How to Crate Train Your Cat

Kitten in a pet carrier
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Cat training to a crate often is neglected, although it gets lots of attention with dog owners. Kittens learn more easily and quickly than adult cats, but even set-in-their-ways felines can accept cat training to the crate. Kittens and cats should always ride in a carrier when traveling in your car to keep them from distracting the driver. Pets become furry projectiles should you be in an accident, but a carrier protects the kitten and also keeps it from running away in fear and pain should your cat escape.

Why Crate Train?

Most cats hate the crate simply because it’s used so seldom and associated with scary stuff. How many times have you pulled the kitty carrier out of the closet, only to have the cat disappear? Most felines only see the crate to be taken to the veterinarian or groomer. Your pet cat is smart. It only takes once for the feline to learn that the crate means needles or a thermometer placed in a rude location. In fact, surveys report that “hates the crate” is a top reason cats don’t visit the veterinarian as often as they should.

Instead, train your kitten to associate the crate/carrier with fun, positive experiences. This allows you to quickly confine and safely transport the cat whenever necessary, rather than play hide-and-seek during emergencies to find the frightened feline. Happy acceptance of the crate also means less stress, and a happier, emotionally healthier cat.

Tips for Cat Crate Training

Use these ordered suggestions to begin crate training your cat. Kittens are easier to train and will learn quicker, but adult cats can also learn this important skill.

  1. Make the crate part of the furniture. Set it on the floor in a corner of the room for your cat to explore at its leisure. If it’s out all the time, the strange and/or scary factor of the crate wears off.
  2. Take the door off the crate so your cat can come and go.
  3. Toss a soft blanket or towel inside for a bed, especially one that you've rubbed over your cat's body so it smells like the cat.
  4. Spritzing a bit of Feliway on the inside of the crate can help calm kitty fears. Feliway is an analog of the cheek pheromone that makes cats feel safe.
  5. If you’ve chosen a hard crate, toss in a ping-pong ball inside to create a kitty playground.
  6. For treat-motivated cats, leave tasty tidbits inside for your cat to find. They will soon discover that the magical-crate has the most delicious smelly bonuses for going inside. You want to make the crate the most fun place in the house.
  7. Consider using clicker training to inspire your cat to quickly go into the crate. Review how to “load the clicker” and locate the training treats for spur of the moment sessions. Then wait for the opportunity when you see your cat approach, sniff, or enter the crate. Click the clicker to tell the cat THAT (touching/going inside/even approaching) the crate is what you want, and then reward with the treat or favorite toy. The more you practice, the better your pet cat will become at hanging out near or even inside the crate.  
  1. It may take a week or more for the kitten or cat to feel comfortable around the carrier. Once that happens, put the door back on, and wait until the cat goes inside. Then shut the door while praising in a calm, happy voice. The goal is to convince your cat that this is normal and no reason for upset feelings. After a minute or so, let your cat out and give it a treat or toy reserved only for the best performance. Praise the dickens out of the cat! They should know that staying calm inside the crate earns it good things.
  2. Repeat training sessions at least once a day over the next two weeks, building up the time until the kitty stays inside three minutes, four, then five minutes and so on.
  3. Once your cat has reached ten minutes and remains calm, pick up the carrier while the cat is in it and carry them around, and then let the cat out. Take the carrier out to the car (with the cat inside), sit there and talk to your cat, then bring it back into the house and release it. Don't forget to offer the treat.

    Soon, you should be able to take your cat for car rides in the carrier, without your feline throwing a fit. They’ll learn that most times, the carrier means good things and the vet visit isn’t the only association it has.

    Problems and Proofing Behavior

    If your older cat has had a lot of bad associations with the crate, don't expect behavior to change overnight. A common training mistake is to rush the steps and expect immediate results. Give your cat plenty of time. You may need to pause on certain steps of the training process and stay there for a week or two. Once your cat has succeeded, then move on to the next step. If you really cannot crate train, try swapping the crate for a different kind (hard vs soft, bigger, smaller, etc.).