Your cat’s carrier is its safe haven — while at home or out traveling — says Dr. Jane Brunt, a veterinarian at Maryland’s Cat Hospital at Towson. The reality, however, is that many cats freak out when they see their carriers. Brunt, who is also the executive director of the CATalyst Council Inc., shares how you can transform a cat-carrier into a feline-friendly haven by following these five steps:

1. Choose the best carrier for your cat.
Brunt suggests looking for these features when shopping for a cat-carrier:

  • Sturdiness Consider your cat’s size and weight, and don’t immediately go for a dog crate if you have a hefty cat. Even medium-sized dog crates are often too large for cats.
  • Security and Stability Check the door and all removable parts to ensure they stay firmly locked.
  • Quiet Opening the carrier should not startle your kitty.
  • Removable Top This is often helpful for fearful, sick, painful or limited-mobility cats.
  • Allow for a Seat Belt If the carrier can be secured to a car seat with a seatbelt, the ride will be smoother and safer.

2. Choose the best location for introducing your cat to its carrier.
Select a location that is “convenient for you and your cat, but out of main traffic areas,” says Brunt. Cats usually like elevated resting areas, so you can try putting it up on a sofa or chair.

3. Make the carrier cat-friendly.
Your goal is to make the carrier welcoming, warm and irresistible. Leave the carrier door(s) open to encourage your cat to spend time inside. Putting a scratching post nearby can help attract your pet to the carrier.

Brunt suggests placing a soft blanket, towel, fleece shirt or furniture throw with your scent on it inside and near the carrier. “Your cat will then learn to associate that familiar scent with the carrier,” she explains. “This bedding should be kept with the carrier and can eventually be used in transporting the cat inside its new home away from home.”

Since cats are drawn to warmth, sometimes it helps to warm the blanket or the carrier by placing it close to a heat source or near a sunny window.

Adding your cat’s favorite treats and toys can help to make it irresistible. Spend quality time with your cat around the carrier, petting your cat and rewarding good behavior.

4. Train your cat to tolerate car rides.
Cars can terrify cats, so you need to do a few things before you even start the engine. Begin by placing a towel over the carrier with your cat inside. Take the carrier to the car seat, attaching the seatbelt. Give your cat a treat and provide verbal support. Close the car door and leave your cat in there for a few minutes before removing the carrier. Do this several times, on different days, to help teach your cat that the car is safe.

When your cat seems comfortable, open the garage door and “turn on the engine, at first going nowhere,” says Brunt. Repeat this a few times to again acclimate your cat. Now take a few short trips, perhaps driving to the veterinarian’s office and back without stopping in, or pop in with your cat to just say hello. “Short, happy trips to a cat-friendly veterinarian will improve your cat’s experience with travel and encourage pleasant veterinary visits,” she says.

5. How to deal with a fearful cat.
Some cats are more skittish than others and may still be “fraidy cats” after you follow the above steps. If your cat is still having trouble, ask your veterinarian for help. Certain medications can treat motion sickness or anxiety, but should only be administered as a last resort.

Introducing a cat to a carrier requires time and effort, but the rewards are worth it.