Cat in carrier
Many of us take it for granted that cats don’t like crates. If you’ve ever tried to put a cat in a crate, you know what I mean. Your cat gets one look at the crate and heads in the opposite direction — and with good reason: Most likely, his experience with his crate is one of being trapped, pulled, pushed and forcibly placed in the carrier. Once inside he’s shuttled to an unfamiliar destination like the vet, the groomer or some other potentially terrifying spot.

It’s no wonder so many cats dislike their crates.

Fortunately, the cat carrier doesn’t need to be a sign of bad things to come. With patience and training, your cat’s crate can be transformed into one of his favorite hangouts. Here are my favorite tips for transforming your cat’s carrier from scary to safe.

Turning the Crate Into a Safe Haven

Choose the right carrier. The ideal crate has at least two exits, one in the front and one on the side, to allow your cat to get in and out easily. A hard-sided crate with a removable top is a little more difficult to inadvertently squish during travel, while a soft crate may offer an expandable side for extra room. The best crate for your cat is the one he is most comfortable with.

Turn the crate into purrniture. Don’t wait until it’s time to leave the house to get your cat’s carrier out — make it part of his daily routine. Cats like to nap in small spaces and with the right approach, you can make the crate your cat’s go-to spot. Place comfortable, plush bedding inside the carrier. If your cat is the type who seeks out warm spots to rest, place the crate in a space naturally warmed by the sun. If he prefers to be up high, secure his crate on a raised space, like a wide dresser or table with a runner or rubber rug backing underneath to prevent it from sliding. No matter where you place the crate, make sure your cat can easily access it and freely venture in and out as desired.

Make his crate smell like home. Cats feel safest in areas containing their own familiar scent. You can use a feline pheromone spray or wipe the inside of the carrier with your cat’s bedding to distribute his own scent. If you need to clean the crate with detergent, be sure to rinse it out well and let it dry. Follow up a thorough cleaning with an odor neutralizer to eliminate any lingering soap smell.

Make Good Things Happen Inside the Crate

Lure him in with treats. Coax kitty into his crate with draws like catnip, treats, toys and meals. Start by placing your chosen coaxers outside the crate; as he gets more comfortable with its presence, move them closer to the opening and eventually inside the crate. Once he’s inside the crate, give him plenty of positive attention. You can also remove the top or door to accustom the cat to pieces of the carrier before they’re all integrated together.

Have an open door policy. Hold the crate door open with a carabiner or zip-tie to allow your cat to move freely in and out of the crate. When your cat is exploring his crate, avoid trapping him inside or pulling him out. This can undermine your attempts to teach him that the crate is a safe space. Instead, lure him out with a treat or toy.

Close the crate — but not for long. Once your cat is going in and out of his crate voluntarily, he’s ready to practice being inside with the door closed.To lure him in, make a trail of good things — toys, catnip, treats — leading to the back of the crate. Step away from the crate and wait for your cat to go all the way inside. Once he’s in the crate, gently secure the door and leave it closed for just a few seconds. Offer him a treat and then open the door. Slowly work up to having your cat in the crate with the door closed for longer periods of time, building from a few seconds to the length of the drive to the vet clinic or groomers.

Taking the Crate On the Road

Once your cat is comfortable with his crate, it’s time to practice leaving the house.

Carry with care. Hold the crate evenly and securely by gripping it from the bottom or around the sides, in the same way you would carry a box. Use the crate’s strap or handle as guidance and safety points, not as the main holding points. Jostling and tipping can exacerbate your cat’s anxiety, so keeping the crate steady as you move from one place to another is key.

Go for a spin — or just a sit. Start slowly: Sitting in a stationary car for a treat or petting session or going for a short drive (around the block) can help accustom your cat to road trips. Place the crate in the car’s back seat and secure it with the seatbelt —this avoids the possibility of the crate sliding off the seats in the event of a quick stop or accident. A folded towel placed under the crate can help keep it level.

Make the car cozy. Placing a blanket, towel or cover over the carrier can help to buffer your cat’s exposure on trips.

More on Vetstreet: