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My cat hates car rides – What Can I do?

The cat hates car rides would definitely fall into the stressful category. It can also be very stressful for cat parents watching their cat suffering from anxiety in the car. Not good for anyone.

You’re not alone and yet many people take their cat on long car trips so there must be a solution. Not all cats hate car rides.

two cats in cat carriers
Two cats ready for a journey

Why Do Cats Hate Car Rides

If your cat hates car rides and the cat’s only car journey is to visit the vet, the cat will quite likely be anxious as he has the car ride to contend with and visiting the vet.

Cats become anxious easily and any change in routine or an unfamiliar situation can unsettle a cat, even a cat who normally is quite placid.

It is also possible that the cat doesn’t like the noise of being inside the car and for some cats it may also be the movement.

Some cats can suffer from motion sickness. Observe your cat to see if he displays any of the indicators which are further explained in the article from VCA.

excessive vocalization (loud meowing or howling), pacing and restlessness, excessive licking of lips, excessive drooling, lethargy or inactivity, vomiting, diarrhea


How To Help Your Cat Get Used To Car Rides

What can we do to help the cat get used to car rides? Let’s make any journey in the car with the cat as stress free as possible? It might even become enjoyable. 

My cat hates car rides may soon become, my cat loves car rides.

Some or all of the following points may apply to your situation.

Emotional Issues – Is That You Or The Cat?

Let’s deal with emotions first.  Does the cat pick up on the fact that you may be feeling anxious? If you are feeling anxious about the anticipated car journey because of prior bad experiences, the cat will pick up on your anxiety.

Cats can become anxious in seconds and it can take a long, long time to calm them again, so a calm demeanour is essential.

Thinking along the lines of “the poor cat” is not helpful. We can almost reinforce the idea of ‘my cat hates car rides’ without actually meaning to do that. Use a soft, calm voice when talking to the cat. 

Some people prefer to go to a veterinarian clinic that only treats cats.  There is one near us called The Cat Hospital. You may be surprised to find a cat clinic near you.

How To Coax The Cat Into The Cat Carrier

The Basics:

  • Ensure the carrier is  sturdy, stable and easy to carry.

  • The door should be easy to open and won’t give the cat a fright when opening and closing.

  • A front opening and a top opening is preferable.

  • A removable top is ideal because the top can be removed while at the vet and the cat can stay in the lower half while the vet begins the examination. This is particularly helpful for sick cats, or elderly cats or cats that are fearful.

  • Make sure that you’re familiar with the way the carrier is put together so that you are not struggling on the day with unfamiliar latches.

  • Some cats prefer to be covered with a blanket while others prefer to see out.

  • A standard sized carrier will be appropriate for most cats. You should be able to carry the carrier easily with the cat inside without it being too cumbersome.

  • Consider a larger carrier if your cat is a large cat breed.
cat carrier front view
cat carrier side view

Encouraging The Cat Into The Cat Carrier

This is a step by step process. Start off with number 1 and keep on going until the cat is okay with the carrier. Don’t rush the process.

  1. Leave the carrier for the cat to explore on his own, just as he might explore a cardboard box.
  2. Make sure that the carrier is in a safe location out of the way of traffic and young children. 
  3. If possible the carrier should be in a quiet place where the cat feels safe and secure. Put the carrier in a warm place as cats gravitate to warm places.
  4. The carrier needs to be stable, any unexpected movement may scare the cat. Have a look around your home and find a good location.
  5. Leave the door open to tempt the cat inside. Leave the top off completely.
  6. Place treats or cat grass inside the carrier.  When the cat first enters the carrier immediately offer another treat. You can even offer some meals inside the carrier.
  7. Use a feather toy to entice the cat into the carrier.  Let the cat catch its prey every now and then.
  8. Once the cat has some familiarity with the carrier, the door can be closed and the carrier covered with a blanket.
  9. Cats like this security and it may calm an anxious cat to have the carrier covered with a blanket.

It may take several weeks of training for your cat to feel safe and secure with entering and exiting the carrier.

Now it is time to get used to being in the car

The cat is now used to being in the carrier with the door closed and blanket or towel over the top. 

  1. Take the carrier to the car and secure with a seatbelt.
  2. Close the door.  Leave the cat in the car for one or two minutes and then remove the carrier and go back inside.
  3. Increase the time the cat is left in the car. Eventually go for a short ride.
  4. Use a pheromone if you think it is needed.

Note: Check that the handle of the cat carrier is in good condition and not cracked. Don’t necessarily rely on the handle to pick up the carrier.  A safer way may be to carry the box from underneath.  The handles have been known to break and if this happens it will certainly cause distress for everyone.

Cats actually do like a secure closed container. We know what they are like with boxes so being in the cat carrier is not going to feel cramped for them.

From an early age, take your cat in the car, properly secured in a carrier so that the cat becomes used to the sensation of car travel. It will then be associated with a normal thing to do and not necessarily just when a trip to the vet is needed.

No Carrier? How About This One?

The perfect solution when you don’t have a carrier

This brilliant cardboard cat carrier can arrive at your home in a matter of hours.  If you have an appointment at the vet or about to make one and don’t have a cat carrier, order one of these cardboard carriers.

It is a bona fide pet carrier.  It is made from sturdy cardboard and has a built in handle.  It is a no frills product and not meant to be a permanent replacement but can certainly be used multiple times. 

For all sorts of reasons we may need a temporary cat carrier and this is a good solution.  To make the handle last longer try wrapping it with duct tape. 

As explained, use a pet blanket or towel folded inside the carrier and have some kitty treats at hand to persuade kitty to enter the box.

Synthetic Pheromone

A synthetic pheromone can be used to calm the cat.  It is usd when a cat is stressed, fearful or generally anxious.

It is used to spray onto surfaces, eg bedding to relieve symptoms of stress and send calming messages.

Some veterinarians use this in the clinic to coax an anxious cat back into the cat carrier. Spray inside the carrier  and specifically onto the folded towel or blanket 15 to 30 minutes before using the carrier for travel. Feliway is a synthetic product  but mimics natural pheromones. 

cat looking out of open door in carrier

Choose The Best Kind Of Carrier For The Car

Both hard sided and soft sided carriers can be used with seatbelts.  The main difference between the two is the rigid construction as opposed to soft construction. Rigid offers more protection from unseen circumstances such as heavy objects or being squeezed into a space that is too small.

Some cats do not like the instability of being carried in a soft sided carrier, particularly if they shift their weight. In this case a rigid floor structure as found in a hard sided carrier would be preferable.

In An Emergency

The situation may arise where you have to take the cat to the vet, have never used the carrier and the cat does not want to get into the carrier.  You will need a bath towel.

In this case, from behind the cat,  use the towel to totally cover the cat. In one fluid motion, scoop up the cat with your hands under the shoulders and your arms along firmly along the body of the cat.  The towel will naturally fold underneath and the cat will be enveloped. Immediately place the cat and the towel into the carrier.  

Before you start this procedure, ensure that the carrier is placed with the door open or the roof off, so that it is one quick movement.  Any delays and the cat will in all likelihood escape, possibly disappearing and out of reach.

This video shows the technique perfectly. It is all about the timing with no hesitation.

Many people have to take their cats across the country or elect to go on road trips with their cat so there is a way to  make it okay. 

I love this story about this guy and his trip around Australia with his cat. It shows that cats can travel whether that is a short journey or a long one.

I know, two videos but all up they are combined just over 3 minutes and well worth watching, both of them.

It does take time for the cat to adjust and although the instructions and tips for success may seem lengthy, they are not really when tackled bit by bit. Give it time to work. Let us know our progress.

cats travelling in the car
If it makes you happy, I’ll get in the carrier. A few treats and my blankie please.

Further cat Behavior reading

Why do cats stare at the wall? What is going on there that we don’t know about?

Does your cat headbutt you? WE humans tend to like this a it shows that the cat thinks we are okay after all.

Cats do knock things over, off shelves, off the mantlepiece and the kitchen bench.

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