If you’ve ever tried to wrestle an angry cat into his carrier before a vet appointment, you probably have the scars to prove it. While dogs usually have no problem hopping in the car for a ride, cats are notoriously difficult to travel with. Part of that reason is because the carrier is often stored away and only brought out right before a “bad” event. Therefore, when your cat sees the carrier, he automatically gets stressed because he only associates it with negative emotions.
The first step to creating positive associations is keeping the carrier accessible at all times. Leave it on the floor in a social area, with the door open, to let him know that he can enter and exit and won’t be trapped. It also helps to create a welcoming environment inside the carrier. Add a cozy bed, some cat nip, and a few toys to entice him to spend time in there.
If your cat is still showing no interest in the carrier after a couple weeks, try moving his food and water dish next to it, or even in the carrier if there’s room. If he’s hesitant, you can start slowly by moving the bowls a foot closer to the carrier each day until they are next to it.
After your cat feels safe enough to enter the carrier and eat near it, try tossing treats or toys in the corner and encourage him to retrieve them. Heap on the praise and let him know what a good boy he is when he’s in the carrier so he starts to associate positive things – food, playing, treats, and praise – with going in the carrier. When he’s inside, practice closing the door behind him. Continue with the treats and praise, and then let him out. Repeating this process will let him know that he’s not trapped, and you will always open the door for him.
Your cat may never love his carrier, and that’s okay. As long as you can take some of his fear away and remove the struggle of getting him inside, you’ve done a great job.