Help Get Cats to the Vet
CatChannel and CAT FANCY cat behaviorist Marilyn Krieger, CCBC, shares ways get cats used to carriers, so that cats can visit vets.
Marilyn Krieger, CCBC
Q: Flake, my 5-year old cat, is losing weight and acting lethargic. He still is eating though, especially treats. I’m really worried about him, but don’t want to take him to the veterinarian because he hates his carrier. It’s impossible to catch him and then he screams the whole time he’s in the carrier. Besides taking him to the vet, what should I do?
A: Your vet must examine your cat as soon as possible. If your vet does not do house calls, you might find one in your area who does. Either way, change your cat’s aversive relationship to his carrier in order to transport him easily in an emergency.
The best carrier for the job is a hard-sided carrier. The carrier needs to be large enough for your cat to turn around comfortably. I recommend hard-sided carriers over soft carriers for a few reasons. First, you can dismantle hard-sided carriers easily, thus minimizing your cat’s stress during clinic exams. Additionally, cats feel more secure in rigid enclosures. I also find that cats acclimate faster to the hard-sided pet carriers. When using this type of carrier, securely fasten it after reassembling it.
Start changing your cat’s relationship with the cat carrier by placing it in an area where he enjoys hanging out. Make the carrier an integral part of his world. If your cat’s carrier aversion is extreme, unlatch and remove the top of the carrier and convert the bottom piece into a place where your cat can eat, play and sleep. Place an item of clothing with your smell on it in the carrier base. Play with your cat by dragging a favorite toy in and out of the carrier; toss treats and feed your cat in there. Reinforce your cat with treats, affection or praise whenever he is around or in the carrier.
Before long, your cat will go in and out of the carrier on his own. After he is freely going into the carrier base, secure the top of the carrier onto the bottom and continue the activities with the carrier door open. Eventually, you can close the door for a short time while your cat is in the carrier. Gradually increase the time the door is closed to a few minutes, always rewarding your cat every time you open the door for him.
Take it slow. Making the carrier an irresistible place to go will help your cat change his perceptions of the carrier from avoidance to acceptance. My book, "Naughty No More!" has a chapter dedicated to carrier desensitization and making the veterinary clinic visit easier for both cats and their people.
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Help Get Cats to the Vet