You can crate train a cat but it should only be for the purpose of making travel to and from the veterinarian clinic a less stressful event for your cat.
Crate training should never be used to make your life less stressful.
If you’re planning to crate train your cat so you can leave them in there all day while you’re at work or so you can have a more peaceful sleep, please reconsider.
Cats should never be left in crates long-term or consistently.
If you do keep a cat in a crate for several hours a day, every day, the cat that comes out of that cage will be a shell of themselves. Don’t expect a loving, trusting, or affectionate cat if you plan to crate them regularly.
How long can a cat stay in a crate?
A cat can stay in a small crate for no more than 4 – 6 hours. On average, a cat will urinate 2 – 4 times per day, and have one bowel movement per day (source). This means, your cat needs to use the litter box, at minimum, every eight hours.
You may come across websites that state it’s okay to keep your cat in a crate for much longer, but please consider the source and what they’re basing their timeframes on.
It’s best to stay on the safe side and give your cat the opportunity to use the litter box and stretch their legs frequently.
Keeping a cat in a cage without a litter box longer than 4 – 6 hours can cause health issues if they’re forced to hold in their pee or poop.
A cat can stay in a crate with a litter box much longer, but it’s not recommended.
Cats kept in cages for long periods of time can develop psychological issues.
Please don’t use a cage as a long term solution.
Cat cages are made for transporting a cat; not for living quarters.
Felines would never spend time in a cage if they were living in the wild; they roam free.
They may find a smaller space to sleep in or nest with newborn kittens, but, they’re free to come and go from that den as they please.
Imagine if someone bigger than you placed you in a prison cell and you had no idea why you were in there or how long you were going to be in there. You’d likely be scared and it would start to wear on your mental health.
Your cat feels the same when you place them in a cage. They don’t understand why they’re in there or when they’ll be let out.
Meanwhile, they have an overwhelming urge to roam around, hunt, play, climb, scratch, etc. but they can’t take more than a few steps.
If you’re considering caging your cat as a permanent or long term solution while you sleep or are at work, please read some of the stories here: https://www.quora.com/Is-it-okay-to-leave-your-cat-in-a-cage-all-day
When is it okay to put a cat in a crate?
A cat may need to be placed in a crate when you’re travelling, for vet visits, or in emergencies when you must evacuate your home.
A cat may also need to stay in a large crate if they are healing from an injury or surgery and a veterinarian has recommended crating them to limit movement.
In some cases, it may be okay to keep a kitten in a large crate for their safety. However, it’s a much better option to dedicate a room to your kitten as you introduce them to other pets and objects in your home.
By large crate, I mean one that’s big enough for your kitten to run around, climb, play, as well as eat, sleep, and use the litter box all in different areas.
If you keep a kitten in a cage for long periods of time, you run the risk of having a cat with psychological issues.
Your cat can’t have a happy life when they’re spending the majority of it in a cage. And an unhappy cat will develop behavioural issues, be stressed, and wind up with health issues that require expensive vet visits.
Should I crate my kitten when I’m at work?
Never keep a kitten in a crate for hours while you’re at work. Crating a kitten every day is unacceptable unless you have a large crate that allows enough room for your kitten to run around, play, and climb, as well as eat, drink, sleep, and use the litter box in areas that are several feet away from each other. And even so, this should be a very short-term solution.
You’re likely wanting to crate your kitten while you’re at work to avoid coming home to scratched furniture or broken objects. However, you’ll end up dealing with much worse behaviour long-term if you crate your kitten for long hours each day.
They’re an animal that needs to be able to move around, especially when they’re kittens. They have a lot of energy and they need to run, jump, hunt, and play with objects throughout the day to burn off that energy. Be prepared for a wild kitten at night if they’re cooped up all day.
The better option is to close off several rooms in your home to make a smaller space, or keep your kitten in a room while you’re at work. Also be sure to make this a short-term solution.
Work with your kitten to train them not to scratch furniture, climb curtains, or jump on surfaces you don’t want them on.
Crate training a kitten
It’s best to crate train a kitten so they learn to trust a crate and aren’t scared when they must go in it for a vet visit or travel.
The steps below are to help your cat feel comfortable with a crate for this purpose only.
They are not to be used to cage your animal for long periods of time or frequently.
1 – Choose the right size
When purchasing a crate, it’s better to consider the size your cat will be, rather than going by the size they are now.
I’ve found, larger crates are harder to carry and store, but they are more comfortable for your cat to be in and for you to get them in and out of.
When a crate is too small, you can’t fit your arms and your cat in at the same time. This makes it difficult if your cat won’t go in the crate on their own and you must pick them up and place them in it (or take them out).
For your cat’s comfort, choose a crate that’s tall enough so they can sit or stand without having to drop their head. It should also be long and wide enough that your cat can turn around in it and lay down comfortably.
In some cases, a smaller crate with a top that snaps off is preferred by vets.
Our previous cat, Josh, was not fond of vet visits. He typically needed to be sedated for them, and even then, the staff needed to wear X-ray gloves when handling him to avoid being bitten. They recommended this crate as they could take the top off, which made it easier for them to grab him.
A bigger size may be important if you know your cat will need to be in the crate for an hour or two each time you travel to and from the vets, or on longer road trips.
However, if you plan on traveling by plane with your cat, you’ll need an airline-approved cat carrier.
Unfortunately, pet crates approved for planes have to be small enough to be stored under the seat. This means, unless your cat is still a kitten, they won’t be able to stand or sit up in the crate.
Each airline has different specifications so be sure to check before you buy a carrier.
2 – Clean crate of smells
Even if the crate is new, your cat will detect scents from the factory it was made in, the pet store, etc.
You may not smell anything, but to your cat, it’s full of foreign smells that can put them on high alert.
Try using a Feliway wipe to remove unwanted odors and add calming ones.
Keep in mind, one product or technique is not going to take a cat that has anxiety about going into a crate and make them calm. It’s the accumulation of several techniques layered together that will get you the best results.
3 – Make it comfortable
You can add familiar and comforting scents to your cat’s crate by placing a towel or blanket in it that your cat has slept on. This also makes the crate more comfortable for your cat to be in.
You may even place their favorite toy in the crate to make your cat more intrigued to step inside. This will also add a familiar scent to the crate.
4 – Use positive reinforcement
It’s much easier to help your cat develop good habits than it is to break their bad ones. Get ahead of your cat being fearful of the crate by helping them associate a reward with it.
Bring the crate out, set it on the ground, and sit next to it.
Use a cat wand or your cat’s favorite toy and get them to play in and around the crate.
Each time your cat goes into the crate on their own, give them a treat.
I’ve found it especially helpful to train a cat to recognize positivity through your voice.
Every time our kittens do something we want them to do (e.g. jump down from the counter on their own, scratch the scratching post, use the litter box, etc.) we use an excited tone and tell them “Good job! What a good boy! Good job Charlie!”.
Getting your cat to recognize, through the tone of your voice, when they’re doing something good (or bad), can help you train them without using calorie-dense treats all the time.
5 – Make it normal
If the crate only comes out for vet visits, and your cat hates vet visits, they will associate the crate with something they dislike.
If you have the space to do so, leave the crate out so your cat can explore it, play in it, or even sleep in it outside of vet days.
Most of us don’t want a cat crate in the middle of our living room though. So instead, you may try to bring the crate out once or twice a month and leave it out for an hour or two.
This will help break the pattern in your cat’s mind of crate = vet visit = bad.
6 – Build tolerance
It’s one thing to leave the crate out with the door open for your cat to explore as they please. But you also want your cat to feel comfortable when the crate door closes.
You can slowly build their tolerance to being in the crate with the door closed by placing them in the crate, closing the door, and walking around the house with the crate.
After a couple of minutes, let your cat out, give them a treat, and tell them what a good boy or girl they were.
Your attention and affection is also a great reward to your cat, so give them extra pets and cuddles once they come out.
Slowly increase the amount of time they’re in the crate so when they must be in it for a vet visit, it doesn’t feel like a shock to their system.
You can also use this technique for travel…
Crate training cats for travel
If you need to crate train your cat for travel, build up their tolerance by taking them on car rides.
Our cat, Josh, hated car rides and he had been on many going to and from the vets before I learned this technique.
If you train your cat from the start, it will be much easier to get them comfortable in a crate during travel than it was for me to do so with a cat that was already anxious about car rides.
Josh was incredibly nervous to go into the car, so I had to go at a really slow pace.
You may be able to work faster if you’re working with a kitten or cat that doesn’t have a fear of car rides.
With Josh, I started by simply taking him out to the car, and sitting in it with him for several minutes. I did not turn the car on at any point.
We simply sat there and I talked to him in a soothing tone and gave him treats.
I did this every day until he no longer seemed nervous to be in the car. His eyes weren’t wide, he wasn’t breathing heavy or meowing.
Once he was comfortable with that step, I simply added “turning on the car”. The car didn’t move, it was just turned on to get him comfortable with the sound of the engine. Obviously, don’t do this in a garage. Back the car out first and then bring your cat out to the car.
Again, I stayed at this stage until he showed signs of being comfortable and relaxed in the car with the engine on.
Next, I would add on to the routine by backing the car out of the driveway and then driving it back in (yes, my neighbors probably wondered what I was doing).
I continued to build on the routine by driving down the street, then around the block, then a few blocks, etc.
I didn’t take the next step until my cat was comfortable with the step we were on.
Remember, this was a very slow process for me because Josh had encountered several unpleasant car rides in the past.
It may be a faster process for you.
Your cat will not only get used to being in a moving machine and the feeling and sounds that come with it, but they’ll also get more comfortable with being in their crate.
So even if you must take them on a plane ride (which you can’t train for), the car training may help them feel more comfortable with the sounds, movements, and confinement they’ll experience when on a plane.
How do you calm a kitten in a crate?
To calm a kitten that’s in a crate, try to create a calm environment surrounding the crate. If you’re in a car, turn off the music, close windows, and talk in a soothing tone so that sounds aren’t overstimulating your kitten.
Depending on the bond you have with your kitten, it may comfort them to have you close to them. If you can, turn the crate so they can see your face. Smile at your cat with a relaxed gaze and blink slowly. This can signal to them that it’s okay to relax (staring wide-eyed can make them feel threatened).
If it’s safe, try putting your finger through the grates so they can rub against it and smell you. However, if your kitten is hissing and aggressive, it’s best to keep your body parts away from the cage.
I’ve found that distracting a kitten in a crate can be helpful.
If you have a wand or toy with a feather on the end, try placing it through a hole in the crate and encouraging your kitten to play. It may help take their mind off, what they perceived to be, a scary situation.
You can also try putting treats in the cage, as eating can trigger the parasympathetic nervous system, which restores the body to calm.
If an animal were in a fight or flight situation (sympathetic nervous system) and being chased by a predator, they wouldn’t stop to eat. They’ll eat when they’re calm and feel safe enough to do so. This is why eating can help calm a kitten in a crate.
What is a good size for a cat crate?
A cat crate should be 3 – 5 inches taller and longer than your cat. This gives them space to stand up, turn around, and lay down comfortably. However, you must also take the crate’s purpose into account. If you plan to use the crate for airplane travel, you’ll need to follow the airline’s crate size guidelines. Unfortunately, the allowed sizes are much smaller than what’s ideal for your cat’s comfort for several hours.
Also consider your cat’s temperament and how well you’ll be able to get them in and out of the crate. If you have a cat that doesn’t like crates, look for a top-loading crate so it’s easier for you to lower them into it.
Vets also prefer smaller crates with tops that snap off when dealing with aggressive cats who don’t like vet visits. This helps ensure the cat will be in a position that makes them easy to grab. When the crate is bigger, they have the opportunity to turn around and bite or huddle in a corner, which makes it more difficult for veterinarians to handle them.
If you’re planning to use the crate for longer road trips, go bigger than average. This will allow you to place a cat bed and a water dish inside. But still, be sure to give them lots of breaks outside the crate so they have the opportunity to go to the bathroom.
We take our cats back and forth to the cabin during summer months, so we purchased this collapsable dog crate. It’s a much better size than any of the cat crates and allows the two bonded brothers to be together for the hour-long trip.
The crate is great quality and really simple to fold down and store. The only downside is that it doesn’t have handles for carrying. This one is another good option that has handles.
We do still have smaller carriers for vet visits. We want to assure they only associate fun trips (trips to the cabin) with the big dog crate carrier, so they’re not stressed every weekend when we put them in the crate.
I hope this article has helped you make your cat more comfortable in a crate when traveling 🙂
You may also be interested in:
- Can a kitten sleep in a carrier overnight? (is it cruel?)
- The Easiest Way to Get an Aggressive Cat into a Carrier