How to help cats overcome the fear of going into their crates
Updated: Sep 19, 2022
A few pointers that might help cat owners and pet sitters!
Some cats are more than hesitant to get into their crates. Heck, some of them are downright terrified!
Does it have to be that way? Are there strategies that can be employed to help lessen the cat's anxiety about getting into their crates? I believe there are and I believe they are worth trying for the sake of your sweet furry friend.
Cats are free spirits and they don't like to be confined. Sure, they will squish themselves into a little box, or hide in some tiny place and they are fine with that. But that is on their OWN terms. Taking away their autonomy and trying to get them into a little crate to go to the vet for a checkup triggers a few things. One, you take away their control. Two, they probably know they are going to the vet because isn't that the main reason why cats go into crates? Three, if they aren't going to the vet, they are probably evacuating in an emergency or moving to a new home - both of which are very scary.
Perhaps some of these tips will help pet owners and sitters:
Don't keep the crate tucked away in the basement. Keep it out and keep it open. Put a blanket in it and some toys, and make it one of their fun squishy places they might want to go and take a nap.
Once they get used to going into it when they are napping or hanging out in it, close the door for a few minutes, then open it. They will soon realize that they are not being trapped in it for hours on end.
Put a little catnip in there, if they like catnip, to encourage them to hang out in there if they aren't going into it at all.
All of the above might take a week or even a month, but don't give up. Make the crate's presence part of their daily experience. Move it from room to room if you'd like. Patience is the key.
Once the cat can get in it comfortably and you can close the door, pick the crate up and move the cat to another room, put it down, and open the door. The cat will be happy to see that she/he lived without a crisis and will be more apt to try this again.
When the cat is comfortable going from room to room in the crate, then take him/her out to the car, strap the crate in, and turn on the car, but don't go anywhere. Watch the cat's reaction. If there is a lot of anxiety, shut off the car, and take the cat back inside. Give him/her a special treat and/or give the cat some space to calm down. You'll want to try this scenario maybe once a week - or maybe daily - until the cat can enter the car with the motor running, and be calm. Reward with treats and lots of praise.
I'm talking a little cat psychology here and so patience and practice are the keys. Some cats will be fine while others will take months to be okay with the crate.
Once the cat is fine with being in a car with the motor running, pull out of the driveway. If the cat seems fine, then go around the block. If the cat does not seem fine, pull back into the driveway and go back into the house. At first, don't go more than just around the block. Let the cat know the experience will end in short order.
As time goes on, go around two blocks, then a 15-minute drive, but always back home to his/her safe place with lots of rewards.
Once your furry baby is okay with that scenario, then take a drive to a friend's house for a visit. The cat will see that not all destinations end at the vet's office.
Finally, the big day will arrive, when the cat is okay in the crate and the car. Next, work it out with the vet that you can bring the cat in, but not for any procedure or poking - just a friendly visit with the vet. Let the vet pet the cat, give some treats, but no exam. Yes, it might cost you an office visit fee, but depending on the anxiety level of your cat while at the vet's office, it might be worth it. After 15 minutes, take your furry friend home. My guess is that the cat will happily go back into the crate to return home. If the cat doesn't get out of the crate at the vet's office, that is okay. Have the vet give some treats, have a conversation with the vet, and then return home. BABY STEPS are sometimes necessary.
Another tip for the car ride is to minimize noise, so perhaps don't open the windows much, and play some classical music softly. Drive cautiously and don't freak the cat out with wicked right-hand turns or quick starts and stops. (Yes, be honest - some of you drive like that!!).
Another tip is to get as big of a crate as you can carry. Don't try and squish a big cat into a little crate. Heck, wouldn't you go crazy if someone tried to do that with you?
Finally, the day will come when the cat has a real vet visit, with real poking and procedures. Hopefully, by then, all your hard work will have paid off and the trip in the crate is a breeze. Either way, give your furry baby lots of rewards and praise.
Just another thought before I sign off: I pet sat for about 16 years and even though I knew going into it that cats and dogs are very smart creatures, I realized over time that they are actually super intuitive and downright brilliant. So some of what you'll be doing with this crate training is outwitting them, but also you are giving their sensitive natures time to adjust.
I believe that cats (and all animals) understand much more language than we give them credit for, so make sure you talk to your cat and explain to them what is happening and why and give lots of "atta girls" and comfort once they have achieved the goal you've set for them.
In our hectic world we expect our kids and pets to go-go-go according to our schedules and directions, but you know, I've been watching lots of YouTube videos on "slow living" - I guess it is a thing now - and there is a lot to be said about slowing life down and taking our time with our kids, our pets, and even ourselves.
Please let me know how these tips worked for you! You can e-mail me at email@example.com.