Tips for Taking Your Cat on a Road Trip (Without Arguing That They Enjoyed It)
To say "no thanks, I'll stay home," cats have their own unique way of doing so. Whether it's the noise they make in the car or their reluctance to get into the carrier, many cats have a strong aversion to car travel.
Most cat people probably have wondered if there are actually cats who like car rides. It's hard to picture a world in which cats are willing to get in the car, much less enjoy it, given all the hiding and meowing that occurs in the days leading up to a vet visit. Experts say cats can be trained to tolerate car rides by associating a pleasant experience with their carrier and the car. It's possible that your cat can become your trusty co-pilot with just a little bit of training and the aid of his favorite treat. So, fasten your seatbelts, because we've teamed up with two experts in cat behavior to figure out how to make those exciting rides more bearable for everyone.
It's important to know what's going on with a cat's mind before trying to change its ways. Think about your cat's past experiences riding in cars to understand why they react negatively to them. We associate long car rides with the dreaded experience of taking our pets to the vet. Your cat may experience a complete sensory overload due to the negative association, the motion of the car, and the new sights, sounds, and smells associated with the trip. According to Shannen McNee, CCBC at The Toronto Humane Society, this could be why your feline friend hates car rides so much. The situation, however, need not persist in this form. McNee claims that with some practice, driving can become more relaxing.
How do you get your cat to enjoy car rides, or at least tolerate them on the way to the vet? Training your cat to ride in the car begins at home, according to LeeAnna Buis, CFTBS at Feline Behavior Solutions. It's possible that your cat is more anxious about the carrier than the car, as Buis points out. Your cat can learn to enjoy being in the carrier with some desensitization and positive reinforcement using high-value rewards (like their favorite treats or toys).
McNee recommends the following methods for acclimating your cat to his carrier:
- You can help your cat get used to the carrier by leaving it out in the open. Place his favorite blanket inside to make it feel more like home.
- Rewarding your cat with treats and feeding him inside the carrier will help him become more comfortable spending time in there. It's also a good idea to play with your cat while it's inside the carrier.
- You can get your cat used to being in his carrier by closing the door for brief periods of time and then letting him out to enjoy a treat. Increase the duration of the door being closed gradually.
- As soon as he settles in the carrier with the door closed, begin picking it up for brief periods of time. Exactly where do you plan on traveling to first? Take him for a stroll around the block while he's in the carrier
Buis suggests gradually introducing your cat to car rides inside his carrier after he has learned to associate it with positive interactions and as a cozy place to take a nap. "First, just sit in the car in the driveway," Buis suggests. Start the car after a few of these sessions." Then you can proceed to letting it idle for a while, backing out of the driveway, driving forward again, etc. "
Finally, Buis advises paying close attention to how you reward your cat. Always remember the importance of praise, as Buis advises: Your cat will be more enthusiastic about taking car rides again if you reward it with lots of attention and treats after each trip.
Your cat may be panting in the car for a number of reasons, the most common of which is to cool down. McNee suggests that anxiety may be one of these factors. McNee offers advice on how to keep your cat quiet in the car:
- Rub your cat's cheeks with socks or small cloths to release some of their familiar scent, and then place them in the car.
- Put on some music that your cat likes. True story: there's music made especially to soothe feline companions (and it works great on us, too). David Teie, a composer, made an album called Music for Cats that features classical, species-specific music that has been shown to alleviate stress in felines.
- To prevent your cat from freaking out, spray a calming pheromone like Feliway inside the car and carrier to mimic the scent that mothers naturally emit while nursing their kittens.
Buis has three words of advice for long car rides with your cat: practice, practice, practice. Buis recommends preparing your cat for the car rides ahead of time by taking it on short rides and gradually increasing the length of the rides as your cat grows accustomed to them.
McNee and Buis suggest meticulously plotting out your entire itinerary. McNee suggests calling ahead to hotels to make sure they accept cats, and planning your route to include frequent stops for water and elimination.
SEE ALSO: 9 Helpful Relocation Hints for Cats
It's also a good idea to give your car's equipment a test drive before setting out on a long trip. To prepare your cat for its next trip, we have compiled a list of items that may come in handy.
Make sure your cat's carrier is roomy enough for him to stand up and change positions comfortably. Buis advises, "Look for carriers designed specifically to be strapped or belted-in for security."
McNee recommends getting a harness with a seatbelt loop if your cat has been properly harness trained for adventures and is a fan of car rides.
Click here to learn how to put a cat harness on without getting mauled!
The best way to prevent cat hair, kitty vomit, muddy paws, and anything else your cat may track into your car is with a seat cover.
McNee suggests consulting a veterinarian "if your cat is prone to motion sickness or anxiety" to see if any appropriate medications can be prescribed.
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