Beforehand

Once you’ve purchased your cat carrier, it’s time to start prepping it, even if you don’t need to use it right away. Remember, your kitty is nervous and will need some time to acclimate herself to it.

Believe it or not, if a cat is skittish, you might have something to do with it! Most owners store their carriers way outside of their cat’s reach, maybe in the garage or the attic. 

When the day comes, they shove it in their faces, expecting them to act positively and go inside without any hassle. If you pause to think about it, you’ll realize how wrong this is. 

Cats are territorial animals. In simpler words, they mark their environment with their scent to tell other animals to stay away from this area. 

When you shock them with the stored carrier, you’re actually asking them to go inside an unknown territory. They think of it as a trap, a place where another predator is hiding, waiting for an opportunity to make a move. 

Wash The Carrier

About 1-2 weeks before the big trip, wash the cat carrier out thoroughly, even if it’s never been used. Hard plastic carriers have a musty or chemical smell, especially when they are new that your cat won’t like.

Let it dry completely and make sure it doesn’t have any new plastic smells lingering.

Flood It With Their Scent

Next flood the carrier with a scent that she is familiar with, which is her own!

Instead of taking the carrier out on the big day, get it ready a couple of days before. 

Place the carrier wherever your cat spends most of his time. It’s a good idea to place his favorite treats and toys inside to encourage him on entering and spending time. 

Even if your cat doesn’t try climbing inside it’s fine. She’ll start getting familiar with it because you placed it in her environment.

When the day comes, your cat won’t be freaked out as much about the sight of the carrier. 

Use Pheromones To Help Calm Her

use phermones to calm a cat
Pheromones can help your cat with anxiety and stress.

Certain pheromones can help calm cats while they are being transported in a carrier. I recommend spraying a small amount inside the carrier or using a calming pheromone collar to help keep her calm. I’ve put together some tips to help you keep a cat calm in the carrier that are proven to work.

They work great for stressed and anxious cats. The best part is you’ll notice a huge difference in her behavior in about 60 minutes!

Feed Her From The Carrier

Another great tactic is to leave the door open and place her food and water bowl near the carrier. As your cat gets comfortable eating her dinner near the carrier, she may become more curious and go inside.

After she feels comfortable eating and drinking by the carrier, you can try moving the bowls inside the carrier. Remember to leave the door open, otherwise she may get scared if the door closes on her when she is inside of it.

Even if she doesn’t go inside, she’ll at least be less afraid of it when you try putting her in it.

No Time? No worries! 

Although the previous scenario is the ideal approach, it won’t always be feasible. The vet trips aren’t always planned. If a cat gets suddenly injured, you can’t wait for days to familiarize your cat with the carrier. 

Luckily, there is a simple trick that could speed up the process. Start by thoroughly petting your cat with a soft blanket. Then, wipe the insides of the carrier with this blanket and leave it inside. This could be the fastest way to make the carrier smell less dangerous for your cat. 

Never Chase the Cat

This might look obvious, but it’s actually pretty common among new cat owners, especially those who adopted a stray or feral.

What these people fail to realize is, cats are extremely agile. It’ll be incredibly hard to get the cat cornered. Even then, the cat might surprisingly escape through the tightest way. Let alone that he might get hurt in the process. 

When they finally catch the cat, he’ll be so scared to sit still inside the carrier. This will make the rest of the experience even harder than before. 

What to do, then? That’s what I’ll discuss in the following sections. 

Use the Towel-Wrap Technique

Without a doubt, the towel-wrap technique is the best method to deal with skittish cats. I love it because it causes little to no harm to my cats. You can watch this video to see how it’s done, I’ll also explain the technique below.

Step 1: Do It While the Cat Is Eating

If your cat is abnormally timid, the best time to approach him should be while he’s eating. Think about it. Cats tend to concentrate less on their surroundings when they’re eating. They might even close their eyes while they’re chewing big chunks. 

Plus, if he freaks out, you’ll have some extra seconds to finish what you’re doing until he swallows what’s in his mouth. 

Step 2: Approach From Behind

To minimize the risk of being spotted, calmly approach the cat from behind while holding a large towel. 

Then, in one continuous motion, cover the cat with the towel while securing the sides with your arms. Make sure the front part of the towel is long enough to properly cover the cat’s head. 

I found some bloggers recommending to throw the towel over the cat without fixing it with your hands. I strongly advise against that, though. You’ll have to place your hands later on to pick up the cat. Doing the two actions together will reduce the likelihood of the cat freaking out.

Step 3: Scoop the Cat  

With your arms straight, reach down under the cat’s belly and scope him up. If possible, push the towel slightly under to make sure the cat is held well in place. 

As you’re scooping, ask one of your family members to get the carrier ready. Then, place the cat inside together with the towel. Before you close the door, take the towel slightly off the cat’s head to make sure he can properly breathe. 

Or Use the Scruff-And-Drop Technique

If the cat is super timid, you might not be able to apply the previous method. As an alternative, you can try this highly restraining approach.

Step 1: Prepare the Carrier

This method has to be done in the fastest way possible. That’s why you have to get the carrier ready before you start. 

Place the carrier upright with the door open and facing upwards. You can hold the carrier in place by using boxes or cushions if it can’t stand on its own. 

Step 2: Scruff the Cat

Again, the best time to approach a timid cat should be while he’s eating. Stand behind him and slowly reach out with your dominant hand right behind the cat’s ears

When you’re in position, gently grab the loose skin in that area. As you’re tightening the grip, place your other hand under the cat’s belly and lift up. 

Never lift the cat by your scruffing hand. This presumably feels painful for the cat. It also doesn’t give enough support.

Step 3: Place the Cat in the Carrier, Tail-First

Lower the cat slowly inside the carrier tail-first while maintaining your grip. Don’t let go until the cat can lay his feet inside the carrier. 

After you release the grip, close the door, and slowly place the carrier into the horizontal position. 

Controlling Her Anxiety

how to get a cat used to a carrier
It takes time to get a cat used to the carrier, but with patience and the right methods you can.

Hopefully, the pheromone or catnip is helping her stay calm throughout the journey. However, it’s still important to monitor her behavior. The best way to keep her calm is to soothe her by talking gently to her and making sure she can see you.

Don’t forget to carry along some extra catnip and pheromone spray to help ease her anxiety during the journey.

Taking Her Out Of The Carrier

While it won’t be as hard as getting her in, you still need to take caution. Your cat has just experienced the worst trauma in her life.

When you reach your destination, take her out slowly and be reassure her using a gentle voice. Open the door and stick your hand in the carrier so she can sniff it and become familiar.

Let Her Out In A Small Room

If possible choose a small room and close the door to ensure she doesn’t try running away. Remember, your cat is in a new environment and is frightened.

She’ll be extremely nervous and will be crying and trying to run away. Make sure you spend some time with her and reassure her that everything is okay.

Final Thoughts

I know how frustrating it can be to get a cat in a carrier. And I know that it gets even harder when the cat is super skittish. 

But please, stay calm and gentle while you’re dealing with the cat. Personally, I don’t prefer opting for the scruffing method unless I couldn’t get the job done with a towel. In fact, recent studies have found that scruffing can destroy the trust you’ve been trying to build with your cat.

Good luck!