Stress-Free Travel With Your Cat

June 2, 2015

We all know that regular health care for your cat is essential for longer, healthier and happier life. However, many cats do not receive this important veterinary care because, for some of our feline friends, the stress involved in getting them to the clinic can seem to overshadow the benefits of the care they receive once there.

Quite honestly, traveling with a cat to the veterinary clinic may not always be a picnic. It can often begin with a hide-and-seek game to round up the cat. Somehow, they seem to know what's happening and will run to hide under the bed or other hard-to-retrieve place right before it is time to leave. Once the cat is found, there is still the task of getting them into the cat carrier. It can seem as if they have suddenly gained four extra legs that latch onto everything in sight. Once safely secured in their carrier, there is still the car ride to be made to the clinic, which can involve miles of vocal protests and, sometimes, stress-related bodily emissions. But there is hope for our feline friends. While it is true that some cats will never become world travelers, taking your cat for a car trip or visit to the veterinarian doesn't have to be traumatic. Here are some tips that can make traveling with your cat less stressful for everyone. 

The first step in reducing the stress of travel is to help your cat become accustomed to their carrier. Creating a positive association between your cat and the carrier is essential in reducing their stress when it comes time to travel in the car to the veterinary clinic or other destination. If your cat only experiences the carrier for their yearly visits to the veterinarian, they are more likely to resist it. Start by leaving the carrier open in a room where your cat spends a lot of time, allowing them to explore around and in it on their own. A good way to encourage this exploration is to offer a few treats or sprinkle some catnip inside the carrier. Patience is the key here: it may take a few weeks before they are comfortable exploring the carrier. Continue to reward them with treats when they are sitting near or exploring inside the carrier; you can even incorporate playtime with a favorite wand toy in and around the carrier. Adding a plush blanket or placing a beloved bed inside is another way to establish a positive association for your cat. Given enough time, you might come home to find your cat contentedly napping inside.

If your cat needs to go to the veterinarian soon, but is not yet comfortable with their carrier, try putting them and the carrier in a small room with few hiding places. Again, offer a favorite treat or catnip toy in the carrier, which may encourage them to enter it on their own. If those don't entice your cat and your carrier has an opening at the top, try gently cradling your cat and lowering them into the carrier. You can also wrap them loosely in a towel before lowering them into the carrier. A similar method is to remove the top half of the carrier and place your cat in the bottom, then slowly place the top back on.

The next step for peaceful travel is to get your cat comfortable with the car ride. We know that cats prefer routine that is familiar and predictable. Their stress increases when events disrupt their daily routine, such as a car ride. For many cats, the only time they are inside a car is to travel to the veterinary clinic, which then creates a negative association between two unfamiliar events. One way to help your cat become comfortable with car travel is to start with very short, 5-minute trips. You can gradually increase these trips as your cat becomes more familiar and comfortable with them, increasing the time spent in the car. Once you have increased the time spent in the carrier and the car, you may want to stop by the veterinarian's office for a brief visit when there is not an actual exam scheduled. The goal is to associate cars, and trips to the veterinary clinic, with a positive experience—catnip toys and treats are a wonderful way to assist with this. For some cats, additional items may be beneficial in creating a stress-free car trip. Calming treats and sprays, both available at Cats Exclusive, can greatly reduce a cat's anxiety while traveling to the veterinary clinic.

So, while it is true that some cats may never be perfectly content traveling long distances in their carrier or the car, following the tips above will go a long way towards reducing your cat's stress level and making trips to the veterinary clinic more pleasant for all.