Beep, beep! How does your cat react to a drive in the car?
Whether you're driving a short distance to the vet or going on an extended road trip, there are times when your cat needs to come along for the ride. Unlike dogs, who can't wait to feel the wind whip through their fur as they stick their head out the window, cats prefer to stay in an environment they know (I guess that's why they're called "creatures of habit"). Even though it can be difficult, getting your cat used to traveling in cars comfortably can be done. After all, you want your cat to be comfortable in your car, and an unhappy, stressed out kitty in a moving vehicle will always turn out poorly.
Here are a few tips to follow the next time your cat needs to ride shotgun:
The sooner, the better
Training always goes smoother when it's started young. The same goes for getting your cat used to a moving car. Kittens can adjust to the experience and will adapt to the strange movement without becoming overly stressed. However, adult cats can still be trained to tolerate being in a car—it just might take a bit longer and need extra incentive.
A comfortable cat carrier
Don't let your cat move freely in the car, ever! Imagine how many accidents would be caused if a super-stressed cat went nuts while you were driving. Chaos would ensue. Get your cat in the habit of hanging out in a carrier, and not just when it's time to visit the vet. Make it as comfortable as possible—the ideal carrier would be soft sided, cushioned with blankets and accompanied with a cat nip toy. Leave the carrier out when you're not at home for your cat to explore on his own. It'll be much easier to persuade him to get into it if he doesn't see it as a threat.
There are many natural products on the market that can calm your frazzled kitty. Bach Flower Essences are natural remedies, commonly prescribed by holistic veterinarians, and won’t cause any side effects. You've probably heard of Rescue Remedy, the go-to Bach Flower Essence for stressed pets (including car rides). If you go with Rescue Remedy, start administering drops up to a day before your trip. You can then continue giving your cat drops at regular intervals, as well as during the journey. Keep an eye out for your cat's response to the remedy; if it's going well, you can decrease the amount given.
Taken orally, your cat will take about four to eight drops at a time. If your cat won't take them with the dropper, you can opt to hide some into your cat’s wet food or water bowl.
There are also products you can apply topically, usually on your cat's ears and head. And try spraying the essences in your cat's carrier before heading out for that extra zen-like environment.
It's all about practice
Most cats won't feel comfortable the first time around. That's why you need to keep practicing. Starting out, you won't even leave the driveway. Bring your cat into the car and strap the carrier to the seat, just as if you were going for a ride. Sit next to the carrier in the backseat and make sure your cat is calm. Once your cat shows that he’s at ease, give him a treat. Like any type of training session, keep it short and end on a high note. Follow this routine on a continuous basis, until your cat can go for longer periods of time in a calm state, waiting for his treat.
After you've reached a state of consistent calm, it’s time to test him with the engine on, following the same reward system for remaining calm. Next up is the actual drive. Start with short trips, driving a little further away from home each time. Eventually, your cat will be used to highway and city drives, with all of the twists and turns that come with any length of road trip.
A happy cat makes for a happy human, and even if your kitty never fully adjusts to car rides, the key is to at least get your pet to the point that he isn’t overly stressed by the experience.
Amy Tokic is the Editor of Petguide.com, the flagship site to over 70 different pet communities, which offers pet parents a one-stop-info-shop for all things dog and cat related. Amy's been with PetGuide since the beginning, guided by the wisdom of her Shih Tzu mix and furry roommate, Oscar. Together, this pet power couple has their paw on the pulse of the pet industry, sniffing out trends, advice, news, tasty treat recipes and other tail-wagging stories.