We are moving in about 6 weeks and it’s going to involve an hour-long ride in the car for our two cats Simon and Garfunkel.
Just based on taking them to the vet every year, I know this is going to be quite an ordeal for all of us. Not only do they fight like crazy whenever I try to put them in the carrier, but they cry the entire time they’re in the car too, sometimes even thrashing themselves against the carrier door to try to get out.
Do you have any advice on what to do to make this easier on them (not to mention us)? Especially since after the trip is over, they’ll be faced with unfamiliar surroundings (our new house), which will also be stressful?
Ah, the ol’ cat carrier. We all hate it. Let us count the ways. First: horrible. Second: awful. Third: COME ON. I would never lock YOU in a box and shove you into the back seat of a car, you monster!
That said, unlike most of my feline brethren, I am enlightened enough to recognize that cat carriers are for our own good. They not only keep us safer in case of an accident, but also reduce the risk of us getting out and getting lost. That’s why, personally, when I have to go in my carrier, I Am A Rock.
How can you make this a little easier on your little ones? Bring about a little Sound of Silence? Let us count the ways!
The first thing to do is the same thing I keep saying about everything else in this column: you have to start getting your cat to associate the things it doesn’t like with good things like treats and praise. In the case of this project, that thing is the carrier. (Or two, if you’re using one for each of your Old Friends.)
Instead of leaving it in your garage or attic, only getting it out when it’s time to load your cats in, start leaving it in your living room with the doors opens. Put something inside it that smells like your cats and/or you (perhaps some Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme? Perhaps not).
Whenever you see your cats exploring it, praise them and give them a treat. After a week or so of exploration, try coaxing them (one at a time) inside using treats or toys. Try to keep them Feelin’ Groovy about going in and coming out. Do this a few times before stepping up to closing the door behind them. Then do that a few times before stepping up to lifting the carrier off the floor.
Eventually, you want to start moving out the door to the car. Then load them into the car. Then sitting in the car with the engine on. Then in the car, driving around the block. You can see where this is headed, right? What you want to do is Keep the Customer Satisfied, by teaching your cats, using small steps, that there is nothing to be afraid of here. And the way you do that is by demonstrating over and over that the carrier, the car, the ride – all these things involve treats and praise.
A few other tips:
• Top-loading carriers can be a lot easier to get an anxious cat into than a front loader. If you only have a front-loader, try setting it on its end and dropping your cat in the top.
• Feliway, a product containing synthetic cat pheromones (sold in many pet stores), has been demonstrated in a recent randomized, controlled trial to “significantly” reduce stress in cats at the vet*. I would suggest spraying it on the walls of the carrier and/or the bedding when you first start leaving the carrier out. It can be a real Bridge Over Troubled Water!
• While you’re driving, try not to slam on the brakes or make jolting movements (you know, like my human does. Could you take corners a little more slowly there, Ma? I’m Slip Slidin’ Away in here!). Talk quietly to your kitty. Keep the environment soothing. Some cats like having the carrier covered with a towel, some don’t – test this out during the adjustment routine.
All these things together, and you should have, if not an EASY drive Homeward Bound, at least an easier one.
To help Si & Gar adjust to their new home, you essentially want to do the same things you did when you first adopted them. You can find more about that on the Purrfect Pals website: https://purrfectpals.org/adopt/new-adopters/
GOOD LUCK and Why Don’t You Write Me when you’re settled? Let me know how it went!
Love and nose boops,
Tabigail van Purrin’
*Feliway study: Pereira JS, et al. Improving the feline veterinary consultation: the usefulness of Feliway spray in reducing cats’ stress. J Feline Med Surg 2015 (in press). (To read the abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26282847)