As a cat friendly care giver you want to ensure your cat is safe when traveling with you, as well as alleviate his fear and prevent stress, if possible. While you might only transport your cat when you go to the veterinarian’s office, when you go on vacation, or when you move, you want to be prepared so traveling goes as smoothly as possible. Here are some tips to make trips a positive experience for you and your cat:
1. Make Your Cat’s Carrier a “Home Away From Home”
Many people keep the carrier in the basement or garage, and only get it out right before a trip to the veterinarian. So your cat probably does not like the carrier or feel that he is in a safe or preferred place. Instead, make the carrier a part of your home environment so your cat sees it as a safe place and learns to associate the carrier with positive experiences before he has to be transported in it. Here are some ways to help your cat become more comfortable with the carrier:
- Make the carrier a familiar place at home by keeping it in a room where your cat spends a lot of time.
- Place familiar, soft bedding inside the carrier. Bedding or clothing with your scent can make him feel more secure.
- Place treats, catnip, or toys inside the carrier to encourage your cat to enter it at home. Often, you will first see that treats are removed from the carrier during the night.
- While you’re acclimating your cat to the carrier, don’t coax him to go in. When you do that, your cat may get suspicious.
- You can also use a synthetic feline pheromone spray or wipe in the carrier routinely, which may minimize anxiety associated with the carrier.
- It may take days or weeks before your cat starts to trust the carrier. Remain calm, patient, and reward desired behaviors.
- If you still have trouble, you may need to assess the carrier itself and find a carrier that your cat likes. Your veterinarian can help you with carrier recommendations.
- A new carrier is sometimes important because the stress pheromones released in previous car rides may still be present. At the very least, clean the carrier thoroughly with a non-noxious cleanser, rinse well, and leave in the sun to dry for a day.
2. If You Don’t Have Time to Acclimate Your Cat to the Carrier
While it will make your life easier if you can take the time to acclimate your cat to the carrier, that may not be possible if your cat needs to go to the veterinarian right away. Here are some tips on getting an unwilling cat into the carrier:
- Start by putting the carrier in a small room with few hiding places. Bring your cat into the room and close the door. Move slowly and calmly. Do not chase your cat to get him into the carrier–that could frighten him.
- If your cat will not walk into the carrier, and your carrier has an opening on the top, gently cradle your cat and lower him into the carrier. Another option is to remove the top half of your carrier while getting your cat to go into the bottom half, and then calmly replace the top. It may be necessary to wrap him in a towel to prevent outstretched legs from getting in the way.
- Use familiar bedding inside the carrier. Consider use of synthetic feline facial pheromone (Feliway®) analog spray in the carrier at least 30 minutes prior to transport to help calm your cat.
3. Take a Test Drive
- Once your cat is comfortable in the carrier, take your cat (with a favorite treat, toy or other item from home) for brief test drives.
- Ensure that these drives are positive experiences. You can judge whether the drive is going well by observing your cat. Your cat should look relaxed, quiet, and possibly purr. If your cat looks tense and is yowling loudly, then this drive is not a pleasant experience.
- Initially, only drive a short distance (e.g., one or two blocks). Gradually increase the distance as your cat’s anxiety decreases.
- We hope these drives allow your cat to become comfortable with car travel, and to minimize fear or anxiety by teaching your cat that a ride in the carrier does not always end at the veterinary clinic.
4. Avoid “The Chase”
- Don’t wait until five minutes before you have to leave, and then start pursuing your kitty. This can frighten your cat and make you more likely to get bitten or scratched.
- Instead, if your cat is carrier trained, withhold food for a few hours, and then toss a few pieces of the cat’s favorite treat into the carrier. Your cat should walk right in.
- Otherwise, calmly walk into the room where your cat is sitting, close the doors, pick up your cat, and put him in the carrier just how you practiced when you acclimated your cat to the carrier.
5. Cover the Carrier When Transporting Your Cat to the Car
- Once the cat is in his carrier, cover the carrier with a towel or piece of cloth to block his view of the changing surroundings.
- Carry the carrier with your cat in it (only 1 cat per carrier!) with both arms like a valuable package when transporting to and from the car—this will help him feel safer.
- Practice holding the carrier and move about, see how far you can go without hitting the carrier into anything. It’s important to practice this as the noise and jostling that occurs if you hit the carrier can be stressful for your cat.
6. Securing Your Cat Safely in the Car
- Crash tests have shown that the safest place for the carrier containing your cat is on the floor of your car behind one of the front seats, not on the seat held in by a seatbelt.
- Allowing your cat to roam free within the automobile creates an extremely dangerous scenario for both your cat and you as the driver because your cat is unsecured and, therefore, is subject to severe injury in the event of an accident. Your cat also may interfere with your hands, feet, and vision, thus potentially compromising your ability to safely operate the vehicle.
7. Coming Home From a Trip in a Multi-Cat Household
- Cats are sensitive to smells; unfamiliar smells can result in one cat no longer recognizing another cat returning into the home.
- When your cat returns home from the veterinarian’s office or a trip in general, he will smell different and unfamiliar to other cats in the home.
- Aggressive behavior can occur when one cat senses another as a stranger.
Few other suggestions to help avoid problems between cats following a trip outside the home:
- Leave your returning cat in the carrier for a few minutes to see how all of your other cats react.
- If all cats appear calm and peaceful, let your returning cat out of the carrier.
- If you sense tension between your cats, or if previous home-comings have resulted in conflict, keep your returning cat in the carrier and take him to a separate room to avoid potential injury from an upset cat. Provide food, water, and litter box for a minimum of 24 hours while this cat regains the more familiar smell of home.
- Consider rubbing all the cats with a towel to mix their scents with that of your returning cat.
- If there is still stress after this time, contact your veterinarian for more advice on a slower introduction or medication to help the process.
- For future trips: – Use familiar bedding or clothing with your scent, as it retains the smell of home and helps with reintroduction.
- A synthetic feline pheromone (Feliway®) may help provide the sense of familiarity.