Cat Carrier Training Tips to Make Trips Less Stressful

For many cats, the cat carrier is associated with negative experiences. Here is our advice to make going in the carrier a less stressful experience

Created: 08/11/2021 Updated: 18/03/2022 - Vicky Payne

behaviour, Behaviour & Training, cats, kitten, training

There is no doubt that cats are happiest when they are in their home territories, but sometimes they must leave the comforts of home. The safest way to transport your cat to the vet, cattery, to a show, or when going on holiday is to use a cat carrier.

A cat carrier prevents your cat escaping, reduces the risk of distraction when driving, and can make your cat feel secure. A carrier protects your cat from the unwanted attentions of people and other animals.

Unfortunately, not all cats see their carrier as a positive thing. For many, the carrier is a reminder of negative experiences and its infrequent appearance is a warning to run and hide.

Grey fluffy kitten in closed cat carrier

Choosing the best cat carrier

What sort of cat carrier is best?

There are many different models of cat carrier on the market, and you might find that your cat has different preferences to other cats, but the following things should be considered when choosing a cat carrier:

  • There should be enough space for your cat to get up and turn around, and to stretch out. But bear in mind that cats often appear more secure in smaller, cosy spaces.

  • A choice of door options is ideal. Look for a carrier with a front door which opens wide, as well as a top door or a lid which can easily be removed. These designs allow cats to be moved into and out of carriers in the least stressful way.

  • Look for a sturdy and secure carrier. The carrier should state the maximum weight for which it is designed. Fabric and wicker carriers are popular and lightweight, but a scared cat may be able to chew their way out!

  • Choose a carrier that can be cleaned easily as cats will often toilet during a journey. Plastic and plastic-coated wire mesh are both easy to clean.

  • If you are transporting more than one cat, they should have their own carriers. This allows more comfortable travel and reduces the risk of fighting. Kittens or a mum and her litter may be happier travelling together but check the weight limit!

  • The carrier should have ventilation slots and a door which allows the cat to see out and smell the environment, but which doesn’t allow escape or leave them feeling exposed. These holes also allow you to give treats without the risk of the cat escaping when you open the door.

  • The carrier should be furnished with enough bedding for you cat to snuggle into or burrow under. Use bedding with the scent of home to help comfort your cat and take spare bedding in case your cat urinates on the journey. Nervous cats might appreciate the carrier being covered in a blanket to make it into a dark and secure den.

Grey fluffy kitten sitting in a cat carrier.

Optimizing conditions for cat carrier training

Most cats don’t like the cat carrier as their first experience of it is being taken from their breeder’s home or to the vets for vaccinations. The carrier is then put away until the next negative experience, another vet trip, or a car ride to the cattery. It is possible to help your cat see the carrier as a positive and safe place with some training.

If you have room in your home, leave the cat carrier accessible at all times. Make sure it has cosy bedding in and is in a quiet part of the house. With luck, your cat may choose to sleep in the carrier!

If you cat doesn’t automatically choose to use the carrier as a bed, perhaps because of previous bad travelling experiences, you will need to build an association between the carrier and ‘good things’. Putting a new toy, or a tasty food treat into the carrier can encourage your cat to explore. If your cat learns to love the carrier, you may find that on vet visit day, all you need to do is close the door and pick up the carrier!

More formal carrier training can also be extremely useful and can include getting your cat used to being lifted and put into the carrier or teaching them to go into their carrier on a cue. Contrary to popular opinion, cats are very trainable and will respond well to short sessions where they work for small but tasty food rewards. Cat training sessions need to be very short and should start in an area with minimal distractions.

Be prepared to spend several weeks training your cat to accept the carrier before moving on to picking up the carrier with them in it and travelling.

Calm cat stood on blanket in cat carrier with a feasties treat in front of him

Rewarding with cat treats while maintaining a balanced diet

What treats can I use for training my cat? How do I avoid my cat becoming fat, or unbalancing her diet?

When you are training your cat to love the carrier, you will need to use some high value food rewards as well as their normal diet. Treats and human foods should make up no more than 10% of your cat’s daily calorie intake. It can be difficult to calculate this but using 10% of the weight of your cat’s normal ration is a good approximation. Remember to cut their normal food down a little to avoid weight gain.

You can use some of your cat’s regular food ration, but this works best for passive training where you place a small dish of food in the carrier and allow the cat to find it and eat it in their own time. For active training, a higher value food will usually work better.

There are many different treats on the market, and you will already know the ones your cat likes. Ideal training treats can be broken into small pieces, eaten quickly, and make your cat go wild! OSCARs has an extensive range of bite-sized cat treats including dried prawns, dental treats, calming treats, and lower calories treats, and you are sure to find something your cat loves in the range.

two cats Woody and Simba eating feasties next to their cat carrier

A guide to cat carrier training

You will need:

  • A cat carrier

  • Bedding your cat loves

  • Tasty treats

  • Patience

  • You might also find Beaphar calming spray helpful

Cat training sessions need to be short, but you can practise several times a day.

Step 1. Getting your cat comfortable with the presence of the cat carrier

  • Choose a quiet and open room where your cat feels comfortable to begin training.

  • Place some bedding on the floor and use some food to lure your cat onto the bedding.

  • Give food rewards just for lying on the cat bedding.

  • Repeat this stage in short sessions until your cat is coming to the bedding in expectation of food.

  • Next put some similar comfortable bedding in the carrier and spray with calming spray.

  • Place the carrier in the room with the training bedding before you bring your cat in. The doors should be open or removed.

  • Now feed your cat for lying on the cat bedding. You can also give food if your cat chooses to explore the carrier.

  • At each session move the bedding closer to the carrier and continue to give food rewards for being on the cat bed.

Step 2. Getting your cat into the carrier

  • If the carrier has a removable top, take this off. Otherwise, keep the front and top doors open.

  • Place the bedding close to the door and then in the carrier itself.

  • Give food rewards for sitting or lying on the cat bedding.

  • If the top of the carrier has been removed, you can add this and continue the training. You may need to have the bedding outside the box again and build up to the bedding being in the complete carrier.

Grey fluffy kitten cat at the front of cat carrier

Step 3. Making your cat comfortable with the door being shut

  • Once your cat enters the cat carrier happily, you can add a cue word such as ‘box’ or ‘bed’. Say the word, and lure the cat in with a treat until they anticipate the treat and just get in.

  • When the cat is entering the box willingly, close the door for a second, give a treat, and then open the door.

  • If your cat continues to look calm, build up the duration of door closing second by second. It is better to get several short (ten second) repetitions than to go for a long one and risk your cat becoming upset.

  • Gradually build up the time your cat stays in the carrier. You may like to do this while watching TV! Just keep dropping treats into the carrier and release your cat while they are still calm.

Step 4. Lifting your cat in the carrier

  • The motion of being lifted can, understandably, be upsetting for your cat and should be trained for.

  • Start by touching the handle, then rewarding.

  • Next, lift for a second then lower and reward.

  • Build up slowly until your cat remains relaxed while you carry them around the house.

Step 5. Travelling with your cat in the carrier

Vehicles make lots of sounds that your cat will not be familiar with, and the motion of the vehicle may make them scared or sick.

  • Plan where you will secure your cat carrier. The boot is not designed for passengers and can be noisy, it is also often a crumple zone in an accident. The back seat or passenger footwell may be more comfortable options for your cat, but make sure the carrier will not fly loose if you need to stop suddenly.

  • Build up in steps again, first rewarding just for being in the car, then for remaining calm when the engine is started.

  • When your cat is comfortable with the engine, take a short drive. Give a BIG reward when you get home.

  • If possible, book a veterinary nurse appointment so you can continue giving your cat good travel experiences. Make sure you choose a quiet part of the waiting room or wait in your car. Take your cat’s favourite food treats for the vet nurse to give.

If you rely on taxis or public transport it is harder to build the journeys up slowly, but by doing as much groundwork as possible beforehand the travel experience should still be less stressful for you and your cat.

cat in cat carrier while door is shut

Cats can learn to love their cat carriers and can see them as a safe refuge even during stressful experiences such as vet visits. The key to cat training is calm, short sessions with plenty of rewards when you see the behaviours that you want. A suitable carrier, your soothing voice, familiar smells, and calming pheromones can all help to make the travel experience better for your cat.

Do you need further advice?

If you need any further advice, please contact the OSCAR Helpline Team on our freephone number 0800 195 8000 or email helpline@oscars.co.uk.

©OSCAR Pet Foods Ltd