Getting Your Cat to the Vet: Your Cat CAN Love Their Carrier! | Lola The Rescued Cat
Monday, August 5, 2019

Getting Your Cat to the Vet: Your Cat CAN Love Their Carrier!

As many of you know, I volunteer for the Jackson Galaxy Cat Pawsitive Program as a writer. I’ve met many wonderful people through the program, including Tabitha Kucera. Tabitha and I spent a weekend volunteering for CPP at Cat Camp NYC this past June and I had a ball talking with her. Tabitha is a Certified Cat Behavior Consultant as well as a Fear Free and Low Stress Handling Certified Registered Veterinary Technician. After picking her brain about different topics, I was thrilled when she agreed to partner with me for a series of posts on the blog.

Your Cat Can Love Their Carrier

Welcome to the first post in the “Getting Your Cat to the Vet” series. Today we’re focusing on carrier training. Your cat can love their carrier, and here’s how. 

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Choosing the Right Type of Carrier

The first tip is choosing the right type of carrier for your cat. There are many different types of carriers on the market, but there are a few things you want to bear in mind when picking one out.


Safety is of utmost importance! You want to make sure that the carrier is sturdy and does not feel flimsy or like it will fall apart. I’m very particular about carriers. To me, functionality and durability are more important than how cute it looks. I have to lug my cats in their carriers down three flights of stairs (and then back up!), and depending on which vet we’re going to, through the streets of New York City. I definitely do not want the handle falling off or the entire carrier falling apart!

In 2015 The Center for Pet Safety (CPS) conducted an independent study on carriers that stated in their marketing materials that they were “crash tested” or had “crash protection.” The purpose of the study was to:

  • Independently evaluate the current-state travel carrier products and carrier connection products that claim “testing”, “crash testing” or “crash protection”.
  • Examine the safety, structural integrity and crash worthiness of carriers where the manufacturer makes no claims of “testing”, “crash testing” or “crash protection”.
  • Determine top performing carrier brand(s).

For more information regarding specific brands tested, you can refer to the study here

Fear Free|carrier training
Carrier with a large front opening. Photo courtesy Tabitha Kucera.

Easy Access to Exit and Entry Ways

If your cat is anything like Lexy, getting her out of the carrier at the vet can be a challenge. Using a carrier that does not allow easy entry and exit access can not only make the entire strip stressful, it does not allow you to get to your cat in the event of an emergency. Here are a few features to consider when choosing a carrier.
  • Openings: A carrier with both top and front openings, or one with a large round opening will help you get your cat into the carrier more easily as well as getting her out (especially if they are not trained to go into the carrier.)
  • Ability to be taken apart: I’ve had to take the carrier apart at the vet to get Lexy out more times than I can count. Tabitha recommends leaving stressed cats inside their carriers throughout the examination. If that’s not possible, remove the top to remove the cat from the carrier, rather than tipping the carrier or straining to pull out the cat.
  • Size matters: Make sure your cat can walk easily in and out of the carrier and has plenty of room to move and turn around if she wants to.

Fear Free|carrier training
Lexy wasn't a happy camper at the vet, but at least she got to stay in her carrier.

Easy to Clean

If your cat has an accident in the carrier, you want to be able to clean it up quickly. Nine times out of 10 Lola has an accident in the carrier, and I need to clean it out before we start our return trip home. Her carrier also needs to be leakproof so I don’t end up with a puddle in my car. (Defecating/urinating during travel is commonly a sign of stress.) Tabitha says it’s important to have a soft, comfortable surface on the bottom of the carrier to make your cat feels comfortable. 

Fear Free|carrier training
"I like hanging out in here!"

Privacy, Ventilation and Visual Shield

Visual shields can help prevent motion sickness. Alternatively, you can place a towel that has been sprayed with a synthetic feline pheromone over the carrier. This also provides some privacy that cats love. And most importantly, please make sure the carrier is well ventilated! You definitely want your cat to be able to breathe easily and not get overheated.

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Making the Carrier Positive and Training Your Cat to go in It

So you’ve purchased the purrfect carrier for your cat, but how are you going to get her into it? Tabitha has some great advice on how to make your favorite feline comfortable with their carrier rather than running at full speed to hide under the bed at the first sight of it.
  • Leave the carrier out in a place where your cat likes to spend time. Make sure to leave it open so when kitty gets curious, she can check it out. This will help create less stress when the time comes that she actually has to get in it.
  • Place treats, catnip, and toys in the carrier. This will encourage your cat to enter the carrier while they’re still at home.
  • Place familiar bedding in the carrier. All the smells of home will be in the carrier, which will make it feel like a safe place. Also, try placing something with your scent inside.
  • Use synthetic pheromones. This can assist in minimizing anxiety associated with the carrier.
  • Reward your cat for going into the carrier. Make sure to have your cats’ favorite treats nearby so you can give her one as soon as she goes into the carrier on her own.

If you’re interested in clicker training your cat to go into the carrier, you can follow Tabitha’s step by step instructions here

Fear Free|carrier training
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Patience, Patience, Patience!

Remember, patience is a virtue. It could take days, or weeks, before your cat even peeks into the carrier, let alone is comfortable with it. Consistency is key while you remain calm and patient, and Tabitha recommends going at a pace your cat is comfortable with. If your cat is struggling with a step in the training it could be due to a trainer error, the trainer moving onto the next step too soon, or maybe there were too many distractions.

Stay tuned for part two in this series where we will discuss fear free travel.

Have you ever trained your cat to go in their carrier? Tell us about it in the comments!


Tabitha Kucera is a level 3 Fear Free and Low Stress Handling Certified Registered Veterinary Technician, Certified Cat Behavior Consultant and Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner.  She is the owner of Chirrups and Chatter cat and dog behavior consulting and training in Cleveland, Ohio. 

She has been working with cats and dogs for over 10 years and in that time has worked with a number of rescue organizations and small animal practices. Her work in these fields shed light on repeated occurrences of feline and canine euthanasia and re-homing due to behavioral issues. She quickly became dedicated to learning about the prevention, root causes, and solutions to feline and canine behavioral concerns. She continued to teach herself more about behavior through continuing education, workshops, completing her low stress handling and fear free certifications, graduating from the Karen Pryor Academy and obtaining her KPA-CTP, and became a certified cat behavior consultant through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. Keeping animals in their loving homes is her utmost goal – this reduces euthanasia as well as displacement of animals from their homes, where canines and felines often end up in stressful shelter environments. She helps people better understand and relate to their animal companions which leads to a stronger bond and a more gratifying relationship between animal and human. 

She currently is a Fear Free certified speaker,  serves as the co-chair of Pet Professional Guild’s Cat Committee, the president of the Society of Veterinary Behavior Technicians, and she serves on the board of The Together Initiative for Ohio’s Community Cats. 

Would you like to comment?

  1. Tabitha has the coolest hair color! We keep the cat carriers out in plain sight, to make them less stressful. The Hubby scoops up napping cats and drops them in, when it's vet time...a trifle dastardly, but it works.

  2. Good info, thanks! We always put a towel over our carrier when we transport the cats to the Vet - everyone in the waiting room always looks at us funny, glad to know we were doing it right!

  3. L & L....we lovez R carrierz two, rite wher they iz, on de top shelvez in de closet ~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    { great post today no matter what da tabbies said ~~ ☺☺

  4. I'm not sure how you're going to make a trip to the vet fun for part two! MOL! Great info, though. Fortunately, nobody here has carrier issues. My human had one cat a long time ago that, while easy to get into the carrier, behaved like a wild beast trying to tear her way out of it!

  5. Thanks for sharing some wonderful tip to getting your cat to the vet. It will take some time, but pet owners and kitties will work together. Have a wonderful rest of your week.
    World of Animals

  6. Very interesting. We have a carrier just like the one in your post and I, Tama, love it! In fact, anytime it's out, I sit in it, even if I'm not the one going to the vet. In fact, on one occasion I ended up going to the vet anyway, because I was already in the carrier when #1 put Genji inside!


  7. We keep the cat carriers out, and hide treats or toys in it. Pixie doesn't care about a vet trip, but Zorro is terrified. It's been a long path to show him that the carrier is a safe place. Purrs

  8. Great post! The mom learned from the vet behaviorist that she consulted with how important it is for us to be comfortable with our carriers. She leaves them out all the time...and we'll sleep in them.

  9. Great advice about getting the right kind of carrier!

  10. Such a terrific article and I hope everyone gets to read the important info on making carriers stress free.

  11. I'm not afraid of the carrier but now I am terrified at the Vet. I would give a great deal money to a vet tech would could take that fear away.

  12. Excellent post. I want to get one that opens on top someday, hopefully a sleepy pod. Most of mine are pretty good with carriers except Millie- poops every time. XO

  13. What a very good article. I bet most cats have not considered their carrier's suitability and survivability in the case of accidents. Good to know someone is though.

  14. I've been lucky that my cats haven't had accidents in the carrier. But I'm also pretty positive that carriers will never be their friends. When we got the Sleepypod, I set it out and they fought over it. Until I used it to take Ellie to the vet. I still have it sitting out but neither have gone near it - even after pheromones and catnip.

  15. Good info! I have a carrier pooper (Harley) and pee-er (Olive) in our house. Glad you were able to meet Tabitha, too!

  16. Great advice especially as trying to catch them to put in a carrier is mission impossible LOL

  17. Great post! I don't have cats myself, but how funny that some of the tips you gave for cats are things I've been doing with my dogs as well. We're gearing up to do a long distance move so I want my dogs to be as used to their carriers as possible before our big trip.

  18. We have carriers out all the time, it’s like little cat apartments. Only two of mine are issues to pack and go, one is my former feral who doesn’t like being handled, and one is a cat that was abandoned on the streets, he has ptsd if I try and take him out even just to the porch.

  19. Great information! Our cats are okay with their carriers. When we leave them out, they actually do sleep in them. :)

  20. Good post. I don't have a cat, but didn't know there were carriers that could be taken apart easily. I agree that you need to have a carrier that is well put together.Buffy loves her crate and spends most of her time in it (with the door open) when I am gone for the day.

  21. Our cats go down to the vet in their cat stroller now - I am so glad we bought it, it lets me take them for a walk and them to have a special treat away from home.

  22. When we see kitties coming into the vets we often see them covered with a towel or blanket. Those cats are the most calm - and honestly, pretty chill. We keep our pups away from kitties when they come into the vets to help them feel more secure in their environment. Good tips and we'll share!

  23. Given that carriers looks like the second best thing to a box, I'd assumed that cats would love them. Now, associations matter too. If the carrier is only associated with unpleasant outcomes, then it will be disliked.

    Hey, a different thought--why not just use a box? LOL

  24. Great tips on cats and carriers! While I only have a feral we care for, getting a feral into a carrier to get vetted was a trip! We used a visual shield of a towel, too. When he first came out, I thought he was made of rubber as he bounced all over the 4 corners of the vet office! The second time was indeed much better (whew). Thanks for sharing this great info.

  25. Great post! Truffle and Brulee used to be very comfortable in their carriers and even slept in them during the day. However, when both got so sick last year, they are more hesitant getting inside now. I need to start the process over again to help them overcome their new fear.


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