how to calm a cat in a car when traveling

Why don’t cats like cars? 

If you’ve ever tried coaxing your cat into the car for a drive to the vet, it’s a safe bet that you noticed Fluffy’s aversion to road trips. Unlike their canine counterparts, most cats simply dislike traveling in cars.

According to, there are several reasons, based on feline behavioral characteristics, that explain kitty’s distaste for moving transportation.

Cats are primarily creatures of habit and they love their routines, becoming easily stressed when forced to engage in unfamiliar activities.

They are also intensely territorial so new spaces make them cranky and anxious.

Extreme stress and anxiety often lead to motion sickness, a common occurrence in cats that makes the car trip even more unpleasant.

Overall, any sudden change in environment is likely to upset your cat, and this can result in a traumatic event, for both of you.

If you need to hit the road and can’t leave your cat at home, here are some survival tips that might help.

Anxious cats make poor travel companions

So, how can you tell if your cat is not happy? Here are five signs of stress and anxiety in cats that you can look for.

1) Diarrhea: If getting into the car causes a sudden onset of diarrhea, that’s a strong sign kitty isn’t happy.

2) Excessive Licking: Cats love to groom themselves and spend most of the day getting spiffy but frantic and excessive licking when preparing for a car ride can also be a sign of distress.

3) Downturned Ears: A happy cat will hold its ears pointed upward and forward. When their ears point sideways or backward, especially accompanied by a flicking motion, the cat is probably agitated.

4) Excessive Vocalization: Constant meowing might be your cat’s way of objecting to the sudden change in environment and communicating physical distress.

5) Aggression: If Fluffy is hissing, biting and scratching at you, odds are she’d rather stay home.

To learn more about indicators of stress and anxiety in cats and how they can affect their health, check out petMD.

How to avoid car travel with cats

The difficulty in managing an anxious cat makes it worth considering other options whenever possible, with car rides as your last option.

Since most short trips are vet-related, one option to consider is a mobile vet service. Although not available everywhere, this is a fairly popular and growing alternative.

The vet comes to your home so there’s no need to stress your cat. Find more information on mobile vets in your area.

When longer trips are in order, consider in-home care. This can be in the form of a pet sitter who you can pay to come to your home and look after your cat there, or a friend or neighbor who knows the cat and can check in on it daily.

If in-home pet sitting is not an option, pet boarding is another possibility, although less desirable.

When choosing a pet boarding business, you want to make sure the place is licensed and insured and has a good reputation.

You can do this by checking online reviews and make sure to do a physical inspection of the facilities yourself.

Nine things to do for a successful road trip

1) Use a carrier for your pet. Any carrier you choose should have these three characteristics.

Comfort: Make sure the carrier is big enough for your pet to stand and turn around in easily. Your cat should be able to move and stretch freely in the carrier.

Security: Ensure that the closure is secure to prevent kitty from escaping while you are on the road.

Familiarity: It is always a good idea to get your cat familiar with a crate well before you need to travel.

You can do this by exposing the cat to the crate on a regular basis before you need to use it.

This process is called positive conditioning which teaches your pet to associate pleasant feelings with the crate.

The cat is trained by leaving the crate open in a favorite spot in your home. His natural curiosity will eventually lead him to explore the inside of the carrier.

You can give your cat treats while inside the carrier as well. If the cat is free to explore the carrier while it remains open and receives positive reinforcement, it creates a level of comfort.

When traveling, you can place a towel with her scent inside as well as anything with your scent, and her favorite toys to reassure her.

2) Use a seat belt. Prevent the carrier from moving during the trip which can agitate a nervous cat.

3) Use a harness and leash. This will make it easier to manage your pet and move them into and out of the car.

Since wearing a harness and leash can be stressful the first time, look into leash training your cat before you need to travel. Check out for leash training tips.

4) Minimize the effects of motion sickness. Help your cat learn to tolerate car rides by taking him on trips that become progressively longer.

First, get him become accustomed to the car with the engine off. Allow him to rub his scent around the car interior.

When he’s accustomed to being in the car, you can begin staying in the car for short periods with the engine on.

If he tolerates that well, slowly start taking short trips – to the end of the driveway, down the street, around the block. Make sure to reward your cat when he tolerates the trip.

Avoid feeding your cat right before travel. This helps to minimize the risk of vomiting or diarrhea from motion sickness.

For short drives, try to leave a window of at least three hours between giving your cat food and water and departure. On longer trips, consider feeding your cat once a day, in the evenings.

When a little extra intervention is needed, you can consult your vet for motion sickness medication. According to CatHealth, there are several options for medicating your cat.

Tranquilizers like Valium can be helpful but individual cats vary in sensitivity to medication, so there is an element of trial and error in finding the right dose.

Antiemetics like Dramamine are another option for preventing vomiting. Antihistamines containing meclizine (Bonine or Antivert) are more commonly used as anti-nausea medication with the added benefit of having a mild sedative effect to calm your cat.

If you find yourself with a panicked cat and no access to prescription medication, you can use Benadryl or Pepcid AC in a pinch.

John Faught, a DVM and medical director of the Firehouse Animal Health Center in Austin, Texas, recommends doses of one milligram per pound for Benadryl. This would be about half a 25 mg tablet or 4ml in liquid form.

For Pepcid AC, the recommended dosage is 0.25 to 0.5 mg per pound (0.5 to 1.0 mg/kg) every 12 to 24 hours.

5) Natural alternatives to calm your cat. Many cat owners view medicating their pets as a last resort. If you prefer a more natural approach, here are a few suggestions that have a great track record of effectiveness.

Feliway: Cats secrete feline facial pheromones to mark their territory and establish areas as safe and secure.

This is why your cat rubs his face against surfaces. Feliway is a synthetic version of these pheromones. When sprayed in the carrier and the car, it helps cats feel safe and relaxed.

Bach’s Rescue Remedy Pets: This a natural remedy made from spring water infused with wildflowers and is used for its calming effect.

Thundershirt: Based on the same theory as swaddling an infant, these shirts wrap around your pet applying slight pressure and provide a soothing physical effect.

Exercise: Rigorous play and exercise with your cat before a trip can dispel excess energy and reduce the incidence of stress and anxiety.

6) Talk to your cat: Talking to your cat in a soothing tone of voice can be very effective.

7) Stay in sight: Making sure your pet can see you reduce agitation. If possible, you can sit next to her.

8) Touch your pet: Pet your cat while she’s in the carrier.

9) Keep the car at a comfortable temperature: In hot climates, make sure the animal is in an area with freely circulating air and the temperature is cool enough for comfort.

Never leave your cat alone in a hot car as they are very vulnerable to overheating quickly. In cold weather, bring a warm blanket for your cat.

Although cats do not naturally travel well, you can minimize your pet’s distress by familiarizing him with the environment, understanding the symptoms of distress and how to treat them, and being prepared.

Watch this video for more tips on how to set up your car for safe cat travel and a checklist of basic supplies.