As an experienced cat owner, I can tell you a 100% ture fact: cats are incredibly smart! They quickly pick up behaviors in response to your actions. That’s how they get excited once you go anywhere near the cupboard where you’re keeping their food.
Similarly, cats remember the negative experiences they encounter with a vet. And since they’re mostly taken there in carriers, they instantly freak out once a carrier shows up before them.
Luckily, this doesn’t have to be the case.
The Short Answer: How to Keep a Cat Calm in a Carrier?
Start by considering the carrier itself. If you can get your cat familiar with the carrier before going on the trip, you’ll have a much calmer cat. If your cat doesn’t like the carrier or shows no interest in it, you may want to consider getting a different carrier.
Once you’ve chosen a cat carrier, start familiarizing your cat around the carrier by letting him explore it well before the trip. Packing his favorite toys and blankets should help if you don’t have enough time to prepare.
While your cat is inside the carrier, maintain active communication by talking and looking at him. This should make him feel more secure. If nothing seems to work, you can ask your vet for a sedative prescription.
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Things to Do Before the Trip
Unlike what most people think, training your cat to be calm in a carrier begins well before you actually put him inside.
First of All, Consider a Good Carrier
Before we start with the actual training steps, you have to ask yourself, does your cat feel comfortable in that carrier? Unfortunately, answering that question won’t be that easy. We can’t really depend on the cat’s reaction since he might be frightened by the general concept of carriers and vets. Therefore, I’d recommend experimenting with different models until you find something that works.
Soft vs. Hard Carriers
Generally speaking, a soft-sided carrier should feel cozier on the cat’s body. He can enjoy a quick comfy nap until the trip ends. It’s also convenient for you since it doesn’t take much storage space.
However, for timid or angry cats, I’d recommend the classic hard carrier. It’s not practical to provide a fabric for your cat to tear in pieces with their claws and teeth. Also, accidents, which are fairly common with stressed cats, will be a lot harder to clean. Read this article to learn how to clean the carrier after use or accidents.
Intuitively, most people think that wider carriers would keep their cats calmer since they can freely move. Well, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Think about it. How many times have you spotted your cat curled up in a tiny space? I had a friend who didn’t know about some hidden areas in his rental apartment until his cat started exploring around.
Cats love confined spaces by nature. They make them feel safer and well-protected. And in times of stress, this gets especially important.
Surely, you don’t want to get a carrier so tight that it strangulates your cat. It should be big enough for the cat to stand up and turn around. You don’t need expandable carriers by any means.
Familiarize Your Cat With the Carrier
When was the last time you took the carrier out of its storage? If it was too long ago that you can’t really remember, then you’re indirectly encouraging your cat’s timid behavior.
As you already know, cats heavily depend on their noses to identify their surroundings. If something smells like them, they consider it as part of their territory. If it doesn’t, they remain careful around it thinking that another predator might be waiting for them to let their guard down.
That’s why you should leave the carrier for your cats to explore a couple of days before the trip. If you have some space to spare, it’d be even better to make it a permanent part of their environment.
What If You Don’t Have Time?
There’s a high chance that you’re reading this before an urgent trip to the vet. If that’s true, you can find your way around familiarizing your cat in no time.
First, get a soft piece of cloth and gently pet your cat with it. Try to get every bit of the cloth to touch the cat. Then, wipe the insides of the carrier with this cloth. Preferably, place it in one of the carrier’s corners.
Additionally, fill the carrier with your cat’s favorite items. Toys, blankets, bedding, anything that relaxes your cat would be perfect.
Consider the Possibility of Motion Sickness
In some cases, a restless cat might not be acting up. He might be suffering from the uncomfortable feeling of motion sickness. Typically, this presents as:
- Excessive meowing or howling
- Anxious pacing
- Excessive licking
- Excessive drooling
- Sudden lethargy of an active cat
- Vomiting and diarrhea
If you notice any of these symptoms, notify your vet. Prescribing medications would be the ideal solution in that case.
Things to Do During the Trip
By now, your cat should be less hostile toward the carrier. Your job now would be calming her until you safely arrive at your destination.
Communication Is Key
The never-ending debate between cats and dogs always claims that cats aren’t affectionate. They manipulate you into loving them so that you keep flooding them with food. Honestly, I haven’t heard anything more ridiculous.
Cats are as affectionate as any pet can be. They may not be great at showing this like their canine competitors. But deep within, they love their owners with every bit of their souls.
That’s why it’s super important to keep talking to your cat while he’s inside the carrier. Also, if you’re using a hard carrier, tilt it with an angle big enough for your cat to see you. Soft carriers are better in this matter since you can see each other through the mesh cover.
To Cover or Not to Cover
When it comes to communication with the surroundings, every cat holds a unique behavior. Some cats might be frightened by the intense supply of new sights, smells, and sounds. They freak out because they don’t feel safe anymore.
Expectedly, these cats should be a lot calmer if you tone down the stimulants. Cover the carrier’s sides with a blanket, but leave the front door uncovered for proper aeration. Also, keep that side facing towards you to block out the rest of the exteriors.
Other cats might be inclined more toward the adventurous extreme. They don’t mind being presented to new people, places, toys, or even other pets.
In that case, inviting them to engage with the new surroundings should keep them occupied until you finish the trip. You might want to use a soft carrier with all-around mesh windows to feed their curiosity.
If Nothing Works, Try Medications
I’ll be honest, I hate giving unnecessary medications to my pets. However, it might be the only way if your cat doesn’t want to accept anything else. But no matter what happens, never give your cat any medications without consulting your vet.
You can also consider consulting with a holistic veterinarian to help you find a natural remedy such as a calming cat spray, herbal essences, or other non-medicated methods that are proven to work.
The previous suggestions were based on the experience of many cat owners, including me. While I was researching, I was stunned by how dissonant the opinions are. Some owners would swear that a particular trick worked like a charm while others strongly disagree.
What I want to say is, this task will probably need you to dedicate a bit of time, effort, and creativity. Consider other variables that I haven’t explored in this article. Some cats might relax by listening to particular music, others might prefer certain treats, even the carrier position in the car might make a difference.
You’ll of course want to know how to get a skittish cat into a carrier the right way.
Wishing you the best time with your furry friend!