We all love our cats but the thought of traveling with them can be incredibly stressful. Cats love to be in control of their environment, so being put in a small cat carrier surrounded by unfamiliar engine sounds and movements can cause high levels of feline stress, cat anxiety, and fear. Especially when they have no idea what’s going on! Cat travel anxiety can show as:
- Urinating or defecating
- Excessive salivation
- Excessive whining or vocalizations
So, how can you keep your cat calm during car rides? The key is training. However, you will also want to have a few other supplies ready, such as:
- The best cat carrier for a scared cat
- Cat calming products such as pheromone sprays
- Tasty cat calming treats to aid training
- Plenty of time and patience
If your cat is particularly nervous in the car, you may also want to consider speaking to your vet about medicine to calm cats for travel. Let’s run through these points now and give you the specifics you need to make informed choices that will help to soothe your scared cat in the car.
The Best Cat Carrier For Scared Cats
Getting the right carrier is the first step to calming a scared cat during travel. There are so many different carriers on the market today, which can be a little overwhelming! However, here are the basics you need to consider depending on your cat’s size, and temperament:
Soft vs Hard Cat Carrier
Hard-sided cat carriers tend to be much sturdier as they are made from durable plastic with metal doors. They also tend to have more room on the inside which makes them a good option for larger or heavier cats. They often contain food and water holders which makes them great for long-distance travel. However, you will need to ensure you add a non-slip mat to the inside of the carrier because cats can easily slide around during travel.
Soft-sided carriers come in a range of forms from backpacks to luggage-style carriers. Many smaller cats feel cozier and safer in these carriers because the material molds to their shape somewhat. For cat owners, they are also easier to carry because they are much more lightweight compared to hard-sided options.
Soft-sided cat carriers are generally made from sturdy polyester, nylon, or microfibre which can cope with the weight of most cats. However, be aware that some designs can be prone to ripping if you have a cat that’s desperate to get out!
Cat Carrier Size and Weight Limit
Aside from design, you need to make sure the cat carrier you purchase is suitable for the size of your cat. Most products will have a recommended suitable weight range and maximum weight limit which will be detailed in the product specifications. Make sure your cat is somewhere in the middle of that range and not right at the very top of it.
There are even cat carriers specifically designed for large cat breeds such as Maine Coons and Siberians. For example, the Reerooh Large Pet Carrier has a maximum weight limit of 55 lbs (24 kg) and is made from heavy-duty materials.
When it comes to size, always make sure your cat has enough room to turn around, stand up, and lay down comfortably. On the other end of the scale, you also need to make sure the carrier isn’t too large as this will cause your cat to slide around during travel which will just increase their anxiety further.
Top Opening Cat Carrier or Front?
All cat carriers will have at least one opening at the front, to allow you to get your cat in and out. However, if you have a particularly scared cat, you may want to look for a carrier with multiple entrances and exits. Many cat carriers also have a completely removable top section, which gives you much more room to get your cat inside. For example, the FERPLAST Jet Value Cat & Dog Carrier has four buckle clips that can easily be unlocked to allow the whole top half to be removed from the bottom half of the carrier. This function will also make it much easier to train your cat to like the carrier because it won’t look like an uninviting dark and scary space.
Ventilation is Vital
Choose a cat carrier that has mesh sides or one that has at least two openings. This will prevent your cat from overheating during travel. Some cat carriers have mesh all around the sides for easier visibility, whereas others are more enclosed and private. Whichever one you go with will depend on the personality and needs of your cat.
Ease of Cleaning
This is for your convenience. Make sure the floor mats can be removed and washed, and that the sides of the carrier are easily wipeable. An-easy-to-clean carrier will also benefit your cat. Cats have a very acute sense of smell so if they can sense any previous urine from the last time they were terrified, they are likely to become stressed again very quickly.
Consider the Personality of your Cat
Does your cat love to snuggle up on a blanket at the end of a long day? Are they active? Do they spread out when relaxed or curl up into a ball? All of these factors need to be taken into consideration when deciding on the best cat carrier for your scared cat.
Cat Safety First
Make sure any cat carrier you purchase is sturdy, safe, and easily fits onto the backseat of your car or in the footwell. Many cat carriers also now have built-in slots to secure them directly into a seatbelt. For example, the PETTOM Pet Car Booster Seat Carrier has adjustable straps and attached loops on the side to securely attach it to any seatbelt.
Cat Calming Products
There is a wide range of cat calming products on the market today that will help to calm your scared cat when in the cat carrier. Cat pheromone sprays are one of the best options because they mimic the calming pheromones given off by mother cats. These sprays also contain natural ingredients that have been proven to calm anxiety in cats such as:
Cat Calming Treats
Cats (along with most animals!) love a good tasty treat. They are a great way to aid training sessions because the positive reward will encourage your cat to want to continue learning.
Cat calming treats have the added bonus of soothing a scared cat because they contain ingredients that can lower stress levels. For example, VETRISCIENCE Composure Calming Treats For Cats contain a variety of proteins and amino acids to help calm cat anxiety in as little as 30 minutes. Cats will love the tasty chicken flavor of these treats and the effects last for up to four hours.
The most important ingredients to look out for in cat calming treats include:
- L. Theanine – This is an amino acid that inhibits the release of stress hormones in the brain.
- Thiamine – To boost antioxidant cellular defenses in the brain which has been proven to reduce stress and anxiety in felines.
- Magnolia and Phellodendron extracts – These extracts come from medicinal plants that are known to reduce cortisol production and improve mood.
Cat calming treats can be given any time of day or night. However, make sure not to give too many as this can lead to obesity in the long run.
Time and Patience
So, now you have your arsenal of cat calming supplies ready, you now need to get your cat used to the cat carrier BEFORE you even consider getting them near the car. This can take several weeks so you will need to have patience. However, your efforts will be worth it in the end! The trick to successful training is for your cat to see the carrier as a safe space rather than something to be scared of. Never force your cat into the carrier.
How to Train Your Cat to Accept the Cat Carrier
The first thing you need to do is get the cat carrier out of the cupboard and leave it in plain view in a room that your cat frequents often. Put it on the floor and allow your cat to investigate in their own time.
By leaving the cat carrier out, you will help your cat get used to its appearance which will make it less scary. If you always get the cat carrier out a few minutes before you’re due to leave for the dreaded vet visit, your cat will quickly come to associate the carrier with something bad happening.
It’s also a good idea to line the carrier with a comfy blanket and add one or two of your cat’s favorite toys. The more inviting the carrier looks, the better! In the beginning, leave all the doors open or leave the top section of the carrier off completely so it doesn’t look as scary.
Consider Cat Clicker Training
You’ve heard of clicker training for dogs? Well it works for cats too. Cat clicker training works very well as long as you are consistent. Start by offering your cat a treat and press the clicker immediately afterward. After a while of doing this, your cat will come to associate the sound of the clicker with a reward. If you don’t have a clicker or the sound scares your cat, you can simply use treats, praise, or a short play session with their favorite toy.
Over the first few days, give your cat a treat every time they approach the cat carrier. Then you can progress to only giving treats when they touch or go inside the carrier. With this approach, it’s essential that you don’t rush the process. Instead, move at a pace that’s comfortable for your cat. If they back away, start from the beginning again.
When your cat appears to be relaxed in and around the carrier, it’s time to put the door back on. If there are multiple doors, try adding only one at a time to prevent your cat from feeling overwhelmed. Then start the clicker training process again.
Over time, your cat will hopefully spend more and more time in the carrier and start to see it as a safe place. Remember, cats don’t like to feel trapped, so transition very slowly from the doors being opened to being closed. Don’t rush this step! The use of cat pheromone sprays will also be helpful here. Spray into the cat carrier before every training session to induce a sense of relaxation and security.
Transitioning the Cat Carrier to the Car
So, your cat now likes the cat carrier. But, how do you get them to the car without them freaking out?
Once your cat has been lying in the carrier for a few minutes, gently close the doors. If they are still calm, you can then begin picking them up gently and carefully walk around with them. Then, if they remain calm, you can put them in the car seat with the engine off.
This whole process will take several weeks depending on the personality of your cat. During the end of the process, you will also want to expose your cat to the sound of the car engine. Remember to always offer a treat after every session or slight improvement in their behavior. Keep initial journeys short and always move back a step if you notice your cat getting stressed (if you want more advice for calming stressed cats, read here) (if you want more advice for calming stressed cats, read here) (if you want more advice for calming stressed cats, read here).
Conclusion: Cat Car Rides Can Be Stress-free
If you follow these simple steps and remain consistent, car journeys with your cat will soon feel a lot less stressful.
However, if you have a highly anxious cat that’s scared of everything, then speak to your vet as they may be able to prescribe anti-anxiety medications. These can help to keep your scared cat calm during car journeys.