Can I Take My Cat to the Vet Without a Carrier?

kitten walking out of travel case after visit to the vet

It’s time for your cat’s vet appointment and you can’t find their pet carrier anywhere. You’ve searched high and low, but nada. Perhaps you lent the carrier to a friend or you accidentally threw it away. Certainly, your feline friend would be okay without a carrier, right?

Can I take my cat to the vet without a carrier? While some veterinarian offices stipulate that cats must arrive inside a carrier, others are less stringent about this rule. It’s best to call your vet ahead of time so you’re able to adhere to their rules.

In today’s post, I’ll elaborate further on why bringing your cat to their vet appointment sans carrier is such a poor idea. I’ll also share plenty of smart ideas for makeshift cat carriers you can use in a pinch. 

Reasons Your Cat Needs a Carrier When Going to the Vet

You have approximately 20 minutes before your vet appointment and you don’t want to be late. Perhaps not being able to find your cat’s carrier is a blessing in disguise.

After all, you often waste precious time wrangling your cat and trying to squeeze them into the carrier. Now you can just grab your kitty, your keys, and go, right?

Not so fast. There are plenty of good reasons you need a carrier–or something resembling a carrier, at the very least–for your cat. This should be applied when going anywhere, but especially in high-tension situations like the vet.

Let’s take a closer look. 

Indoor Cats Can Be Scared by the Outside World Without a Carrier

There are two types of cats: those that love spending time outdoors and those that wouldn’t willingly step a paw on the concrete. Although all cats have wild hunting instincts, this doesn’t necessarily mean your feline friend wants to be outside.

If you have an especially scaredy indoor cat, then venturing outdoors at all can be upsetting for them. When you add a trip to the vet on top of that–which no pet likes–you’re gearing up for a potentially traumatic experience. 

At least in a carrier, your indoor cat has some measure of privacy and protection from the outside world. Without the carrier, your cat is forced to face all the scary sounds, sights, and smells of everything around them. 

A Carrier Contains Pet Messes That Will Otherwise End up in the Back of Your Car

What do you think a terrified cat does? The same thing that any animal would, and that is to urinate or defecate. 

You don’t take cats outside on a schedule like you do with a dog, which makes it much harder to gauge if your kitty has to use the bathroom. It’s no fun when your cat makes a fecal mess in their pet carrier, but at least said mess is limited to the carrier.

Imagine your cat is in the back of your car, no carrier, and they have to go. It doesn’t matter what your vehicular upholstery is made of, cleaning urine and/or feces from the backseat is going to take a lot of time and some pretty pricey cleaning products. 

Holding Your Cat Instead of Using a Carrier Can Lead to Scratches and Injuries

You and your cat are closely bonded. You’re their favorite person and you can’t get enough of your kitty. You can tell your cat trusts you, as they’re always sitting on you, purring, and letting you pet them anywhere. Surely, your cat won’t mind if you hold them in the car while someone else drives you to the vet.

When stressed out or scared, a cat only wants to be in a place they deem safe. That location is probably away from all the hubbub, meaning they’re not going to feel comfortable in your arms. To get away from you, your cat might thrash and wriggle. They’ll either dig their claws in very deep or use their claws to climb up you and escape. 

Your cat likely scratches you from time to time when you’re playing, and you know how painful that can be. Now imagine your cat is sinking their claws into your flesh as tightly as they can because they’re panicked. You’d be in for a world of hurt trying to bring your cat to the vet this way! 

With No Carrier to Contain Them, Your Cat Can Easily Escape

I hope this last reason is the most convincing. Without a pet carrier, there’s no stopping your cat from slipping away from you, the vet, or anyone else. Hopefully, your cat wears a collar, but what if they don’t? 

Microchipping has become a popular solution for identifying pets as well. This added protection means that even if your cat (or dog) loses their collar, they can still be found. If you never microchipped your cat and they don’t have a collar, then you could be facing a situation where your cat is lost for good.

Even if your cat disappears in the vet’s office, you’re still in for a bad time. Your cat could have disappeared into the waiting area, run out an open door, or ended up among other animals, so now they’re even more terrified. Tracking them down would be very difficult in this case as well. 

6 DIY Cat Carrier Solutions if You Don’t Have a Carrier

Okay, so you’ve realized that you don’t want to transport your cat to the vet without a carrier. What if you ripped your house apart but couldn’t find your  carrier? That’s okay. By getting creative, you can still safely bring your cat to their appointment or anywhere they might need to go.

What can you use as a makeshift cat carrier? Try these makeshift cat carriers:

  • Large box
  • Basket
  • Sports bag
  • Backpack
  • Cat bed
  • Harness

Here’s more information on how to prep these carriers for your cat. 

Large Box as Cat Carrier

Cardboard cat carriers have become a popular, inexpensive option for those kitty owners who know their feline friend will soil whatever carrier they’re in. Even more simplistic than a cardboard carrier is a cardboard box.

Cats tend to love cardboard boxes. You may even have a few boxes around the house that your cat uses to scratch and play in.

Repurposing a cardboard box that your cat is already comfortable playing in could be a great solution. But be aware of the cardboards structural integrity, the safety of your cat takes priority over being able to repurpose and old UPS or Amazon box.

If the box is even in question, I would recommend a new box so it’s in great structural shape. Make sure the box is at least as large as your cat but a bit bigger so kitty has room to move around.

By adding a comfort item to the cardboard box such as a blanket or a t-shirt, your cat might feel more inclined to settle down in the box. 

If you have a relatively mild-mannered cat who you know won’t try to escape, then you can leave the top flaps of the box open. Otherwise, cut out several large breathing holes at the tops or sides (or both) of the box.

I always try to place a couple holes head level for my cat to be able to see what’s going on but make sure your cat can’t get their head through. Then secure the top of the box. 

Basket as Cat Carrier 

A second makeshift cat carrier you can try is a basket. Like with the cardboard box, the basket should be big enough to accommodate the size of your kitty and leave them a bit of room.

You should again add a t-shirt or blankets so your cat is comfy and calm. Since baskets are open at the top, if your cat will dart away when they’re even a bit scared, you won’t want to use this option. A carrying basket is for relatively chill cats only. 

Sports Bag as Cat Carrier

Is that old gym bag clean? Give it a quick wipe-down and then you can keep your cat there.

Since most duffel bags are relatively thin and shapeless, pad the bag with old shirts or socks (make sure they’re clean too). This will also prevent injury to your cat if they move around in the bag, which is likely.

Most duffel bags are long and wide enough to fit your average-sized feline. Do make sure that while you zip the bag most of the way closed that you still leave plenty of breathing room for your cat! 

Backpack as Cat Carrier

In a similar vein as a duffel bag is using a backpack as your makeshift cat carrier. You need a relatively large backpack for this to be feasible.

If yours is light structurally, then I’d once again suggest padding. You also want to leave the bag unzippered enough that your cat can breathe. 

Rather than sling your cat on your back, carry the backpack on your arm or shoulder. You want to be able to see your cat at all times to make sure they’re not planning a great escape! 

Cat Bed as Cat Carrier

Your cat’s favorite place is their bed, so getting them into it shouldn’t pose a big problem. Given how wide-open a cat bed is though, unless your cat is a seasoned outdoor traveler, I wouldn’t recommend this option.

Keep in mind too that you might ruin your cat’s bed for them, as they might associate being in it with having to go to the vet. 

Harness as Cat Carrier

My last recommendation isn’t a cat carrier at all, but rather, a cat harness. By nature, most cats won’t like being harnessed up, but if you let them adjust to it little by little over the course of weeks or months, that can change. 

A harnessed cat is incredibly safe, as they’re attached to a leash, making escape nearly impossible. I would still tell you to bring a cat carrier while your kitty is harnessed.

This way, if something spooks them, you can corral them into the carrier.  

Tips for Getting Your Cat Used to Their Carrier 

Of course, now that your cat’s vet appointment is over, you come back home and a few days later find the carrier you had been looking for. The next time you have to take your kitty anywhere, if you’re meeting resistance with them getting into the carrier, make sure you try these tips.

Adjust Your Cat to the Carrier by Putting it in Their Favorite Spot

Where does your cat most like relaxing in the house? Perhaps it’s in the sunny den or upstairs in the bedroom. Place the cat carrier in their favorite spot. This shows them that the carrier does not have to be a threatening presence in their lives. 

Incentivize Your Cat to Use the Carrier with Treats 

When you’re ready, encourage your cat to get into the carrier by adding a few of their treats in there. You might have to create a trail of treats leading up to the entrance of the carrier if your kitty is especially reluctant to go in.

Let Your Cat Wander into and out of the Carrier at Will

Once your cat is in the carrier or close to entering it, you don’t want to slam the door shut in a gotcha moment. That’s not what this is about. Instead, leave the door open at all times (at first) so your cat can enter and exit the carrier when they want.  

At some point during the adjustment process, you might wish to close the door when your cat is in the carrier, but make sure you open it after a few seconds. Then, the next time your cat is in the carrier, you might close the door for a few seconds longer, and a few seconds longer still. 

Leave the Carrier Out at All Times

The time will come when you need to use the carrier to take your cat to the vet. When you’re back, clean the carrier, but don’t tuck it away in some dark closet. You want to leave the carrier out all the time and let your cat use it when they wish. This reinforces that the carrier is a comfortable, comforting place, not one to be feared. 

We leave our cat carrier out in our home and our cat “Tilly” uses it almost daily as a place she feels safe and comfortable. Leaving the cat carrier out as a place your cat can go in and out of whenever they like really helps when when it’s time to use the carrier for a trip to the vet or anywhere else.

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