If you are planning to travel with your cat and have concerns about how to best alleviate stress in your feline companion, we have compiled a list of suggestions to make your journey happier for both of you.
Cats enjoy things that are familiar. One of the best ways to start with reducing travel stress is getting your cat familiar and comfortable with the carrier. Ensure your carrier is sturdy and in good condition. Large hard plastic carriers are great for long car trips, as they allow extra room for bedding, toys, and for cats to stretch out. They can also be secured to the seat using the seatbelt for better safety. If you are flying with your cat, check with the airline ahead of time for requirements for the size of the carrier. Generally, it is better to fly with your cat in the cabin rather than putting them in cargo. Cargo spaces can be loud and frightening for cats, and there is usually no way to monitor your cat in cargo. If your cat must fly in cargo, purchase a large hard plastic carrier that will allow extra bedding and comfort items for your cat, and label it well with your contact information and destination to prevent loss or mishaps.
Once you have your carrier, keep it out and available in the cat’s environment at all times. Introduce the carrier several weeks before travel to allow your cat to become familiar with it. Add familiar bedding to the carrier and leave the door open at all times so that the cat can go in and out of it as desired. You can also put treats, catnip, and special toys in the carrier to make it a happy place for your cat. It can also be very helpful to spray the bedding and inside of the carrier with Feliway®, which is a calming feline facial pheromone product. Feliway® is a natural way to reduce your cat’s anxiety about the carrier and make it feel like a safe space. Do not force your cat into the carrier, as this may frighten your cat and create an unhappy association with the carrier. It may take days to weeks for your cat to become comfortable with the carrier, to be patient and start as early as you can with this part of the process.
When your travel date arrives, try to be calm. Cats can sense our anxiety and frustrations, which can cause them to be fearful and anxious. If you feel that your cat may benefit from something to help calm him on the day of travel, then we recommend using natural calming supplements, such as Zylkène® or Bio-Calm®. These supplements contain hydrolyzed milk protein (casein) which has been shown to reduce stress reactions in cats. These supplements need to be given orally about 1 hour before travel for best results. We also recommend spraying the inside of the carrier with Feliway® about 30-60 minutes before you leave. Do not spray the carrier and put the cat in immediately, as the spay will be overpowering for the cat and will be a deterrent for entering the carrier. You can put a few treats and toys into the carrier with your cat, but try not to give too much food, in case your cat develops any motion sickness. Water dishes inside carriers tend to spill, which leaves your cat sitting in uncomfortable wet bedding, so it is usually best to wait until you reach your destination, or can stop in a safe, enclosed space to allow your cat to have a drink of water. If your cat is likely to urinate in the carrier, you can purchase absorbent flat diaper pads at pet stores and line the bottom of the carrier to keep it as clean and dry as possible.
If you are planning to allow your cat out of the carrier at any point during your travel, be sure to have a harness and leash on your cat at all times, and have your cat already familiar with the harness and leash well before your travel date. If you are traveling by car and are letting your cat out of the carrier in the car, do not open the car door with the cat loose in the vehicle. Cats can easily become frightened and bolt out of a carrier, a vehicle or out of your arms and be lost in an unfamiliar place, with tragic results. It is safer to keep the carrier closed during the entire travel period to avoid problems and allow the cat out once you have reached your destination. Generally, if your travel time is 12 hours or less, it should be possible to keep the carrier closed for the entire trip.
If your cat is prone to motion sickness and vomiting during travel, speak with your veterinarian. There are effective medications that can be prescribed to prevent motion sickness and nausea. If you feel that your cat requires a sedative or anti-anxiety medication for travel, discuss this with your veterinarian to see if this is appropriate for your cat’s state of health.
We wish you happy, stress-free and safe travels with your purring passenger!
Written by Tiffany Lennox, DVM