Q Our cat Socks hates travelling. If he sees the carrier in the hall, he tries to escape from the house. How can we make this more bearable for him? In every other way he is a placid, well-behaved pet, but the necessary trips to the vet seem to cause him such distress.
Behaviourist Francesca Riccomini suggests: For many pets the carrier becomes a clear signal that something unpleasant is going to happen because it only comes out before a trip to the vets, the cattery or to move home. You need to desensitize your cat to it.
Keep the carrier out all the time so your cat sees it as ‘part of the furniture’ and is not stressed as soon as it reappears. Clean it well to remove any ‘alarm scents’ that it has acquired, although it’s important not to use strong detergents. Scalding water is generally adequate, unless it is heavily soiled when it will require detergents and several thorough rinses in clean water.
Make it more reassuring by spraying it with an artificial feline pheromone (available from vets and pet shops) or rubbing the interior with a cloth you’ve used to wipe well around your cat’s face to acquire his scents. This will make it smell familiar to him.
Place a comfortable favourite blanket inside, then encourage Socks to play near it. Feed him close to, then inside, the carrier. Hide treats for him to find when he ventures in – this will further help to change his response to it.
When you do have to take your cat out in the carrier, act very calmly. Cover it with a cloth so he is not stressed at seeing the world whizz by. Drive carefully and, smoothly, with the carrier secured with a seatbelt.
Once in the surgery waiting room, put the basket in an elevated position on a shelf or a spare seat. You’ll be able to protect your cat from the attentions of inquisitive dogs (or humans) and cats de-stress better in high up, dark places.
Once you’ve seen the vet, avoid placing the carrier on the floor while you wait in reception. If necessary, put it in the car and go back inside to pay and collect any medication.
Never put more than one cat in the same carrier when travelling. They may react uncharacteristically if they are frightened and inadvertently hurt one another. It’s also pretty normal for cats to be quiet and off their food after a vet visit.
Read behaviourist Dr Sarah Ellis’ carrier training feature in the October 2012 issue of Your Cat magazine – buy a back issue from the Your Cat Shop or tel. 01476 859820 (office hours only).