Anyone who has ever had to take their cat to the vet will know that it is often a stressful experience, especially when your cat poops in the carrier halfway there! The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) recommends that you take your cat for a vet check-up at least once a year, but chances are you will need to do so more frequently than this, especially as cats are very good at hiding any signs of illness from their owners. But how do you do this without placing too much stress on your cat? Read on to find out more!
So, why do cats poop in their carrier? Cats normally poop in their carrier because they are nervous or stressed. By nature, cats are highly independent and territorial, so they tend to struggle when they are confined to a carrier, with no way to escape. The situation is often worsened with the addition of unfamiliar scents and car noises, whilst on the journey.
The good news is that, with a little patience, you can train your cat to accept the carrier and remain calm during journeys.
Training your cat to build up a positive association with the carrier, and covering the carrier during transit, are amongst the many ways you can help your cat feel calmer and more secure.
And in doing so, it will make the experience go much smoother for you as the owner!
Let us now delve deeper so you know exactly how to make any car journey considerably more calming for your cat and, most importantly, help stop them pooping!
Reasons Why Cats Poop In Their Carrier
The main reason your cat poops in its carrier is stress. Although, cats may also sometimes poop or urinate in their carrier if they smell the scent of a previous ‘accident.’
Think about it; you get picked up and put into a small space from which you cannot escape. Then you are transferred to a noisy car that moves quickly.
Most cats are also quick to pick up on the fact that the carrier means the dreaded vet visit too!
So, it’s no wonder they get upset.
Not all cats will poop in the carrier, but if they do, it can add an additional level of stress to an already stressful situation, as your cat will have no way to cover up the feces.
This instinct is seen in wild cats and still remains incredibly strong in our domestic moggies, which is why you will often see your cat vigorously flicking litter after pooping or urinating in the litter tray.
To us, all cat poop pretty much smells the same, but cats are able to distinguish each other’s individual scent, so it is often used as a way to mark and claim a territory.
Cats tend to bury their poop as a sign of submission and also to prevent potential predators from tracking them.
So, a cat that already feels vulnerable, trapped in an unfamiliar environment, will not want to announce its presence to others by leaving its’ waste uncovered.
Periods of prolonged intense stress can also lead to physical health issues, especially in older cats or those suffering from chronic health conditions.
For this reason, it is essential that we try to reduce the level of stress on our cats as much as possible.
Signs of stress are varied and can be both physical and behavioral, but some common symptoms include:
- Panting with mouth open
- Excessive vocalisations
- Wide-open eyes with dilated pupils
The initial reaction of most cats that are afraid or stressed is to be defensive, which can easily lead to aggression if the cat sees no other way out of the situation.
In fact, stress has been identified by feline experts as a significant trigger for most behavioral problems in cats.
Symptoms of feline aggression include ears flattened against the back of the head, hissing, dilated pupils, and a ‘stiff’ posture.
Cats may also sometimes poop or urinate in their carrier if they pick up on a pre-existing scent from a previous ‘accident.’
This why it is so important to ensure you thoroughly clean the carrier after every use with a pet-safe cleaning spray.
The one below from Amazon is a bestseller and is known to work particularly well:
How Do I Calm My Cat Down In A Carrier?
The key to keeping your cat calm in a carrier is preparation!
There are very few cats that will accept a carrier as soon as it is placed in front of them, so, as owners, we need to reassure our cats that the carrier is a safe space.
This process begins with the selection of a good carrier.
You will need to make sure that any carrier you choose is sturdy and large enough for your cat to turn around and lie down in.
If you choose to go with a soft-sided carrier, you need to make sure it is snug enough for your cat to feel safe but not too small that it becomes constricting.
A mistake that many owners make is to buy a carrier and then store it away out of sight, only bringing it out when a vet visit is imminent.
If you do this, your cat will quickly come to associate the carrier with the terrifying vet ordeal and will be very unwilling to get into it.
The best way to introduce the carrier to your cat is to leave it out in a room so your cat can see it every day.
Leave the carrier door open, and eventually, your cat’s curiosity will get the better of him, and he will explore the inside.
Make sure you add a comfy, familiar blanket to the carrier or a favorite toy, so your cat begins to associate the carrier with positive experiences rather than negative ones.
You can also offer treats whenever your cat approaches or goes inside the carrier.
Once you think your cat is comfortable with the carrier, it is time to allow your cat to explore the car.
Do not put your cat in the carrier and then into the car initially, but let your cat free roam in the car with the engine off.
Then when he is comfortable, turn the engine on.
Finally, you can try putting your cat in the carrier and into the car for short journeys.
All of this may seem a little long-winded, but you are helping your cat to understand that the car and the carrier are safe spaces and not necessarily associated with the vet.
The time and patience will eventually pay off and will make future trips much easier and less stressful.
How Do I Make My Cat Comfortable In The Carrier?
Despite all your hard work in acclimatizing your cat to the carrier and the car, there may still be instances where your cat will become stressed during journeys.
Especially if they are not feeling well or have a nervous disposition.
Luckily, there are a number of things you can do to help your cat to feel as comfortable as possible.
First and foremost is temperature regulation.
Make sure the temperature in the car is comfortable for your cat, and try not to use the air-con or heater unless absolutely necessary, as the additional noise may stress your cat out further.
NEVER leave a cat in a hot car for long periods of time as cats can easily develop heatstroke, which can be fatal.
Additional measures you can take for a stress-free car drive include:
Reduce Noise Levels
Try not to leave windows wide open or ramp the volume up too high on your stereo.
Saying that a radio turned on a low setting may help to block out the background noise of other passing cars.
You can also talk to your cat in a soft voice whilst driving to reassure them that everything is ok and they are safe.
This one is a bit of a no-brainer, but do make sure you drive as gently as possible and avoid erratic movements like sudden stops or fast turns.
Placing Familiar Items In The Carrier
This can be anything from your cat’s favorite toy to an old jumper that smells of you.
Cats have an extremely acute sense of smell, so familiar scents will offer some comfort.
You can also try offering treats but don’t be surprised if your cat point-blank refuses them whilst in the carrier.
Using Herbal Remedies
There are a number of natural remedies that have been proven to reduce stress and anxiety levels in cats, including Valerian, ginseng, and skullcap.
You can buy these supplements from most pet stores, and they usually come in the form of an oral tablet which you can give to your cat prior to the journey.
You can also purchase Pheromone sprays such as Feliway from Amazon, which is a scent designed to mimic a cat’s natural pheromones.
Should I Cover My Cats Carrier When Traveling?
Most feline experts will recommend that you do cover your cats’ carrier during traveling, especially if you have a particularly nervous kitty. You can also keep the carrier covered in the vet surgery as it will help your cat to feel more secure when he is surrounded by unfamiliar animals, sounds, and bright lights.
In a confined space such as a carrier, a cat is likely to feel very exposed and vulnerable as there is nowhere to escape.
Covering the carrier with a blanket or towel will give your cat more privacy and add an additional layer of concealment from any potential threats.
A carrier cover can also help if your cat is prone to motion sickness.
If you don’t have a spare towel or blanket, you can also use an old sweatshirt or cardigan to cover the carrier.
It’s best to use an item that carries a scent that your cat is familiar with, i.e., a piece of your cat’s own bedding or a clothing item that smells of you.
This will go a long way towards helping your cat feel safe.
Bear in mind, though, that all cats are different, so it’s best to monitor your kitty to see what works best.
If you find that your cat continues to defecate or vomit in the carrier even though you have tried everything to calm him, it may be worth seeking advice from your vet as they may be able to help.
In addition to covering the carrier, you can place a washable blanket or towel inside the carrier itself, especially with hard plastic carriers, as cats can easily slip around on the smooth surface during transit.
Newspaper is another option if you are worried that your cat will poop or vomit on the journey, but it is a less comfortable option for your kitty.
When carrying your cat in the carrier, it is best to hold it from underneath to prevent your cat from swinging side to side as you move.
Bear in mind also that most car seats are slightly slanted, so consider putting something underneath the carrier in the car to make sure your cat is on a flat, level surface during the ride.
Most cat owners have had bad experiences with their cats and a carrier at some point, but it is possible to improve the situation if you are willing to put in the effort.
Cats are individuals, just like humans, so it is important to find the process that works well for your cat.
This may take some time, but it will be worth it in the end!
Transporting your cat or need to keep them in the carrier? Then my other guides may be of interest:
- Where To Put Cat Carrier In A Car
- How To Transport A Cat By Car On Long Distance Journeys
- Where To Put Cat Carrier In A Car
- How Do You Clean A Cat Carrier
I am a practiced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site I created to share everything I’ve learned about pet ownership over the years and my extensive research along the way.