-Provided by the American Association of Feline Practitioners
Traveling with your cat? Understanding your cat’s behavior is key.
- Cats are most comfortable with the familiar, and need time to adjust to the unfamiliar. The visit to the vet is often difficult because the carrier, the car, and the hospital and exam room are all unfamiliar. Respect your cat’s need for time to become familiar with new situations, people, and places.
- Stay calm. Cats can sense your anxiety and frustration, which can cause them to become fearful or anxious as well.
- Cats do not learn from punishment or force. Give rewards to encourage positive behavior. For example, if your cat is sitting calmly in or near a carrier, give a treat. Likewise, rewards can be given to help your cat become familiar with the type of handling they may encounter at the vet (i.e. handling paws, ears, and mouth).
- Know your cat’s “Love Language.” What does your cat desire most? Food? Play? Affection? A treat is highly desirable to your cat and useful in behavior modification. Figure out what your cat responds to and use it as their “treat” for desired behavior.
What types of cat carriers are best?
The best cat carriers are the inexpensive hard-sided carriers that open from the top and the front, and can also be taken apart in the middle. An easily removable top allows a cat who is fearful, anxious or in pain to stay in the bottom half of the carrier for exams. We can often complete an exam in the bottom of a well-designed carrier.
Avoid carriers that require a cat to be pulled from or dumped out of for an exam.
Helping your cat become comfortable with the carrier
The goal is for your cat to learn to associate the carrier with positive experiences and routinely enter voluntarily. Start the process a couple of days prior to your appointment.
- Make the carrier a familiar place at home by leaving it in a room where your cat spends a lot of time.
- Place familiar soft bedding inside the carrier. Bedding or clothing with your scent can make them feel more secure.
- Place treats, catnip or toys inside the carrier to encourage the cat to enter at home. Often, you will first see that treats are removed from the carrier during the night.
It may take days or weeks before your cat starts to trust the carrier so start early. Remain calm and patient, and reward desired behaviors. If you still have trouble, you may need to assess the carrier itself.
Getting an unwilling cat into the carrier
If your cat needs to go to the vet right away, and is not yet accustomed to the carrier, the following may help:
- Start by putting the carrier in a small room with few hiding places. Bring the cat into the room and close the door. Move slowly and calmly. Do not chase the cat to get it into the carrier. Encourage the cat with treats or toys to walk into the carrier.
- If your cat will not walk into the carrier, and your carrier has an opening on the top, gently cradle your cat and lower it into the carrier. Another option is to remove the top half of the carrier while getting the cat to go into the bottom half, and then calmly replace the top.
- Use familiar bedding inside the carrier. Consider using a synthetic feline facial pheromone spray in the carrier at least 30 minutes prior to transport to help calm the cat.
- If your carrier only opens from the front, hold your cat like a football with their face nestled firmly almost in your armpit. Slowly and calmly place your cat into the carrier hind-end first.
Coming home – keeping the peace in a multi-cat household
Cats are very sensitive to smells, and unfamiliar smells can result in one cat no longer recognizing another. Aggressive behavior can occur when one cat senses another as a stranger. These suggestions can help avoid problems between cats following a veterinary visit:
- Leave the returning cat in the carrier for a few minutes to see how your other cats react.
- If all cats appear calm and peaceful, let the returning cat out of the carrier.
- If you sense tension between the cats, or if previous home-comings have resulting in conflict, keep the cat in the carrier and take it into a separate room to avoid potential injury from an upset cat. Provide food, water and a litter box for a minimum of 24 hours while it regains the more familiar smell of home.
For future visits:
- Use familiar bedding or clothing with your scent, as it retains the smell of home and helps with reintroduction
- Use a synthetic feline pheromone such as Feliway
- Bring both cats to the vet together. This can prevent future conflict as both cats will carry the scent of the clinic.