Gear: Cat Bag

If you plan to secure a cat in a bag or sack, then you will need a cat bag large enough to fit a large cat comfortably. When I was first looking for a suitable cat bag, I was drawn to a basic laundry bag sold by Wal-Mart as well as another almost-identical one sold by Target. Both were simple bags with a drawstring top and measured roughly 28" X 35" when laid flat. At first, I thought the bag was too large for my purpose, but, over time, I have come to find it just about the perfect size for me. The width of the bag is enough to accommodate the full length of a cat when resting at the bottom, and the length gives me enough fabric to gather together to close easily at the top while providing plenty air volume inside for the cat. Individual preferences are bound to vary, but I should caution you about using a bag that is too small. It is not enough that a cat can fit in the bag. You must also have enough extra capacity to be able to get a struggling cat inside when the procedure is not quite going smoothly.

At that time, the Wal-Mart bag fabric was mostly cotton, and I found it to be more supple and better suited than the Target bag which was mostly synthetic. The suppleness of the fabric makes a big difference when you are trying to enclose the cat by dropping the bag around him. A supple fabric will fall unassisted on its own weight while a stiffer fabric must be manually pulled down on all sides, and that takes time that you may not have to successfully enclose the cat.

Pulling the drawstring to close the top of the bag is not usually adequate to contain the cat. Most bags will not fully close in that manner, and a determined cat who sees that daylight coming through the opening will make an effort to push through it. You can pull the drawstring closed and use the excess string to tie the neck of the bag closed, or you can use a separate cord to cinch the bag closed.

Depending on how you intend to use the bag, you may not need to make any modifications to it. If you intend to use it only as a lap bag, or if you plan to bag the cat without using an opening in the bag, then it's ready for use. However, if you wish to have a glove or netting in the bottom of the bag for your hand to grab the cat, then you have a little more work to do.

The standard cat bag has a pair of gloves sewn into the bottom. Only one glove is used at a time depending on which hand you prefer to use to grab the cat in each situation. The process is to put the bag over your arm with your hand in the glove, grab the cat, use the other hand to invert the bag around the cat, and then withdraw your hand from the glove.

This is a proven, reliable method for securing the cat, but there are some disadvantages to the gloved cat bag: (1) some people prefer to grab the cat with their bare hand instead of a glove, (2) the glove size is fixed and cannot be used by others with a different glove size, (3) it is slow and annoying to switch to the other hand when the cat moves to a different position, and (4) removing your hand from the glove unassisted can be difficult. Regardless, this is an effective and workable solution that many rescuers prefer.

You can make your own gloved bag fairly easily or pay a small fee to an experienced seamstress to make it for you. When I first started, I tried four different seamstresses, and the biggest problem I had was explaining what I wanted and why. Two of them put the gloves opposite the way I specified, but all four make a workable bag for a reasonable fee.

If you decide to make your own gloved bag, you must first decide precisely where you want the gloves to be located. Imagine where you hand will be when you grab the cat, and then imagine where the bag should be so that the cat will already be in position in the bottom of the bag after it is inverted. For example, if you are grabbing the cat from behind by the scruff, the glove should be a few inches from the corner of the bag so that the cat's head fits between your hand and the edge of the bag while the rest of his body will fit along the bottom edge of the bag.

To position the gloves properly, turn the bag inside-out and place it on your lap. Pull the bottom edge of the bag from your lap and lay it flat on the table in front of you. Place a mark on the bottom edge a few inches from the side where each glove should be positioned. Position the left glove on the left side and the right glove on the right side so that the palms are up and the thumbs are pointing away from each other. Align the cuff of the glove with the bottom edge of the bag. Assuming the glove stretches, hold one end of the cuff of the glove at the mark on the bag and stretch the cuff its full extent and mark that place on the bag. Remove the seam from the bag between those marks and then sew some stitches outward from those marks to reinforce the remaining seam leading up to the glove. Sew the cuff of the glove to the opening while keeping the glove fully stretched at all times.

You will also need a cord to cinch the neck of the bag closed and to attach it to your harness. I use a cord like the one pictured here. It has a bowline with Yosemite tie-off at one end to attach to my harness, and the other end is a double fisherman's loop to cinch around the bag. I want the cord to be as short as possible, but I need to be able to open the cinch loop large enough to fit my hand and the top of the bag easily inside. The maximum diameter cinch loop I can make on this cord is six inches, and that has proven to be plenty large enough.

If you are like me and are concerned about dropping the bag when the cat is in it, then a safety lanyard as a backup might appeal to you. I simply girth-hitch an elastic chainsaw lanyard to the drawstring and attach that lanyard to my harness. Since I don't pull the drawstring tight on the bag after bagging the cat, the drawstring and the elastic lanyard both serve as a shock absorber if I should drop the bag. The drawstring, however, needs to be tied with a knot that is stronger than the usual overhand knot as supplied. I tie the drawstring ends together with a double fisherman's bend. The drawstring and lanyard are always positioned at the bottom when in use, so it never interferes with the bagging process.

The gloved cat bag has effectively served many rescuers over many years, but rescuer Normer Adams of Georgia made an improvement which eliminates the disadvantages mentioned above. Instead of using gloves, Normer cut an opening in the bottom of the bag which he covered with baseball netting through which his fingers could fit. With this modification, the user has a choice of using it with or without gloves, it is not restricted to any one glove size, changing hands when the cat changes position becomes much easier, and it is very easy to remove your hand once the cat has been secured inside the bag. The only significant disadvantage is that it is harder to make.

I have been using this design and find it works very well. However, I made one addition to make it even better. I cover the netting with a black pocket on the outside to help prevent the cat from poking a leg through the netting and to darken the interior of the bag to help keep the cat calm. From the outside, I can slip my hand under the pocket cover so my fingers can extend through the netting.

Making a bag with a net opening is only slightly more difficult than making a gloved bag. All that needs to be done is to: (1) cut an opening in the bottom of the bag and reinforce the bottom seam where it was cut, (2) fold over and sew the edges of the opening, (3) sew some reinforcing fabric in the corners of the opening to prevent tearing, (4) sew a piece of netting over the opening, and (5) optionally, sew a black pocket cover over the netting. I made my first bag in this manner, and it is perfectly functional and still in service. The nice advantage we all have when making a cat bag is that it doesn't have to be pretty. This is not a wedding gown. It can be ugly, and no one, including the cat, will care at all.

The next time I made a bag, I decided to do it in a more refined and proper manner. The dimensions and functionality are all the same, but the opening is stronger and has a more finished appearance. The following explains how I made it, but you do not need to make it this complicated and troublesome. Whatever you are able to do to create a functional bag is all that you need to do. It does not need to be pretty.

How to Make a Deluxe Cat Bag

1. Wash the cat bag and other fabric used for the opening to remove any coating that may interfere with the iron-on interfacing adhesive.

2. Assemble all your materials including the sewing machine. An assistant is optional, but it  will go much faster without the assistant. Materials needed are:
  • Cat bag
  • Black material for opening cover (optional). I used rip-stop nylon.
  • Any color fabric for backing of opening. Here I used gray rip-stop nylon.
  • Iron-on interfacing (optional)
  • Piece of baseball netting with mesh large enough to fit fingers

3. With the bag inside-out, lay the bag out flat and place marks on the bottom seam at the 6", 6-1/2", 11-1/2", and 12" points starting from the corner that is diagonally opposite the side of the drawstring. Place marks on both sides of the bag. The finished dimensions of the opening will be 6" X 7" beginning 6" from the corner.

4. Use a seam ripper to remove the seam between the 6" and 12" marks and beyond another couple inches. Sew an overlock stitch along the edges to prevent the fabric from raveling.

5. Layout and cut two pieces of interfacing 5" X 8" for inside of bag and two pieces 6-1/4" X 10-1/2" in the perpendicular position for the backing fabric on the backside of the opening. Interfacing typically has tear resistance in only one direction, so cutting the facing pieces perpendicular to each other offers tear resistance in two directions.

6. Cut two pieces of backing fabric the same size as the two smaller (5 X 8) interfacing pieces. Pin the adhesive side (rough side) of the interfacing against the bad side of the fabric, tack them together with an iron, remove the pins, and finish fusing them completely together following the directions given with the interfacing.

7. On the two fused pieces, fold 1/2" edge under and sew with a multipoint zig-zag stitch on three sides. Leave the bag bottom seam side unfinished.

8. Fuse the two larger interfacing pieces to the inside of the bag evenly over the opening marks. Align the bottom of the interfacing 1/8" inside from bottom edge of the fabric where the bag bottom seam will be.

9. Continuing with the bag inside-out, draw cut lines and seam lines on the interfacing on one side of the bag. The seam line goes 4" vertical at the 6" and 12" marks with a 6" long horizontal line connecting the tops of those two lines. The cut line is parallel to the seam line 1/2" away, that is, 3-1/2" long vertical lines at the 6-1/2" and 11-1/2" marks and a 5" long horizontal line connecting the tops of those two lines. Draw the same lines on the opposite side making sure they line up.

10. With the bag still inside-out, center and pin the good side of one spare fabric backing piece against the good side of the bag over the opening with the bottom side even with the edge of the bag bottom seam. Pin from the top, visible side so pins can be removed as you stitch along the seam line. Sew a straight stitch seam along the drawn seam line (1/2" from cut line). Be careful to keep the other side of the bag out from underneath.

11. Cut the opening through one side of bag (bag and backing piece) following the cut line. (Notice the straight stitch along the seam line.)

12. Cut the inside corners diagonally stopping short of the seam.

13. Sew a multipoint zig-zag stitch along the inside edges joining the bag and backing pieces together. Cut the zig-zag thread in the corners.

14. Turn the bag outside-out. Fold the backing piece over the 1/2" seam strip so that the good side of the bag and the backing piece are both up and only the 1/2" seam strip is underneath the backing piece. Sew a straight stitch all along the length of the backing piece to sew the 1/2" seam strip to it from underneath. The straight stitch should be about 1/8" away from the seam with the bag.

15. Fold the backing piece over to the inside of the bag. Turn the bag inside-out. Sew a straight stitch seam near the outer edge of backing piece to connect it to the bag.

16. Repeat for the other side of bag from step 10.

17. Sew a strong seam in the bottom of the bag up to the edge of the opening and reinforce the existing seam where it was removed.

18. Cut roughly 9-1/2" X 11" (5 X 6 complete squares) piece of netting. Melt all the cut ends to prevent fraying.

19. The netting can be attached either to the inside or outside of the bag. The advantage of  putting it inside is that you can inspect the stitching and repair it easily, if ever needed. (I have never needed to do that.) With the netting on the outside, there is less in the bag to snag the cat's claws, but it is uglier on the outside if there is no pocket cover.

20. Pin the netting to the bag starting with the center of the netting over the bottom seam of the bag. At least 3 X 4 mesh holes should be visible and accessible in the opening. Tack each intersection of the outer ring of the netting to the bag. Sewing the stitch without first tacking each intersection will stretch and distort the netting significantly. Select a multipoint zigzag stitch size that encloses both sides of the netting cord and sew the netting all around the edge of the opening.

21. Cut a 14.5" square piece of black fabric for the cover. I use black rip-stop nylon. Double fold the edges on opposite sides to make a 1/2" seam. Sew the edge seams with either a straight stitch or a multipoint zigzag stitch. Double fold the remaining edges to make a 1/2" seam on other two sides in the same way. The finished size is a 13.5" square. Position the cover piece over the bag opening so that the pocket opening side overlaps the edge of the opening by about 4". The pocket opening should be on the edge that is closest to the middle of the bag. Sew the other three sides to the bag with a straight seam.

Storage and Deployment

There are several ways in which you can store the bag, but, because I have often found it necessary to deploy the bag quickly and unexpectedly, I want it stored in a way that allows me to get it ready for use as quickly as possible. I have found it useful to have the bag already inside-out and partially inverted as shown below. Starting with the bag in this state, I have tried folding and rolling it in various ways that work for me, but I end up with it rolled up and attached to my harness with the cinch cord. I leave it to each individual to find the best way of folding and/or rolling it so that it unfolds in an expected way for quick deployment. The goal is to know consistently how the bag is oriented, where to insert your hand, and where the top of the bag is found so it can be grabbed quickly and pulled down around the cat.

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