Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
I had to take my cat to the vet and as she hates the carrier, I had to trap her in the kitchen and grab her. Since then she will not come into the house even for food. She just runs when she sees me or my husband and hides, staying out all day. What can I do?
Thomas: Well, Sarah, your first trick is going to be to get your cat inside. Then you’re going to want to get her used to the carrier.
Bella: Did you know the most common reason people don’t take their cats to the vet is because they get stressed out over getting their cats into the carrier, into a car, and to the clinic?
Thomas: But regular vet care is so important in keeping your cat healthy that it’s crucial you get her used to the carrier before you need to grab her and get her to the kitty doctor.
Bella: So … to get her inside, you’re going to need to enlist the aid of a person your cat likes and who isn’t afraid to safely restrain your cat if needed to get her back in the house. You’ll also need to make sure she can’t get out again once she’s in, and for this purpose you may need a room with a door that closes. This room should have some of your cat’s favorite things — her bed, some toys, maybe a cat tree or scratch post — as well as a litter box, food and water dishes.
Thomas: Your friend should want to spend some time outdoors in your yard. He or she should be out there with a can of your cat’s favorite food (or if he’s not used to eating canned food, something really smelly like cheap tuna-flavored cat food is great temptation for a nervous and hungry cat) or her favorite treats.
Bella: Your cat could be at least as nervous about being outdoors as she is about you, so your friend should slowly coax your cat into his or her lap, then pick her up and restrain her as he or she brings her inside to the room you’ve set up.
Thomas: Keep her in that room for a couple of days until she settles back into her indoor life, and be sure to visit her regularly. If she won’t come to you, just hang out in the room and read, watch TV or play on your laptop if you have one. Get her used to your company again. She will come around.
Bella: After this, keep her indoors. It’s the safest thing for your kitty — she doesn’t run the risk of encountering predators, angry cats, road traffic or humans who might not have her best interests at heart.
Thomas: Now, about the carrier. First, you may need to get a new carrier so she doesn’t associate it with the trauma of the old one. Make sure it’s big enough for your cat to stand, sit and lie down in.
Bella: Just leave the carrier out in the house. Take the door off if it’s a plastic carrier. Make it a piece of cat furniture. Put a comfortable blanket or towel in it and spray the interior with some Feliway to attract her into the carrier.
Thomas: The more the carrier becomes just another piece of furniture, the less threatening it will be to your cat.
Bella: Put a couple of her favorite treats in the carrier so she goes into it to get those treats. Keep doing this for as long as it takes for your cat to comfortably settle in. This may take a few weeks.
Thomas: Once she’s comfortable going into the carrier and staying there, put the door back on. Be sure it stays open. Leave it like this for a while, until she’s comfortably sitting in it again.
Bella: Spray more Feliway into the carrier while your cat’s not inside, then close the door while she’s in there. Don’t latch the door — open it right back up before she gets scared and ready to bolt. Do this a bunch of times over a period of about a week until she’s comfortable with the door being closed.
Thomas: Then you’re going to latch the door and leave it closed for a little while. Monitor her while she’s in the carrier and get her used to being in there for a few minutes with the door closed.
Bella: The next step is to move the carrier with her in it. Take it across the room and back, then put the carrier down in its usual place and open the door. If this freaks her out, you may need to back up a step or two.
Thomas: Once she’s comfortable being moved in the carrier, spray some more Feliway in the carrier, put her in the car and take her for a ride around the block. Bring her back in, place the carrier in its usual place, give her treats and open the door. Do this a couple of times a week for several weeks until she’s comfortable in the car. She’s then going to know that the carrier doesn’t always mean a trip to the vet, which will make it much easier to bring her to the vet when you have to do so.
Bella: This process is going to take time and patience, but it’ll be worth it when you can get your kitty into the carrier and into the car without an epic struggle and tons of stress and fear.
Thomas: What about you other readers? Have you had to train a cat to tolerate the carrier? What did you do and how long did it take?
Bella: How about coaxing a scared cat back inside? Have you done that, and how? Please tell us — and Sarah — all about it in the comments!