Skip to main content

How to get a cat into a carrier: 7 steps to success

How to get a cat into a carrier: Cat in carrier being lifted by vet
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you have a feline friend who scarpers every time you need to take them to the vet, then learning how to get a cat into a carrier will help make those times when you and your kitty need to travel a more relaxed and comfortable experience for both of you. 

One of the main steps to success when it comes to getting your cat into their carrier is to be gentle but confident. Just like we can sense when our fellow humans are feeling nervous, cats can also pick up on the vibe we’re giving off and this can make them feel scared and unsafe.

Before putting your kitty inside, make sure you’ve chosen the best cat carrier for your furkid. Ideally, one that clips together and enables you to remove the top half from the bottom is the best choice as this means you can lift your cat out gently when you arrive at your destination. It also works well at the vet as your kitty may be able to be examined without being removed from their carrier.

The size of the carrier is also important and will help make the time your kitty spends inside a much more pleasant experience for them. Make sure they have some space to turn around, but not so much room that your kitty is sliding about when you’re on the move.

Ready to find out how to get a cat into a carrier? Read on for our seven easy steps to success...

1. Get your kitty used to their carrier

Have you ever had someone spring something on you at a moment's notice and then found yourself feeling stressed as you frantically rushed around trying to get organized?

Well, it turns out that our feline friends also feel highly stressed when something new is introduced to them and they’re not given any time to adjust. So, when it comes to a successful trip in a carrier, getting your cat used to it slowly is key.

Most pet parents leave the carrier in their garage or other hidden spot and only bring it out when it’s time to take a trip - bad idea! Your kitty will quickly learn to associate the carrier with a negative experience and you want to avoid that.

Spend several weeks before they’re due to go somewhere in their carrier simply getting them used to it. Wash and dry it if it hasn’t been used in a while to get rid of any musty smells and then place the carrier in a main living area with the door open so that your kitty can investigate it at their leisure.

2. Turn the carrier into an inviting space

Next up is to make the carrier as homely a space as possible. You want it to feel like it’s an enjoyable place to be, so make it feel warm and inviting. 

If your cat has a favorite blanket, pop that inside as it will have your kitty’s scent all over it and this will make the carrier feel more comforting. You can also put a few of their preferred cat toys in there to keep them company.

At this stage, if you have a carrier that has a removable top half, take this off so that only the base of the carrier is there. This will make it more likely that your cat will wander in and out without fear of being trapped. 

If you have one of the best cat beds and it fits inside, place that in as well as this will encourage your cat to take a snooze in their carrier. Don’t try to coax your kitty inside, instead just focus on making it a relaxing and welcoming environment and let them approach it in their own time.

3. Place the carrier in a social area

One of the best ways to deepen the positive association your cat has with their carrier is to place it in an area where they spend a lot of time and feel the most comfortable and secure.

Whether it’s a bedroom or living area, choose a spot where your kitty often curls up for their nap or lazes about or a space that they visit frequently, like their scratching post. This will normalize the carrier and make it feel less threatening. 

4. Provide treats

Now that your cat is used to seeing their carrier and you’ve made it a homely space, start popping a few cat treats inside each day to gently coax them in. You can also use treats as a reward when you notice they’ve wandered into their carrier of their own accord.

5. Close the doors

If you have a carrier with a removable top half, it’s time to start getting your cat used to being in an enclosed space, so when you notice them using it, pop the top half back on.

Once your cat seems comfortable with that, close any remaining doors for a few seconds at a time. If your carrier doesn’t have a removable top half, then just start from this point. 

Reward your cat with a treat for calm behavior and then reopen the doors. Continue to repeat this process until they can stay inside comfortably for several minutes.

6. Practice lifting the carrier

How to get a cat into a carrier: Cat in carrier in backyard being carried by owner

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Now that your cat is okay with being locked inside their carrier, start to lift it and spend short bursts wandering around the house with it. This will help get them used to what it feels like to be inside the carrier when it’s moving.

7. Place a towel over the top

The final step in the familiarization process is to place a towel over the top of the carrier while you’re walking with it. Feline motion sickness is very common and the darkness and privacy offered by a blanket can help reduce nausea.

A blanket can also help reduce the nervousness, stress, and anxiety that can happen when you reach your destination and your cat is confronted with unfamiliar sights, sounds and smells.

Now that your kitty is as familiar and comfortable with their carrier as possible,  let’s take a look at the two main ways you can put your feline friend inside.

Head-first

If you’re going to opt for the head-first technique, you’ll want to make sure you have the carrier door open and ready to go as this will help make your life easier. Once you’ve done that, follow these steps:

  1. Place one hand on your cat’s chest behind their front legs with your other hand supporting their bottom.
  2. Slowly and confidently place their head into the carrier and use your other hand to gently push them in from their bottom.
  3. Close the door behind them.

Bottom-first

The bottom-first technique is great if you have a friendly cat who’s unlikely to scratch you but who just hates getting into their carrier and who tends to put the breaks on if you try to put them in head first. Here’s what to do:

  1. Place the carrier on its end with the door pointing toward the ceiling, leaving the door open.
  2. Pick up your cat, holding onto their bum with one hand and using your other hand to support their chest, just behind their front legs.
  3. Lower them into the carrier, bottom first.
  4. Secure the door and move the carrier back into its usual position.

How to keep a cat calm

How to get a cat into a carrier: Cat in carrier in backseat of car

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Now that you’re a pro at getting your kitty into their carrier, here are a few tips to help them stay calm throughout the journey.

  • We recommend you always pop a blanket in the carrier with your cat as this will help them feel more comfortable. Try spritzing it with cat pheromone spray, such as Feliway, to help them feel more chilled out.
  • Get your kitty used to the car before they need to go on a trip by doing a few short drives around the block. This will help them get used to the motion of being in the car and will help decrease stress and anxiety on the day.
  • While the backseat tends to be the safest place for your cat and their carrier, try and position it on the opposite side to where you’re sitting in the front seat. In other words, if you’re driving, don’t place them directly behind the driver's seat. Cover three sides with a towel but leave one side open so that they can see you.
  • Throughout the journey, talk to your cat in soothing tones as your voice is both familiar and comforting.

If you find that nothing you do seems to work when it comes to getting your cat into their carrier or keeping them calm during the journey, speak to your vet who will be able to advise on whether a mild sedative could be beneficial for your kitty.

Kathryn Rosenberg

Kathryn is a freelance writer with a passion for creating health and wellness, travel and wildlife content. Originally from New Zealand, her nomadic lifestyle has her currently fur baby-less. She scratches her pet parent itch by stealing frequent cuddles with any neighbourhood cat kind enough to indulge her.