Often times I hear cat owners state that their cat hates the carrier and they dread coming to the vet because of the stress it puts on their feline friends. Honestly, before I embraced Fear Free I totally understood where they were coming from. Most of my feline patients used to prefer sitting at home and napping than coming to the veterinary office. What most people don't realize is we have set our cats up to fail - we have created the environment and association between the dreaded carrier and the veterinary office. Think about it - dogs get to go out on walks, go for car-rides to friends houses or the dog park, get to go to doggie daycare.....so they don't necessarily associate getting in the car with going to the vet. But for cats, often times the only time they see their carrier and the inside of a car is when they are headed to their yearly vet visit.
Does it need to be this way? Of course not....there are lots of things we can do at home to provide positive, fun associations for our cats and their carriers (and the car - but more about that later). The cat carrier does not have to be an awful place that your fussy feline only sees when she is due for her rabies vaccine. Here are some helpful tips to reduce the stress of the traveling box:
Most cats and kittens like the feeling of being in a secure, enclosed place - so why not provide that to them all the time (think the crate that your dog loves so much). Leaving the carrier out and open all the time will allow your cat to become accustomed to it and even adapt it as their safe zone. Crates can become great napping spots for cats - especially if they are outfitted with some catnip, feliway spray and fun toys.
Choosing the most comfortable crate for your pet is important - I strongly recommend that whatever type of carrier you chose, try to pick one that has at least 2 options of entry/exit. I personally prefer ones that have a top that either comes off or the pet can be accessed through. This allows for your pet to remain in the carrier during their vet visit (remember, they will feel it is their safe spot) while also providing an opportunity for me to examine them and even administer vaccines/injections without them having to leave their comfy den.
Prepare your cats carrier before vet visits - placing yummy treats, catnip and wiping the carrier down with calming pheromones prior to their visit will help further reduce stress.
Replace carriers when they become worn, rusty or when parts no longer open/shut as they should. Keeping their carrier safe and working will help them continue their positive association with it.
Starting to introduce the carrier in a positive fashion when cats are kittens will help reduce anxiety related to travel and vet visits. Make every vet visit a positive one!