From a trip to the vet to an inter-state relocation, it is inevitable your cat will travel by car at some point in her life. Ideally the cat would stroll happily into her carrier and purr the entire of the trip. Does this sound like your cat?
What’s more likely are you get badly scratched and the cat soils herself. Worse still is the cat traveling loose in the car that takes fright and lodges herself under the brake pedal or escapes through a partially open window.
Even if your cat is a good traveler the wise owner prepares for the unexpected, so let’s take a look at all aspects of safe travel with a cat.
Why and How to Keep your Cat Restrained in Car
Imagine a scenario where your cat is napping on the rear parcel shelf, as you cruise along the freeway. A van swerves into your path. You slam on the brakes in an emergency stop. What happens to the cat?
The cat becomes a missile projected forward at speed and slams through the windshield. Not good. Not good at all. If the cat survives flying through a splintered windshield, she may be run over by traffic or run off and get lost.
The answer is to ensure the cat is adequately restrained within the body of the vehicle.
For this you can either use a cat carrier or train the cat to wear a harness. However, make sure the latter is crash tested and an approved safety system that snaps into your car’s seatbelt anchor points.
Choosing a Cat Carrier
Most people opt for a cat carrier, which doubles up to transport the cat outside of the car. Whilst a cardboard box is cheap, it’s not a good choice as it will disintegrate when wet.
Choose a plastic or wire box of a solid construction. A bit like Goldilocks and the three bears, chose the size that is ‘just right’. Too small and the cat is cramped, too large and she’ll rattle around. A basket the cat can rest in comfortably but isn’t too large, helps her feel safe.
Line the bottom of the box with newspaper or a puppy pad, then place a fleece or blanket on top of that. For a super snuggly den give her one of your T-shirts, so that she has a familiar scent to reassure her.
The cat feels safer if the basket is covered. If you opt for an open wire basket this means draping a towel over the top. Then stretch the seatbelt around the carrier to secure it in place. For more information, check out our article on choosing the best cat carrier.
Getting the Cat into the Carrier
The cat sees the carrier. She associates it with the cattery and flees. You flush her out from under the bed and a game of chase ensues. Eventually you capture her and, paws flailing, stuff her into the upended carrier. Your sweating, her heartrate is pounding, and you’re both stressed.
That’s one option, but not a good one.
As you’re reading this article hopefully you are planning ahead. The best idea is to leave the basket out and make it a magical place to be. Seed it with treats, every day putting something tasty inside for her to discover. Slide a heat mat under the blanket so its super snuggly on a cold day. Put her dinner bowl inside. Anything you can think of to encourage her to associate the carrier with nice things.
Also, don’t only put her in the carrier when it’s time to visit the vet or cattery. Whilst she’s eating her meal inside the basket, briefly close the door then open it again. Put the basket in the car, but without starting the engine. Take her short trips round the block. And at the end of each adventure give her something extra-super tasty as a reward she’ll remember.
The idea is to build new associations that are all good.
Reassuring an Anxious Traveler
What else can you do to make the journey easier?
- Breakfast Time: Feed the cat a small meal 1 – 2 hours ahead of your departure time. Traveling on a completely empty or very full tummy makes for nausea, so some where in-between is best (Anyone seen Goldilocks recently?)
- Pheromones: Feliway is a synthetic version of the chemical messengers given off by a nursing mother cat, which make her kittens feel safe and secure. Try spritzing her travel T-shirt (the one smelling of you) with Feliway to amplify the ‘feel-good’ factor.
- Keep the Cabin Comfortable: Keep the temperature inside the cabin not too cold and not too hot…again, just like Goldilocks.
- Don’t Smoke in the Cabin: For your cat’s comfort.
- Consider Herbal Remedies: Some people find sprinkling a few drops of chamomile oil on the cat’s bedding can help. Likewise, anecdotally some pet parents report Skullcap and Valerian soothes the troubled traveler.
- Comfort Breaks: For that inter-state relocation the cat will needs comfort breaks. Again, it’s best to harness train the cat so you can take her out of the car to use the tray.
Should I Sedate My Cat?
For the truly terrible traveler you may think about sedation. Unfortunately this isn’t as simple as it sounds. You’ll need the vet to check the cat over, since many sedatives are not suitable for felines with heart or kidney disease, a history of seizures, or indeed those with flat-faces such as Persians.
Another complication is that some sedatives, such as Acepromazine, have an unexpected ‘paradoxical’ effect. This means instead of sedating, they cause over excitement. Thus, if your vet does prescribe a sedative, test it out a day or so ahead of the journey just in case.
Better alternatives for sedation include diazepam, which helps the cat ‘chill’, or beta blockers which keep the heart rate steady and reduces feelings of anxiety.
Plan Ahead and Anticipate Problems
Without wishing to sound pessimistic, it’s a good idea to plan ahead for worst case scenarios. From the cat soiling the carrier to a car crash, anticipate what you might need.
- Pack spare bedding for the carrier and take along some basic cleaning materials, so you can cope with ‘spills’.
- Have the cat microchipped, so if she did somehow escape and is picked up by the authorities, you can be reunited.
- Have a recent photo of your cat on your phone. You can show this to passersby if you lose the cat or to prove she is yours.
- On hot days, no matter how short the journey take plenty of water with you.
And last but not least, when traveling with your cat in the car, don’t forget to talk to her. She will find the sound of your voice reassuring and it may just lull her to sleep for a stress free journey. Meow to happy travels.