With the holiday season in full swing, many of us find ourselves doing a lot more driving outside of our usual workflow. We are visiting friends and family all over the country.
Some of us make quicker nips like from one county to the other while others of us might be driving longer distances cross-country.
Of course, especially during this time, it is only natural that we want to bring our feline friends with us. They are family too!
The only problem is, that, despite our best intentions, they are not always used to the car which makes them afraid and nervous. Their only encounters might be a quick trip to the vet which might enforce bad memories in the first place is they may have been sick during the ride.
Once you start driving, you might notice your cat gets more vocal, starts vomiting or shows other signs that it is NOT alright. Before you start to panic, I want to assure you that there is a lot that you can do for your cat.
It is likely experiencing a case of cat (or feline) car sickness. The good news is that it is easily treated and can even be prevented with a little bit of extra care.
So let’s spend a couple of minutes discussing your cat’s condition and what you can do to help it feel more at ease and comfortable.
Signs of Cat Car Sickness
Like with any other illness, car sickness in cats has its signs as well. The most obvious one is vomiting but does not be fooled, there are some less obvious signs that your cat might be suffering in the back seat or floorboard.
Pet Health Network says some other signs you need to look for are lip licking, heavy drooling, vocalizations like loud meowing or screams, anxiety or nervous behavior like pacing or trying to escape the carrier, urination or defecation (pooping), and acting mallow, frozen or strange.
What Causes Cat Car Sickness?
There are many reasons that your cat might be experiencing car sickness. A common reason might simply be that your cat is experiencing motion sickness due to having a very sensitive inner ear mechanism which affects its equilibrium and balance.
It may also be under a lot of stress and anxiety from leaving its normal home environment and entering into a totally foreign one.
It may also be stressed because of the sound of your vehicle engine either because it does not know what it is or because it is likely much louder to your cat’s excellent hearing.
Preventative Measures Against Car Sickness
The old saying goes, ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’ and in the case of your cat’s car sickness, this can be true. Getting your cat used to be in motion during car rides in a carrier before you actually have to go for a drive might be the best thing you can do for you, your cat and your car’s upholstery.
Adventure Cats suggests that although some cats might be more prone to car sickness if you get it used to car rides and traveling, the symptoms it experiences are likely to be less severe if at all.
They suggest that you first get your cat used to the carrier first. You can do this by leaving it opened on the floor in a safe place on the floor of your home.
Encourage your cat to spend time in it by putting food or its favorite treats in it. You can also help make it feel more comfortable by adding a blanket or pillow and spraying a couple pumps of Feliway inside.
Once your cat is used to the carrier, carry it inside the carrier to the car. Do not turn on the engine at this point because you are getting your cat used to your car’s environment. The engine is a whole other thing that it will need to get adjusted to.
Do the above for several days until your cat is comfortable with the entire process. You will know this because it will be calm and only be moving from the moving carrier not nervous movements like pacing, scratching to get out, etc.
Once your cat is completely comfortable with the above, then you can turn on the engine let it run for a few minutes. Do this for a couple of days before you start to drive.
You can see that this is quite a lengthy process. But it will be well worth your efforts to have a cat that will have happy rides in the car for many years to come!
Tips To Keep Your Cat Happy In The Car
Sometimes things that we do can either cause or attribute negatively to a condition. For instance, being hungry for a long time tends to make us cranky.
When dealing with your cat, the same rules apply so I want to share with you some tips that Adventure Cat has given us to help make our cats feel more comfortable in the car.
Do not travel during your cat’s feeding time. Cats who are not hungry are less likely to experience car sickness. Do not feed your cat just before leaving but make sure that they are not hungry either.
Align your cat’s carrier so that it faces forward with the direction that your car drives.
Turn on the air conditioner to keep your cat cool and comfortable. Heat alone can make you feel nauseous let alone adding nerves and anxiety in the mix!
Bring some of your cat’s favorite toys and treats. The familiar items will help your cat feel more comfortable in an unfamiliar environment or location.
Do not blast music or any other media through your car’s sound system, TV, etc. The sounds will likely be foreign to your cat which will only add more anxiety to their consciousness. And if you and other passengers are playing multiple sounds on multiple devices, the clashing of sounds can be a mix of bad vibes for your cat.
Consult with your vet about medications or treatments you might be able to give your cat to help it feel more calm and comfortable. We discuss this in more detail further in this guide.
Make frequent stops to let your cat have a break from being in its carrier. You can even get a leash to let it stretch its limbs and body while getting some fresh air which will help relieve your cat’s nausea.
Pet Care Rx also suggests that you start with short trips in the car first before taking longer ones like road trips. Start by driving around the block or to a cat-friendly place that is close to your home like PetSmart. (I know Lowe’s lets dogs in but I’m not 100% sure about cats. You can check your local establishment because rules can be different in different states, counties, and countries.)
It is also a good idea to keep a calm environment within the car. If you have a disagreement or need to get your kids straight about something, let it go for the time being and deal with the situation later. I can assure you that I know the feeling but always remember and consider your cat’s feelings when handling situations too.
What Can You Give A Cat That Gets Car Sick?
According to Cat Health, there are three ways that you can treat your cat’s car sickness. They are medications, natural remedies and/or desensitization.
It is important to note that you should not try to give your cat any form of treatment before consulting with a veterinarian. Also, do not use human or other pet forms of similar sounding medications because cats are very sensitive to a lot of substances, many of which are found in human medications.
That being said, I’m a huge believer of being properly informed so we will discuss some of the medications that your cat’s vet might recommend as viable treatment options.
Tranquilizers are used to reduce tension and anxiety. These include medications that will sedate your cat like Acepromazine and Diazepam (Valium).
Antihistamines are given to your cat because they sometimes produce a relaxing effect. They will also help reduce nausea so that your cat does not puke all over your car. Meclizine (Bonine or Antivert) are antihistamines.
Antiemetics are anti-vomiting medications. When given to your cat before the car ride, it might help it to not vomit while in the car. Some common Antiemetics are Dimenhydrinate (Dramamine), Maropitant (Cerenia) and Chlorpromazine.
I am a big advocate for natural remedies because the products that you are giving your cat are less harmful aside from allergies. Some products your vet might recommend are Feliway, Ginger extract, Cocculus, aconitum, flower essence, and Rescue Remedy.
Feliway is a natural chemical in feline pheromone that cats find very calming. Just spray a couple of pumps in your cat’s carrier 10 – 15 minutes before you are ready to leave.
Ginger extract can be used to help ease the symptoms of car sickness. It is unclear how much to give your cat so be sure to consult a vet before giving any to your cat.
For Cocculus and aconitum, 1800PetMeds recommend 30c, 15 minutes before you leave and up to two doses twice every 30 – 60 minutes. Both are good at reducing nausea, vomiting, and anxiety associated with feline car sickness.
Flower essence and Rescue Remedy are herbal remedies that you can give directly to your cat or put it in its water to minimize symptoms. Use either every 15 minutes as needed.
Since most cases of cat car sickness are due to anxiousness, you might just be the best tool in your tool belt. By helping your cat to feel more comfortable in the car, you can potentially reduce or eliminate its car sickness.
Some things that Cat Health suggests you try are:
- Start taking your cat for rides in the car as a kitten. This will increase the chances that it will adjust to being in the carrier in the car.
- Get your cat comfortable in the carrier before you start taking it for rides in the car. This way your cat will only have to get used to one extra thing instead of compiling two new ‘scary’ things on top of each other. Remember you know the carrier is safe but that does not mean your cat feels the same way and likewise with your car.
- Spray your cat’s carrier with Feliway 10 minutes before you are ready to go.
Put your cat in the carrier butt first. This way, you will not have to fight your cat to get into its carrier so it will feel calmer.
VCA Hospital also suggests that you make your cat feel more comfortable by including familiar smells in its kennel. Do this by putting one of your t-shirts or piece of clothing in your cat’s carrier while in the car. This will help it associate your smell with the new experiences and smells it is coming into contact with.
As you can see, dealing with cat car sickness can be tricky at first but once you learn what products and techniques it becomes more manageable.
Since you are reading this guide it’s likely that your cat is already experiencing car sickness but going forward, if you get any more cats, try to get them used to be in the car before you have to take it anywhere like to the vet or a surprise road trip.
Do not wait until you actually need to take your cat for a drive to figure out if it gets car sick. Start getting your cat acclimated to its carrier, your car and driving right away even if it is just for a drive around the block.
Most importantly, if your cat continues to experience car sickness, do not hesitate to contact its vet for treatment options. Remember, do not give your cat any substance before vet consultation because cats are very sensitive to a lot of things that do not adversely affect humans or even dogs.