Our feature topic this month as people get ready to return to work/school, is crate training!
Many pets are fearful of car rides and kennels, which makes it harder for us to give them good medical care. With a little preparation and patience, you can greatly improve your cat or dog's comfort level and our ability to care for them! A pet comfortable with their kennel is more relaxed when hospitalized, and they are less likely to be ruining your furniture while you're out too!
1. Start carrier training as young as possible (but it’s never too late). Starting as kittens or puppies teaches your pet that the carrier is just another fun hiding place, or play area, rather than a confined punishment space. Carriers that load from the top or especially those that come apart in the middle are helpful, as veterinarians can then take the top off and start their examination with the pet comfortably sitting in the bottom. Put the carrier in a room that the pet likes to be in, perhaps in a sunny location, with a soft piece of bedding to encourage exploration and voluntary use.
2. Add toys, treats or bedding into the carrier. If your pet has favorite toys, treats, bedding, or brushes, please bring them to the clinic when you visit (for training visits and the actual exam).
3. Encourage daily entry. Every day, put a piece of kibble or a treat in the carrier. When the pet eats it, calmly praise/pet it and give it a few more treats. If the pet doesn't take the treat right away, just walk away; if you try to persuade them, they will become suspicious! It may take a few days, but the pet should start to eat the treats, although maybe when you are not watching.
3. Gradually close the door. Once the pet happily goes into the carrier when you are around, gently close the door, give a treat, and open the door so that they do not feel trapped.
4. Extend the door-closure period. After several days of this, leave the door closed and walk out of the room for a few seconds before returning and giving another treat. Gradually work up to carrying the carrier to a different place in the house.
5. Begin car rides. If you plan to travel with the kennel, move on to placing the carrier in the car, then to short car rides, then a ride to our veterinary clinic for a treat (and love from our staff if your pet is comfortable with it). If at any point your pet becomes nervous (crouching, ears back, refusing treats etc.), go back a step and give treats until your pet is more comfortable with that level.
6. Cover the carrier when traveling. When you start taking the carrier in the car, place a towel over it; cats usually feel safer this way.
7. Consider using Feliway® or Adaptil® (pheromonal anti-anxiety spray) just before traveling. When the time for the examination arrives, the routine will be familiar and your pet will be much more comfortable. With especially nervous or suspicious cats, Feliway® can help with the initial training period as well.
8. Don’t put it away. Even when you don't need the kennel on a daily basis, leave the kennel out as a safe hide, with their fuzzy blankets, toys, treats, and even a warm beanbag or similar. The goal is to have the carrier familiar, friendly, and happy!