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San Diego Humane Society

Carrier Training Cats

Carrier training for any animal is very important, even if the skills are only needed on occasion. Traditionally, cats can be quite scared of a carrier due to bad experiences they may have had riding to the vet, being pushed in, getting shots, etc. Teaching your cat that carriers are a safe place is especially useful when going to the vet, traveling, in case of a natural disaster, car rides, etc. Below are step-by-step instructions on how to introduce a carrier successfully to your cat or kitten. 

Step 1: Introductions

Put the carrier down to introduce your cat to it. It may be best to do it near where they eat. Leave it open (tie the door open or remove the door completely) and let your cat check it out at their leisure.

Tip: You can drop some treats in there to make the carrier extra exciting!

Step 2: Associating the carrier with food

Lure your cat to the carrier before dinnertime using wet food or treats. Once cat is regularly eating from the food near the carrier, you can start moving it closer and closer each day or for each meal.

Tips: If you don’t meal feed your cat, we’d recommend changing your cat to feedings twice a day (morning and evening) or as your vet recommends. This will ensure your cat is hungry when you’re working with her.

  • Use wet food before dinnertime to lure your cat toward the carrier. Move the food as far away as needed so that she’ll eat. Some cats are more shy than others. Gradually move it closer. As long as she’s eating the treat, you can move it a bit closer. Do this in small, gradual steps.
  • You may need to create a trail (“Hansel and Gretel”) of treats that end at the carrier.
  • Try mixing in a tasty treat if wet food alone doesn’t work, like tuna, boiled chicken or all meat baby food.

Step 3: Feed inside the carrier

When your cat is comfortable walking up to the carrier, you can move the food into the carrier for her to eat. Go very slowly and make sure that the door is latched open or not on the carrier so it doesn’t scare her.

Tips:

  • You may have to start with just front paws in the carrier, then gradually have her all the way in the carrier.
  • If you have a “top loading carrier” or one with a door in the front and on top, you can open the top of the carrier too at first to be less confining.

Step 4: Introduce play! 

Try play! Play with kitty in the carrier, around the carrier and on the carrier to make it an even more fun space.

Step 5: Introducing door movement

Continue feeding dinner in the carrier and begin to close the door.

Tip: If she looks anxious, be sure to open the door immediately and go back a few steps to just having her eat near the carrier or just barely inside the carrier.

Step 6: Closing the door

Close the door and lift the carrier. Within a few seconds, put it down and open the door again.

Gradually increase the time the cat is being carried in the carrier.

Step 7: Towels and introduction to movement

Cover the carrier with a towel and take it to the car with cat inside. Sit in car and feed cat very high value treats before bringing her back inside and opening the carrier door.

Step 8: Introduction to travel

Take covered carrier and cat for a short car ride! Make sure cat has treats and/or a kitty Kong in there. Bring back inside and open carrier door.

Step 9: Trained and ready for next steps

You should be ready for vet visits, to go to a class or in case of emergency!

Tips: 

  • Be sure to continue associating travel with rewards and good things happening. This is especially important if part of the trip will be stressful.
  • Keep special high-value "carrier only" treats on hand. If appropriate, keep them stored in the carrier so they're always where you need them. 

More Tips:

  • Make sure cat stays relaxed through this process.
  • Always cover the carrier when you’re out of the house.
  • Keep practicing going in and out of the carrier and going for short car rides once in a while so your cat doesn’t associate the carrier with vet all the time!
  • Below is a video on kitten training; for adult cats who may have more poor experiences with carriers, check out this video of shaping getting into a carrier.
  • Looking for more cat training help? Check out our live online Cat Training classes; follow the link for more information about our classes below. 

Behavior Helpline: Contact our Behavior Team

For behavior questions, please contact our Behavior Helpline either by calling 619-299-7012, ext. 2244, emailing behavior@sdhumane.org or filling out our Ask a Trainer form. San Diego Humane Society Adopters can fill out the Post Adoption Consultation form to schedule their troubleshooting session. We aim to respond within 7 days, but responses may take up to 2 weeks. Thank you for your patience!

Note: Due to the potential for serious injury, canine and feline aggression are best handled by a professional who specializes in aggressive behaviors. Because phone or email counseling is inadequate for addressing serious behavior concerns, we ask that you contact a qualified professional for help. Please refer to the list of behavior resources here.

Questions About Public Classes

San Diego Humane Society offers training classes and resources to address a variety of needs for companion animals.

Our training philosophy is based on the behavioral science concepts of positive reinforcement. Training your pet using these concepts will not only help them learn new behaviors more quickly, it will also strengthen the bond you share.

Our website includes a current schedule of training classes or call 619-279-5961. 

View Training Classes   Gift a Training Class

 

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