Help clients get cats into your veterinary clinic with these tips

It's all about cat carrier training—and there's never a better time to start than now.
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Nov 04, 2013

It seems everyone’s talking about encouraging clients to bring their cats in for preventive care but even when cat owners are convinced that’s the right thing to do, it’s another thing to actually get the cats in the door.

As cat owners know, once the carrier appears, the cat grabs his passport and heads out of the country—or at least hides under the sofa. The good news is that clients can train their cats to willingly jump into their carriers but it takes some patience and time, especially with older cats. Share these tips with clients for easier travel:

Choose the right carrier

Recommend one with both a rooftop exit and a side exit so the cat never needs to be rudely shaken out from the carrier and the veterinarian can begin an exam with the cat resting inside the carrier.

Strategically place the carrier

Start by placing the carrier two to three feet from a food bowl and leave it there for several days as if the carrier is a piece of furniture. Don’t do anything else.

Create an enticing environment

Spray the inside of the carrier daily with a calming pheromone. Randomly drop a few treats inside the carrier during the day so the cat sees it as an automatic treat dispenser. Once the cat begins to freely hop into the carrier for goodies for several consecutive days, begin to put your cat’s food inside the carrier.

Try closing the carrier

After about 10 days of feeding a cat happy to be in the carrier for meals, close the carrier for about five seconds as the cat is eating then open it. The key is always to open the carrier while the cat is quiet or you’ll train your cat to “meow loudly” to get out.

Travel the house

Next, try keeping the cat in a closed carrier for 20 seconds. If the cat stays quiet, let him out. Once you hit 60 seconds without the cat complaining, close the carrier and transfer your cat to the next room. Open the carrier and nonchalantly let the cat out. Offer a treat, as this will be the start of pairing carrier travel with something good. Over time, extend the length of these in-home tours. If the cat whines or cries, you have to back it up again.

Start training

As you begin offering these home tours, simultaneously train the cat to jump into the carrier on cue. Point to the carrier and say “inside” or “go home.” You may have to toss a treat into the carrier for the cat to follow. If the cat doesn’t jump, you know he may not be as acclimated to the carrier as you thought and you’ll have to go back a few steps. Assuming he does jump in, offer some treats when he does.

The final step: Acclimating to the automobile

After about two weeks of house tours, it’s time to begin acclimating to the car. I know this entire process is labor-intensive, but hurrying it will more likely lead to failure. Ask the cat to hop into the carrier, close it up and take kitty to the car. There should be no struggling to get the cat into the carrier.

Once you’re all in, start the engine and travel about two feet. Turn off the motor. Take the cat carrier back inside and offer a meal if your cat isn’t irritable. If the cat is cranky, then wait to feed and try this step again and again until cat seems contented, at which point you instantly feed the cat when you walk back into your house. The idea is to pair the car experience with a meal.

If all is going well, take the cat inside the carrier to the car, hit the gas and drive down the block and back. Some complaining in the carrier is expected. If the cat seems really anxious, then back it up a few steps again. Otherwise, hooray, back into the house for a meal.

Gradually, go further and further in the car, ultimately traveling to the veterinary clinic. Take the cat inside but only to say “hi” at the reception desk, then return home for a meal. If the trip is a success for three consecutive outings, consider your cat good to go.

This can be a hard process for cat owners. Let them know if they feel like they’re not getting anywhere, they can reach out to you for help.