Suddenly realise you’re late for your cat’s appointment at the vets. Run out to the garage and throw boxes around until you find cat basket. Scream as you remove spiders from cat basket. Look around the room for cat. No cat. Look upstairs for cat. No cat. Look in all closets for cat. No cat. Go back and look behind the sofa. Find cat. Move sofa, cat runs upstairs. Find cat under bed. Crawl under bed and grab cat by scruff and pull, dragging both cat and half of your carpet out from under the bed. Carry hissing and spitting cat downstairs to basket. Call for help as cat splays all four legs as wide as possible to avoid being put in basket. Finally get cat in basket. Drive howling cat to vet. Present cat, who has now vomited, urinated and defecated in the carrier, to the vet.
Sound familiar? I would bet that most cat owners have had a similar experience. And there’s nothing you can do about it, right? Cats hate carriers, cars, and vets and that’s just the way it is. But it doesn’t have to be that way! By following a few simple steps you can make the whole procedure much easier on both yourself and your cat.
Choose the right carrier.
There are some really ridiculous cat carriers out there. I’ve seen everything from designer handbags to pink plastic spaceship-like contraptions. Just because they look cute doesn’t mean they’re going to be of any use when it actually comes to transporting your cat. Forget your own sense of style and choose one that works.
• The most common cat carrier is either a plastic box or a wicker basket with a single wire door on the front. I don’t know who designed this, or why they thought it was a good idea, but they clearly never had to get a cat into one. Some young and curious kittens may jump right in just because they can, but most adult cats will be wary of walking into a situation that they can’t easily escape from, especially when they’re already stressed.
• By far the easiest carriers to use are the ones that have both a side door AND a top door. This gives the cat more options and gives you a much greater chance of getting them both in or out. Another good choice would be one that just has a very large top door.
• If you must choose one that has just one side door, at least make sure that it comes apart easily, with large latches that close securely but open easily with one hand. Most vets don’t keep a screwdriver in their consult room, so please don’t bring your cat in something that requires a degree in engineering to take apart.
• Fabric carriers may seem nice and comfortable to you, but their flexibility and tendency to collapse actually makes for a very insecure and likely frightening journey for your cat.
Use common sense.
If you think about it, cats don’t actually hate boxes or baskets, they lie in them all the time at home. They don’t mind being in enclosed places, and they don’t mind the dark. So why do they hate their carrier so much? Because it’s not the carrier itself, it’s the fact that it’s new and different and scary, and if they’ve been in it before, they know the whole process ahead of them is even more different and scary. But you can help them be less afraid-
• Instead of keeping the carrier in a closet or garage, keep it in the living room. Ideally for a few days or even weeks, but at least the 24 hours prior to the appointment. This will give them a chance to check it out on their own time, even go in and out when no one is looking, so it won’t be so terrifying when they are put in it later.
• Put treats or a catnip toy in the basket so they are more likely to explore it.
• Reward your cat if he does go near or in the basket.
• Put your cat’s favourite blanket or some of your own clothing in the carrier if it will fit, to make it smell like home. Alternatively, a calming pheromone spray (Feliway) may help them feel more secure.
Make sure you think through every step of the process before you start. Cats are not stupid. They probably know what you’re planning before you do.
• The day before the appointment (if you get that much notice), put the basket in one of the smallest rooms of the house, or the one with the fewest hiding places. Open the door to the carrier and leave it open, ready to go.
• On the day of the appointment, and in plenty of the time so you are not rushed, collect your cat from their favourite spot in the sun and carry them as you normally would into the room with the carrier, and shut the door behind you.
• Have somebody on standby in the next room to help if necessary.
• Gently place your cat into the carrier. OK, it’s probably not that easy, but whatever you do, stay calm and don’t panic – they will pick up on your anxiety and then it will be even harder. If you know your cat won’t go into the basket through the door, you can try tipping it on its side so you lower your cat in instead of shoving them in sideways. Alternatively, take the entire top off the carrier and leave it off before collecting your cat, then put the whole thing back together once your cat is inside. If you don’t have a friend to help, make sure the side with the door is facing a wall so they can’t escape through it while you put the top back on.
If they can get into the basket without getting upset, chances are the car ride will also go smoothly. There are some cats who simply hate the car though, and in this case, you can try loading up the carrier and car with more Feliway spray, and booking your appointment at a time when there is least likely to be traffic so the journey is a short as possible. Again, whatever you do, stay calm. Because a cat that is calm when it arrives at the vet is more likely to stay calm during the visit, making it easier for the vet to give them a complete physical exam and any treatments that are necessary. And if you can stay calm, you are much more likely to remember not only what questions you were meant to ask the vet, but also what the vet says during the consultation. All of which leads to better healthcare for your pet.
Of course, if all else fails, you can always look for a vet that does housecalls…
if you are worried about you cat’s health please talk to your vet or try our Cat Symptom Guide to check out how soon you may need to see your vet (and so how soon you’ll need to get the basket out!)