When most pet parents think of crate training, they think of dogs. Cats tend to be more independent and typically don’t require crating for discipline, sleeping and other training activities.
However, crate training may be appropriate for cats in certain situations. If your cat needs to use a carrier or crate, it’s important to get it used to the space first to minimize stress and only use the carrier and crate when necessary for your pet’s health and safety.
Crates vs. carriers
First, it’s important to distinguish between cat carriers and cat crates, because the two are different and should be used for different things.
A carrier is the small, hard-shelled container with a handle that you’d use to travel with your cat to the vet and other locations. It is usually large enough to fit a blanket or bed and a toy and allow your cat to stand up, lay down and turn around in.
A crate is a larger, more open container, similar to a kennel for dogs. The sides are typically made of mesh or metal wire to allow the cat to see out. Crates should be able to accommodate your cat, a bed, food and water bowls and a litter box.
When you should use carriers and crates
Since crates and carriers are often different sizes and can accommodate different items, they are typically used in different circumstances.
Carriers are almost always used for traveling. They are small and secure, making them easy to carry while keeping your cat comfortable inside.
Cats should have access to their carriers to get used to them to make traveling easier. However, they should not be confined to small carriers for extended periods of time. These carriers should only be used for transportation purposes, since your cat won’t have access to food, water or the litter box.
Crates, on the other hand, might need to be used for longer periods of time in certain circumstances. While cats should never be permanently kept in a crate, it may be necessary to keep it in a crate outfitted with food, water and a litter box temporarily.
- Litter box training: Pet owners may choose to crate a kitten in order to train it to use the litter box, especially if it’s having trouble with house soiling. Keeping the cat in a large crate with a litter box can encourage it to use the litter box properly.
- Adopting a feral cat: If you are bringing in a feral cat, you may want to keep it in a large crate for a day or two to help it get used to its new surroundings.
- Acclimating a new cat: If you already have pets and are adopting a new cat, keeping the cat in a crate can substitute for keeping it in a small room (like a bathroom) and help it get used to its new home. This also helps the other pets get used to the new cat while keeping it safe.
- Keeping kittens safe: If you recently got a new kitten, you may need to crate it when you’re out of the home or at night so that it doesn’t roam through the house and get into trouble while you’re unable to supervise it. This is done for the kitten’s safety.
Your cat’s carrier should not be used to punish your cat. There are many other ways to direct your cat’s attention and change its behavior. If you put your cat into its crate as a form of punishment, it could start to become scared of the crate and refuse to use it when you need it to.
Crates should only be used temporarily for safety and training purposes. Unless completely necessary, cats should be allowed to roam in and out of their crates and carriers freely.
After your cat no longer needs to be confined to the crate, you can leave it open if your cat enjoys it to give it a safe space of its own.
Training your cat to use a carrier or crate
Cats don’t always want to enter a confined space like a carrier or crate, so training your cat to be comfortable can be challenging. Almost every cat will need to be placed in a carrier at one point or another, so it’s a good idea to familiarize your cat with the carrier as soon as possible. With luck, your cat will come to love its carrier and think of it as a safe space to hang out in throughout the day.
It’s typically easier to train a kitten to like its carrier or crate, but adult cats can learn, too. Start by leaving the carrier or crate open and place a comfortable blanket inside. The cat may sniff around to investigate and may even decide to relax inside!
If your cat won’t go near the carrier or crate, try placing treats or feeding your cat inside. This process may require a few steps as you work your way closer to, and eventually inside, the crate. You may also want to try using pheromone sprays inside to help your cat feel calm.
Over time, your cat will hopefully come to love its crate, and transporting it will be much easier when it isn’t fighting to run away. Make sure you exercise patience during this process. And, always remember that the crate or carrier should be your cat’s safe space—not a punishment!