Most cats are not great travellers and even a short trip to the vet can be a source of enormous stress. This is usually expressed loudly and plaintively; but can also be seen in quiet cats that are breathing faster than usual, or salivating (this can be due to nausea or stress).
For many of us, the need to reassure our cats is hard to ignore. However, while ensuring their comfort is important, your cat’s safety is the most critical aspect of any travel. For this reason, it is not advisable to allow your cat to be loose in the car; or to be carried in your arms once you arrive at your destination. Even placid cats can behave very differently when frightened and will try to escape. Here are eight tips for making road trips a little easier for everyone:
1. Invest in a good, secure cat carrier. There is a wide array of options and preferences vary, but some factors are worth bearing in mind:
Carriers that have detachable roofs are useful in a veterinary situation because they allow the option of the cat staying in the box while being examined, which can help them to feel secure.
A wire mesh door or window allows for good ventilation and to see outside, and is preferable to an all wire cage, which can be hard on cats’ feet and also make cats feel very exposed and vulnerable.
Cardboard boxes, the go-to carrier in a pinch, are not ideal for several reasons. They are more difficult to secure; they can become flimsy if wet (ie. if your cat has an accident); and they are not well ventilated or lit, which is bound to make any trip unpleasant.
2. Secure the carrier firmly so that it cannot move around during the journey.
3. Place a favourite blanket into the carrier if possible. This will help to create a sense of familiarity and comfort.
4. Pheromones are your friend! The F3 pheromone (such as Feliway®) is involved in creating emotional stability in an environment. A spray used on the cat carrier may be a good option to keep your cat feeling as relaxed as possible. (For more on this take a look at our blog, Pheromones - What, Why and How We Can Use Them.)
5. If your cat becomes very stressed during travel speak to your vet about if there are drugs or calming supplements that may help. There are options of varying strength that can be used as mild sedatives. Bear in mind that stronger drugs can be dangerous to use without veterinary supervision, so usually those offered will just take the edge off. There are also very efficient options for alleviating the nausea associated with travel sickness, which can be helpful.
6. If you are just going on a short drive it is preferable to leave water out of the carrier as it may spill. One thing that can make any road trip infinitely worse for a cat is a bath at the same time!
7. Leaving the carrier out and freely accessible at times allows your cat to become accustomed to it. Keep the door open; and encourage them to explore it by leaving treats or catnip inside. Most cats have a natural love of boxes, but the carrier will have negative associations if used in stressful situations only.
8. Practice makes perfect. Starting young with acclimating your cat to the car is first prize, but older cats will also benefit. The occasional short drive around the block can be immensely helpful, not only for making car trips more routine; but also because these trips can end with treats and praise, rather than a waiting room full of other animals and a vet visit. Just imagine - if people got an injection every time they drove a car, there would be a lot less traffic!
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