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How to get an unwilling cat into a carrier

How to get an unwilling cat into a carrier
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Believe it or not, there are tricks for how to get an unwilling cat into a carrier. Perhaps you need to take your scared cat to a vet visit, or are moving house and need to transport your feline - whatever the reason is, you need to get your cat in the carrier, and they're being difficult. 

While there's a lot of overlap here with tips for how to get a cat in a carrier, if your cat is terrified of carriers you may run into some trouble. Don't worry, you're not alone and there is hope, we promise. 

Keep in mind that carriers are inherently scary to many cats, especially if they only ever see them during times of stress. Even the best cat carriers can be scary objects to your feline, so ensuring that you remove the scary stigma is a great way to help alleviate your cat's fears. It can be incredibly frustrating trying to get a cat in a carrier, especially if you're on a time crunch, but losing your patience won't help the situation at all. 

We're here to help you learn how to get an unwilling cat into a carrier. You got this. 

Why is my cat terrified of its carrier?  

There's a few reasons why your cat may be terrified of its carrier. Here's a few:

  1. Cats are territorial creatures, so the idea of leaving their space is inherently scary - especially if they're indoor only cats. If your cat associates their carrier with being forced to leave the house, they will have a negative association with the object and likely have a fear response whenever they see it.
  2. If you've previously struggled to get your cat into their carrier, this can also create negative associations.
  3. If the carrier is too small for your cat, they'll feel uncomfortable going in or near it.
  4. Your cat isn't used to going to the vet or travelling. According to veterinarian Natalie Marks speaking with Reader's Digest (opens in new tab), "less than half of all cats in the U.S. receive annual veterinary car, compared to nearly 80% of dogs. Many cat parents will only pull [carriers] out just before a vet appointment or a car ride, both of which have classically been stressful or sources of anxiety for cats."

comfortable cat carrier

(Image credit: Getty Images)

How do I get my cat to stop being scared of the carrier? 

In order to help your cat get over a fear of their carrier, you need to make sure they have more frequent access to it. Leave the carrier out in a highly trafficked area of your home and leave the door open so they can go in there an explore. Make it comfy by adding a blanket, and occasionally throw some treats in there so they have a positive association with it.

Placing the carrier near their food and water bowls will also help them get more comfortable with the carrier. After a few days of keeping the carrier near their food and water bowls, try feeding your cat inside the carrier. 

You can also use calming sprays like Feliway pheromones to help relax your kitty. The best advice, however, is to introduce your cat to the carrier as early as possible - if they're exposed to the carrier as a kitten, they won't fear it as an adult. 

Cat in cat carrier in field

(Image credit: Photo by Zoe Gayah Jonker on Unsplash)

How to get an unwilling cat into a carrier 

It's important that you start incorporating the carrier into your cat's daily routine well before your vet appointment or planned day of travel. Trying to introduce the carrier to your cat the day before you have to leave will only stress the both of you.

If you haven't done this, this will be an even more difficult experience, but there's still some tips and tricks you can utilize to help get an unwilling cat into a carrier: 

1. Try the purrito technique

If your cat gets aggressive when trying to put them in a carrier, you can use this technique to help ensure neither one of you gets hurt.

Take the carrier out and prep it where they can't see it, and prop it so that the door is open facing the ceiling so you can easily place your cat in there. Gently and swiftly wrap them in a towel or blanket like they're in a burrito, with just their head sticking out, then lower them into the carrier.

Reward them when they're unwrapped and in the carrier with a treat (they'll unwrap themselves rather quickly). 

2. Encourage them to enter themselves

You can try to keep your cat in a room with just the carrier and a few treats in it to see if they'll eventually go in there on their own. Spray it with Feliway to help calm them.

3. Ensure your carrier is big enough

Make sure your carrier is roomy enough that you can easily get your cat in through its door. Read our guide to 'how big should a cat carrier be?' to get an idea of what's right for your kitty. 

Alternatively, a good rule of thumb is to look for a carrier with a door in the top that you can lower your cat through, rather than trying to force it in through a front door at all.

4. Try standing the carrier on its end

A handy trick to getting your cat into a carrier is to stand it on its end so that the door's on top, pick up your cat so that it's facing you and can't see where you're going with it, and lower it in feet-first, quickly clicking the door shut when it's safely in and then gently tilting the carrier back to horizontal.

Conclusion

Getting an unwilling cat into a carrier can be difficult, but there's a long game that you need to play. You can't expect your cat to willingly and calmly go into a small space that it's not used to, especially if the only other times they've seen it are associated with stressful events. 

To help your cat get acclimated to the carrier you need to be thinking weeks or even months ahead of your planned trip. Leave the carrier out, spray it with Feliway, leave pheromone diffusers around the house, and help your cat make positive associations with their carrier. You can do this, but patience is key!

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