Today one of our clients couldn't bring her cat in for a routine dental cleaning. Why not? Because as soon as she brought the carrier out the cat disappeared and couldn't be found. This is a common problem and it shouldn't be surprising to people if you think about it. The only time cats get into carriers is to go somewhere unpleasant for them, such as a vet, groomer, or boarding facility. They associate the carrier with the stress of travel and then the results once they get to the destination. So of course as soon as they see the carrier come out they remember previous episodes and want to immediately avoid it.
It doesn't have to be this way!
There are actually several simple things that clients can do to get their cats over this fear. And it's something I recommend every cat owner look at doing as soon as possible. Taking the following steps can help reduce your stress as well as your cat's.
1. Make the carrier a piece of normal furniture. What I mean by this is keep the carrier in a conspicuous place all of the time. Instead of putting it away and then bringing it out when it's time to take Kitty to the vet, make it a regular part of the environment. Put it near the litter boxes, food bowls, cat tower, or just in a corner of the room. Wherever you put it is fine as long as the cat can see it and interact with it. Before long it won't become an object to be feared. It will be as normal and routine to them as the couch or a chair.
2. Make the carrier a positive item. Change the associate from something of stress to one of pleasantness. The best way to do this is to put the food bowl in the back of the carrier every time the cat is fed. Leave the door open so the cat will go in and out whenever they want to. Cats want to eat and if they associate the carrier with their regular, everyday meal, it stops being something to fear and starts becoming something they willingly go into. Yes, there may be some initial anxiety and they may be reluctant, but once they get used to it they won't think twice about it. This works especially well if you spent a few weeks having the carrier out and open as I mentioned above. Once they are used to eating in the carrier it can also be simple to put some food into it, wait for them to go inside, then quietly close the door.
3. Just before traveling use Feliway. I'm a big proponent of pheromone therapy for anxiety issues in dogs and cats. If you're not aware of it, Feliway is a synthetic duplication of the pheromones found in cat facial glands and when they inhale it the product helps to relax them and give them a feeling of well-being. It can lower their anxiety and keep them from being as stressed during travel. This is a trick that feline specialists have used for years and works well in most cases. If you combine Feliway with the above counter-conditioning techniques, the trip may be quite relaxed and pleasant for you and your cat.
Of course all of this will take a little work, planning, and forethought, which many owners won't bother to do. But with just a little extra effort not only can the cat be less stressed, but so can the owner. And your vet will appreciate you not missing appointments because your cat became scared.