Many cat parents are well aware of their kitty’s aversion to driving. It could be due to motion sickness or something less overt, but cats often get stressed out by car rides. Fortunately, there are ways to manage this and make cat transportation painless, if not exactly enjoyable.
Whether it’s just a ride to the vet or an extended road trip, do yourself a favor by planning ahead. Here’s what you need to know about cats’ dislike of car travel, and what you can do about it.
Why does this happen?
Why do so many cats react poorly to being driven around? The phenomenon is well documented, but there isn’t a single universal explanation. Some experts suggest that the cause is biological – the feline sensory apparatus gets triggered by the vibrations of a moving vehicle. Others remind us that cats are creatures of habit, so reliant on their territory that rapidly moving away from it distresses them.
Whatever the cause of your cat’s dislike of travel, there are still ways to work around the issue. The one thing to keep in mind, though, is that the problem will never go away completely. If your kitty just isn’t comfortable in a car, nothing you do will ever change that. You might train a carsick dog, but cats are much more set in their ways. So don’t bother trying to convince your cat that car travel is actually pretty great. Instead, learn to mitigate the symptoms during cat transportation as much as possible.
Planning and preparation
Before setting out, there are a few steps you could take to make life easier for your cat and yourself.
Find the right carrier crate
Let your kitty travel in style by providing a sturdy, comfortable carrier. It needs to be of sufficient size, allowing her to stand, stretch out, and turn around. Don’t go overboard, though – you don’t want tiny kittens bouncing around a large crate either. Flexible surfaces are OK, but the carrier’s frame should be solid enough to maintain its basic shape at all times.
Introduce your cat to the carrier
As with any other pet, your cat should have time to get used to the carrier before the trip. Put some food in there, maybe a toy or two, then leave it open for exploration. If the cat is comfortable enough to take a nap inside, congratulations! You’ve greatly reduced the stress she’ll experience in transport.
Secure the carrier properly
Double check that the door bolts are in place, and that there’s plenty of ventilation room left. Ideally, you would fasten the carrier to the backseat using a harness or seat belt. The less bumping around there is, the easier it’ll be on the cat’s nerves.
Consult a vet about sedation
Never sedate your cat on your own! Talk to a vet if you’re considering this, and explain the situation. If the symptoms are serious, they might prescribe meds to take the edge off. Optionally, they might suggest synthetic pheromones to make the cat feel at home inside the car.
Cover all the basics
This goes without saying, but make sure your cat is fed and watered on the day of departure. To avoid unfortunate accidents, give her a chance to use the litter box.
Monitoring during cat transportation
Finally, there are also ways of soothing the cat’s nerves while on the road. If using CitizenShipper for cat transportation, your selected transporter will be the one to cover this side of things. We’ll list the most common methods here anyway just so you’d know what kind of attention they’re providing.
Keep the cat company
This is obviously impossible for a driver, but having a second person around just to sit calmly next to the cat can be of great help. Talking to the cat is also beneficial; studies have shown that the human voice is calming to some felines. Most importantly, the designated cat-buddy is in prime position to notice if the cat starts stressing out.
Take a break whenever necessary
Drivers on a tight schedule might not like this, but we recommend stopping whenever the cat gets anxious. The break might take a few minutes or it might take an hour, but the passenger’s comfort is paramount! Maybe the kitty needs her carrier cleaned, or maybe she’d like to take a walk by the roadside? (Don’t forget the collar and leash, of course.) After this time-out, once the cat has calmed down, you can get back on the road.
Familiar sights, sounds, and smells
Just like humans, felines deal with pressure by enjoying familiar sensations. During cat transportation, you can use a favorite toy, blanket, or snack to combat stress. The cat might not be in the mood to play, sleep, or eat, but that’s OK. The mere fact of recognition can help calm the jangled nerves. If objects don’t do the trick, getting the cat’s human on the line might! Simply pull over and let the owner and the pet have a video or voice chat. This, many drivers have found, brings peace of mind to both sides at once.
Updated September 17, 2021