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Can I Leave My Cat In A Carrier Overnight?

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Sometimes our feline friends need a little help staying safe while we’re asleep…or we simply need a little peace of mind while we’re asleep.

It could be that you have a new kitten in the home, an elderly feline that needs a little more supervision, or simply a new and not yet fully formed feline bond that you’d like to monitor during the day.

Whatever the reason, you may start to wonder what the best option is for keeping your cat safe and comfortable at night. The carrier may seem like a good option- after all, crates do work for dogs, right?

So can you leave your cat in a crate overnight?

While it is possible for a cat to stay in a carrier overnight, it’s not advised unless there’s no other option. A small room, like a bathroom, is a much better overnight location but if you have to use a carrier make sure your cat has food, water, and litter available to them. 

Why It’s Not A Good Idea To Leave Cats In Carriers Overnight

Let’s take a closer look at why the carrier isn’t a great option for cats overnight and then we’ll take a look at what you can do instead. Keep in mind, some of these problems are manageable and it will depend on the size of carrier you select for your feline friend!

Reason 1: Timing Matters!

You’ve probably seen your cat spend all day in one room before and it can be a completely normal cat behavior.

So you might assume that spending a similar amount of time in a carrier probably isn’t a big deal.

But the huge difference here is is that your cat is making a choice to spend all day in one room with the option for snacks, hydration, and bathroom breaks- they don’t always have those choices in a carrier.

On top of that, cats can’t hit the bathroom and have a snack knowing that they’re about to be put in a carrier and that could be a big problem. An overnight stay in the carrier could come after several hours of not eating, drinking, or using the bathroom which means cats could be left without these things for much longer than only the time they’re going to be in the carrier.

This is very different from dogs as most pups will understand that they need to take advantage of their time outside and dogs are almost always willing to have a snack. Cats, on the other hand, tend to live life on their own terms so plopping your cat in the litter box in preparation for time in the carrier is more likely to get you a dirty look than a potty break.

Because it’s hard to prepare cats for longer stays in the carrier, it’s usually not a great option unless you’re able to provide all the feline essentials.

Reason 2: Cats Need Constant Bathroom Access

The next big problem is that most carriers aren’t going to have enough room to house a litter box- especially if you have a bigger cat.

As I’ve already mentioned, cats aren’t like dogs and they’re not going to be happy about holding their bladder or bowels until you’re able to let them out. Instead, most cats will decide to work with what they’ve got and use the bathroom in their carrier.

In the best case scenario, you’ll end up with a messy cat and a messy carrier.

But in the worst case scenario, you may encourage an inappropriate urination problem in your cat that could cause lifelong problems.

Sound far fetched?

I assure you, it isn’t. While urinating outside the box is typically attributed to medical issues, it can also be the result of a specific preference that cats develop. These preferences can start in a variety of ways, including seemingly at random, but presenting your cat with only a carrier to urinate in could help start kick-start a preference for harder surfaces.

So if you have to keep your cat in a carrier overnight or for any long period of time, make sure your feline friend has access to a litter box of some kind.

If there are no other options, simply using a shallow Tupperware container or even a Tupperware lid for smaller cats will work but make sure you reinforce the habit of using litter for bathroom breaks and not towels or hard plastic.

Reason 3: Cats Need Regular Access To Water

Getting cats to drink enough water is already a constant struggle. Your housecat’s ancient ancestors would have gotten most of their water from eating small prey but modern cat food doesn’t contain nearly the same amount of moisture as a rat or mouse.

As cat owners, we want to encourage our cats to drink as much as possible. Usually, that includes constant access to water and multiple water bowl locations that are away from food and litter areas.

In other words, the complete opposite of what’s even possible in a carrier!

The last thing we’d want to do is make things worse by taking away the option for water for any amount of time or discouraging a cat’s interest in water.

Again, cats aren’t like dogs who will “stock up” on water when they leave their crate. Cats are a bit pickier and more likely to drink small amounts throughout the day- a habit we should encourage with multiple bowls and even water fountains to tap into a cat’s love of moving water.

Still, compared to a litter box, it’s generally pretty easy to fit water into a carrier but proper separation from bathroom and food areas will be impossible. Unless your cat’s crate will be moving, there’s no reason not to make sure your feline friend has fresh water.

Reason 4: Cats Need Space

We’ve already looked at the issue of space from the perspective of having room for litter and water but cats also need to have room to stay physically active and mentally stimulated – neither of which are possible from within a carrier.

On top of that, cats are crepuscular creatures which means they’re most active during the twilight hours of the evening and early morning.

That partially explains why the zoomies seem to happen in the evening or even later at night! But it also means that if cats are in a carrier overnight, they may be confined during their peak hours of activity.

This won’t be a big issue in a one-off emergency situation but if it’s regular confinement then it could cause major problems for felines as they fail to get the exercise and stimulation they need.

Why Kittens Shouldn’t Stay In A Carrier Overnight

Before we move on to possible solutions, let’s briefly consider kittens…can a kitten safely sleep in a carrier overnight?

While it’s possible for a kitten to sleep in a carrier overnight, it’s not something you’d do unless there’s no other option.  A small room, like a bathroom, is a better overnight location but if you have to use a carrier make sure the kitten has food, water, and litter available to them.

Very young kittens (6 weeks old or younger) are the exception and a carrier is often the best option for them.

While the considerations for older kittens are mostly the same as adult cats there are a few other factors to consider so let’s take a deeper look.

Proper Bathroom Training Is Even More Important For Kittens

We’ve already mentioned how important access to a litter box is for our adult cats but imagine how problematic this could be for a kitten that’s still learning about the world?

Litter box training happens quickly for kittens and while they have a strong instinct to use actual litter, the floor of a carrier could work for them in a pinch! Kittens may decide that smooth plastic makes a good bathroom which will lead to big problems.

If the only option is to keep your kitten in a carrier throughout the night make sure you squeeze in a litter box. This is much easier to do with a kitten compared to an adult cat since there will be so much more room.

Water And Food

Water is still important for kittens just as it is for adult cats- even if kittens are unlikely to have existing kidney issues that could be irritated by dehydration.

But access to food is more important for kittens compared to adult felines, especially for younger cats. As the experts at Pet Health Network explain, “Kittens, especially those under 3 months of age, have not fully developed their ability to regulate their blood glucose (sugar) levels.”

As result, these kittens are more sensitive to prolonged fasting and need to have constant access to food.

Again, if you have to leave a kitten in a carrier overnight, make sure they have access to food!

A Carrier Is Still Best For Very Young Kittens

All that being said, depending on the age of the kittens sometimes the carrier is the best option. Not only is it the best way to keep a kitten under 2 months old safe, but it’s typically possible to get everything a kitten needs inside a reasonably sized carrier.

In general, once a kitten is about seven weeks or older, they’ll be better suited to some of the other options below.

What To Do Instead?

Okay, so if the carrier is out, what makes a better option?

Use A Room

You wouldn’t want a cat to live in one room permanently but confining a feline to a single room overnight is a much better option compared to the carrier. Even a room as small as a typical bathroom will have enough space for a cat to have all the essentials.

If you’re able to use a larger room, then you can really make an amazing space for your cat by adding a cat tree for extra exercise.

Of course, this isn’t always possible so let’s look at the next best option.

Use A Portable Enclosure

There’s a wide world of portable enclosures for cats and while these are usually used for the outdoors they can also work indoors.

Even better, many are portable enough that you can these both indoors and outdoors for cats. You can learn more about your options and check out our favorite outdoor and portable enclosures for cats here.

While a portable enclosure is usually best because of the versatility it offers, it isn’t a requirement and you can use a more permanent solution as well like a large kennel. Most folks would simply refer to that as a cage but whether you call it a kennel, enclosure or cage the idea is the same.

What If The Carrier Is Your Only Choice?

Sure, those options are great for the house but what if you need to keep your cat in a carrier overnight because you’re traveling? How can you make the carrier the best it can be?

Let’s look at a few things to consider.

Make Sure There’s Enough Room For Everything

We’ll want to start by making sure there’s enough room for all the feline essentials. That means a litter box of some kind along with water and food.

While this may sound difficult, if you get a large enough carrier it’s certainly possible. If your cat will need to spend a few nights in the carrier while traveling then consider getting a crate that’s made for dogs, especially one for airline travel. This will leave plenty of room for everything your cat needs.

Use A Level Surface

Now that we’ve got all the essentials inside the create, we want to ensure that we don’t have any spills so always make sure you’re placing the carrier or crate on a level surface.

Water won’t do your cat any good if it’s spilled everywhere and we certainly don’t want any litter box spillage!

Add Some Comfort Items

Most carriers are designed to be easy to clean but not necessarily comfortable so make sure you give your feline friend some extra comfort items like soft blankets. Of course, these are for sleeping but some cats won’t be able to resist kneading them which is good too. After all, your cat needs something to pass the time!

Frequently Asked Questions

Let’s quickly tackle some of the common questions that come up!

How Long Can A Cat Stay In A Carrier Before They Make A Mess?

Most cats can comfortably hold their bowls and bladder for several hours however you should do everything you can to not test this. Instead, offer cats a litter box or the equivalent even on road trips. Not only will this prevent a mess but it will also mean a happier and healthier cat.

Wood pellet cat litter makes a good option for the road since the larger particles are easier to clean up in case of a spill.

Do Cats Need A Light Source?

Carriers can get pretty dark, especially if you’re using larger airplane-approved carriers, but despite that cats don’t need any kind of special light source. Not only can cats see in dim light much better than we can but as crepuscular creatures, it’s perfectly natural for them to be active in low light.

Even though it may feel like the rules should be different for kittens, the same is also true for them and they’ll be fine with whatever natural light is available even if it’s very little.

Isn’t A Carrier Similar To The Space A Cat Has In A Shelter?

While cats in many shelters spend all day (and night) inside a small cage or kennel it’s still large enough for cats to have separate areas for food, water, litter box, and an area to rest. Smaller carriers that are designed for just quick trips to the veterinarian don’t even come close to this.

These spaces are also specifically designed to be temporary and the goal is to get cats out of the shelter as soon as possible.

Closing Thoughts

While keeping a cat in a carrier overnight isn’t an ideal scenario sometimes it has to happen.

But as long as you take the proper precautions and preparations you can make work- at least for a night or two. However, even with the right set up, it’s not something you should make habit of as cats need room to call their own!

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