hard sided cat carrier

How to Get a Cat in a Carrier

The question of how to put your cat into a carrier is one that has never had a proper answer. Grabbing your cat and forcing it in is a horrible experience for your both. But surely there’s a better way…?

How do you get a cat into a carrier? Ideally, use the carrier training method. This is where you get the cat used to the carrier rather than forcing it in. Begin by placing the lower half of the carrier near your cat’s bed, or with your cat’s bed inside. Over the course of days, let your cat get used to the carrier: sniffing it, sleeping in it, rubbing on it etc. When your cat is happy with the carrier, place the top and the door on (without the cat inside) and leave it where it was. Take small steps e.g. closing the door with your cat inside, locking the door for a brief time, locking it for longer, picking up the carrier, moving the carrier to another room, and moving the carrier to the car. Consider using Feliway, catnip and/or treats as distractions if this doesn’t work.

The guide below will first look at how most people put their cats in carriers: if they’re lucky, picking them up and putting them straight in, but using brute force if they can’t. We’ll then look at the low-stress way of doing things—better for cats and for people—which is carrier training. If all else fails, we’ll also look at how to get an angry cat into a carrier (and how to get a skittish cat into a carrier, or even a feral one).

How to Get a Cat in a Carrier

There are four basic ways in which people put their cats in carriers. Some are better than others.

  1. Pick it up and put it in. Some cats are docile and let you do what you want with them. You can pick them up and put them straight in—lucky you.
  2. Herd your cat into its carrier. Your cat may give you a hard time, but if you cut off its escape routes, it may enter its carrier (this frequently doesn’t work).
  3. Force your cat into its carrier. You may feel you have no alternative but to pick your cat up and simply stuff it into its carrier. This is stressful both for the cat and the person, and you may be bitten or scratched as you do it.
  4. Can you trick a cat into a carrier? You can put treats or other comforts in your cat’s carrier; then, when it enters, you can shut the door behind it.

As stated above, some methods work better than others. With cats, it’s better to use diplomacy and persuasion rather than brute force. That doesn’t mean asking your cat nicely, or giving it a detailed breakdown of the pros and cons of getting in. Rather, it means recognizing your cats wants and fears, understanding them, and finding a clever way to work around them.

What works best is to carrier train your cat. There’s a big, long section on that at the end of this guide. But for now, we’re assuming that you need help getting a cat that doesn’t want to go in a carrier to go inside one. That’s a lot more difficult than training your cat from an early age.

How to Put a Cat Into a Carrier Without It Stressing Out

cat carriers
This is what you want… But it’s not exactly easy to achieve.

The basic idea behind putting a cat into a carrier is to pick it up, lower it or push it gently into the carrier, and be done with it.

The problem is that cats don’t like that. They don’t like small enclosed spaces—or at least ones they aren’t familiar with. And they certainly don’t like being forced into them. That’s why your cat will resist when you try to put it into a carrier. The question, then, is how to get a cat in its carrier without stressing it out…

The answer is by carrier training it!

How to Carrier Train a Cat

Cats need time to get used to their carriers. If you buy a carrier specifically because you need to take your cat to the vet, and try to coax your cat inside, it won’t go well.

What works far better is carrier-training your cat. That might sound daunting, but it’s not. All it entails is giving your cat some time to see its carrier, sniff its carrier, and maybe sit inside its carrier on occasion outside of the context of going to the vet. That doesn’t need to be for a long time, but the more time your cat has to get used to its carrier, the better.

The point is that cats are smart. If your cat only ever sees its carrier and has to go inside its carrier when it goes to the vet, it will learn that. It will remember “carrier = bad”, and the next time you try to push it inside, it will fight even harder. But by carrier-training your cat, you flip that issue on its head. Your cat will develop positive memories of its carrier.

This method doesn’t always work, particularly if cats have had bad experiences with carriers before. But it’s far more effective than brute force.

1) Disassemble The Carrier

Begin by bringing the carrier home. If your cat has never seen one before, it will be curious, as all cats are, and may sniff it to try and find out what it is. If not, don’t worry.

It will be easier to get your cat used to its carrier if it isn’t an enclosed space. You should therefore disassemble the carrier, removing both the door and the top half, so that only the bottom half is left. Cats are wary of closed spaces because it’s easy to get trapped in them, so starting with the bottom half is better.

2) Make The Carrier Accessible

With the carrier disassembled, place its lower half somewhere that’s accessible for your cat.

The idea of cat-led carrier training is that your cat makes itself comfortable with its carrier in its own time; it may feel most comfortable doing that at 2am when you’re in bed. It should therefore be available for your cat to sniff, sit in and explore at its own pace.

This is far better than forcing your cat to sit or sleep in the carrier. Cats have personality, and part of that personality is that they don’t like being told what to do. Making the experiment your cat’s idea works better!

3) Make The Carrier Familiar & Comfortable

hard sided cat carrier
This cat is so comfortable in its carrier that it even brought a friend!

You should encourage your cat to get inside its carrier not through force, but by persuasion. There are a few ways to do that.

One is to put your cat’s favorite blanket or bed in the carrier. These furnishings smell like your cat, which is how your cat determines its territory. By making the carrier smell like your cat, you force your cat to think of the carrier as its own. To your cat, that means it’s more likely to be safe.

You could also consider spraying the blanket or bed with Feliway. Feliway is a spray that contains calming cat pheromones. These pheromones will make your cat think of the carrier as a calm place to be—the exact opposite of how it feels when you force it in there. To complete the picture, consider putting treats inside the carrier for your cat to discover. All of these positive experiences add up in the same way that negative ones do.

What will make your cat even more comfortable is if it scent marks the carrier. The blanket will already smell like your cat, but your cat may choose to rub itself on the carrier, or perhaps even spray it. While it will be inconvenient to clean away your cat’s spray, your cat will recognize the pheromones it left behind, and should recognize it as its own space that it’s happy in.

You don’t need to be around while your cat acclimatizes itself to the carrier. But it would be wise to drop by occasionally to give your cat a stroke or a treat every now and again. That’s because you want your cat to be comfortable with you nearby when the time comes to use the carrier for its intended purpose.

4) Reassemble The Carrier (Leave The Door Open)

The next step is to reassemble the carrier into its more familiar form, i.e. with the top half and the door attached. Do this when your cat isn’t around, because to place the top half on the bottom half with the cat inside will make it feel trapped and anxious.

Your cat may be wary at first of this change. Again, cats don’t like enclosed spaces. But at this point your cat has positive associations with the carrier, and the inside still smells of its pheromones. It should therefore overcome these initial doubts and head straight back inside. Ideally, it will continue using the carrier as it did before.

Even if your cat doesn’t go back inside straight away, leave the carrier where it is. You want your cat to view the carrier as a simple part of the furniture rather than something special that only comes out before a vet visit.

5) Practise Closing, Then Locking, The Door

The next stage is to close the door on your cat.

If all of the steps before this one have gone well, then this shouldn’t be a problem. Your cat won’t feel trapped in the carrier because it feels like the carrier is a nice place to be. The door doesn’t need to be swung shut all the way, just batted back towards its latchings. If your cat is comfortable with this, then you can try locking the door and seeing what happens. The idea is to take small steps and gauge your cat’s reaction at each one. The next logical step is to leave the door locked for a minute or two under your supervision.

Your cat may not be happy with this, so distract it by offering it a few treats while it’s inside. It’s also vital that you remain calm during this time, as if you start to panic, then your cat will panic with you.

6) Pick The Carrier Up/Take The Carrier to The Car

By this stage, you and your cat are most of the way there. The only thing that stands between your cat and the vet is transporting it there.

First you’ll have to get your cat used to the feeling of the carrier being picked up. This can understandably be frightening: imagine if the room you’re in now started moving and shaking around, and you didn’t have any way out. Pick the carrier up carefully with both hands, taking care to keep it evenly balanced (i.e. not tipping forward or to one side). Check for your cat’s reactions, and if your cat is clearly upset, put the carrier down again slowly.

Next, move the carrier around the room. Hold it by its handle this time, again making sure that it doesn’t lean to one side. You could even take it to the car, and if you’re feeling adventurous, start up the car and go for a drive; but you should only do this if you’re certain that your cat won’t get uncomfortable during the journey. That’s because you can’t let your cat loose in the car without a carrier.

There isn’t much more you can do to prepare your cat. So the next step is to take your cat to the vet!

How to Get an Unwilling Cat Into a Carrier

If you either don’t have time to follow the training method, or you’ve tried it and it doesn’t work, it will be difficult to get your cat in the carrier. But there are a few ways to reduce both your stress and your cat’s stress.

Head First vs. Bottom First

hard sided cat carrier
This cat went into the carrier bottom first.

Some cats respond well to going into the carrier head first. Others prefer going in bottom first instead.

Going into the carrier head first may be unnerving for your cat. It may feel like you’re forcing it into a space that’s too small; if your cat has never been inside, it doesn’t know how big it is. It also becomes immediately aware that there’s no easy escape except backwards, so it may start trying to get away, e.g. by kicking, hissing, spitting or squirming. But other cats dislike the bottom first approach because they can see you and lash out at you. When a cat is angry, if it is within striking distance, it can make the decision to swipe a paw at you. If it’s entering the carrier bottom first, it may do so. At the same time, it’s less nervous because it doesn’t know where you’re putting it.

The head first approach is simple. Hold your cat gently underneath its forearms, with your other hand supporting its behind. Move it slowly towards the open carrier, and push gently but firmly to get it inside before closing the door. Expect some resistance if you have an angry or skittish cat.

If that fails, try the bottom first approach. Place the carrier at a slight upward angle and lower your cat down towards it. Hold them in the same places as you would in the head first technique.

With the bottom first approach, you can either have the cat facing you or facing away. If the cat is facing away, place the carrier entirely upright with the top facing you and the bottom facing away. Then when you lower the cat inside, you can gently tip the carrier onto its underside, and the cat will be sat correctly.

How to Catch a Cat to Put It In a Cat Carrier

If you chase your cat all around the house, you a) will cause it immense stress, and b) probably fail to catch it. You should try another way.

If you can’t catch cat for vet’s visit, use the simplest method. Try waiting until your cat comes to you. Leave off the chase for ten minutes or so, and sit calmly watching TV or on your bed. If/when your cat comes to sit on your lap, sit next to you, or get some food, then try picking it up gently and seeing if it lets you.

Alternatively, try catching your cat with a towel. You are highly unlikely to catch your cat with your bare hands, because cats are agile and can defend themselves. But if you throw a towel over your cat as it tries to get away, it will be confused and not know how to escape. You can then take your chance to wrap the towel around the cat and pick it up. The towel also serves as protection against bites and scratches.

Use Feliway

Getting an angry cat into a carrier is an unenviable task. But again, find a work-around rather than using brute force: consider using Feliway. The pheromones in Feliway should make your cat more docile. They may either make your cat entirely willing to do as you want, or they may make it slightly less angry (which would still be a win). It’s just a shame that they can’t calm people down, as well, or this would be a great way of reducing stress all around.

You should also consider wearing gloves and thick clothing when dealing with an angry cat. These will stop it from scratching and biting you, allowing you to see the task through to the end. It would be a great shame to catch your angry cat and get it over to the carrier, only then to drop it as it scratches you. Thick gardening gloves are best.

Use Treats, Lures, Toys & Distractions

You want to make the carrier a happy place for your cat to be, not a tiny box that your cat is roughly forced into. You can make your cat less afraid of the carrier by using treats and toys to get it inside.

Treats are perhaps better than toys. You can place the treats inside the carrier and allow your cat to find them on its own. If your cat has a particularly keen nose for a certain trait, load up the back of the carrier and wait. You could try playing with toys around the carrier, but in the context of play, your cat is more likely to defend itself against the door closing.

Perhaps the best distraction is catnip. Catnip is essentially a recreational drug—and fortunately one that doesn’t cause bad long term effects. According to the journal Behavioral and Neural Biology, catnip has many effects:

Catnip activates behavioral elements associated with several species-specific behaviors, including sniffing and chewing as associated with oral appetitive behavior [i.e. wanting to eat something], rolling and rubbing characteristic of female sexual behavior, batting the catnip source characteristic of play behavior, and a type of kicking associated with predatory behavior. These behavioral reactions occur randomly and intermittently.

It’s thought that catnip could even cause hallucinations. Offering your cat catnip, or putting some catnip in the carrier to act as a lure, could therefore serve as excellent methods of distraction.

How to Get a Semi-Feral Cat in a Carrier

If you mean that your cat is more aggressive than the average angry cat, then you should try cat carrier training it again.

If you mean that the cat is a stray, then trying to catch it or herd it into a carrier won’t work. Instead, you should set down a humane trap. These are like regular traps: small cages that shut on the cat when it enters. They use some kind of lure, like in this case, fish. When the cat gets into the trap, the entrance snaps shut behind it. Humane traps don’t kill the things they catch, making them suitable for trapping cats. You can then take the cat to the vet in the trap, or transfer it to a carrier.

How Do I Get My Cat to Go to The Vet Without a Carrier?

It’s possible that none of the above will work for you. If so, it’s still possible for you to get medical care for your cat.

Can You Put a Cat in a Car Without a Carrier?

You shouldn’t take a cat on a car trip without a carrier. That’s because your cat may react badly to traveling.

This isn’t just a question of your cat’s well-being, either. The cat could become so nervous as to distract you from your driving, by meowing, yowling or showing other signs of distress. It could also attack you in its panicked state, or get underneath your legs and feet in an attempt to hide. Even if somebody else wraps the cat in a towel, it could get out on the way. Putting it in the trunk to avoid these issues would be a bad idea too, as when you open it again, the cat will scatter.

As such, this should only be considered in the cases of utmost urgency, like if the cat is about to die and there is no alternative but to drive it without a carrier.

Try Home Vet Visits

Many vets can perform home visits. Talk with your vet about whether this is an option, and if not, try to find another local vet who will visit you instead.

These visits work just like regular vet visits. The vet will know in advance what they’re coming to do: a routine checkup, for example, or administering a course of medication. They will bring whatever they need with them. This is far less stressful for the cat because a) it doesn’t need to go into the carrier, and b) it won’t be in an unfamiliar place when the vet is handling it. You might find that they work so well for you, that you don’t want to visit the vet again!

The only problem with a home visit is that it will cost extra. Your vet will likely charge you somewhere between $50-75. Some vets have flat fees within a certain range, while others charge based on distance. Talk to your vet to find out whether it costs more, and how much by.

Try Online Vet Consultations

It’s also possible to talk with vets online. Online consultations are for diagnosing health problems that can be pinpointed by identifying certain symptoms, rather than those that rely on physical medical inspections.

Say for example that your cat has lost a lot of weight, it’s getting old, and its coat is quite raggedy. It’s also drinking more water and urinating more frequently than it used to. These are typical signs of feline CKD, better known as kidney failure. The vet can identify this as the likely issue affecting your cat through instant messaging or over the phone rather than in person.

Consultations can also work as basic checkups. The vet can run through a series of questions to identify whether your cat is developing symptoms of any health issues. They can also ask questions related to issues already described on your cat’s medical record.

The only problem, of course, is if the vet needs to administer anything to your cat, or examine it physically. They can’t do that over the internet, so an in-person consultation will be necessary.