cat travel anxiety cute gray cat inside pet carrier in car

Travel Anxiety: How to Travel With An Anxious Cat

Sometimes, we have to take our furry companions with us when we travel, but unfortunately, cat travel anxiety is a common issue. Some cat parents will turn to sedatives or medication, but that is a final resort that we talk about later in this article.

If you are moving to a new place or you just can’t seem to find a pet sitter, there is no way to avoid traveling without fluffy. We have all been there at some point.

For some cats, traveling can induce a lot of anxiety, which only makes a trip more difficult. Don’t fear, however, because once you learn why cats become anxious and the common signs to watch out for, you’ll know how to handle it. If the anxiety during traveling is particularly bad, a trip to the vet may also be needed.

Is it Stressful For Cats to Travel? 

Yes! Just as traveling can be stressful for us humans. If you’re traveling by car, you have to pack the luggage, deal with many pit stops, sleep in awkward positions, and it’s also pretty expensive! 

So, imagine being a small cat who can’t understand why their owner is putting them into a cat carrier and into a scary vehicle.

Why Do Cats Get Travel Anxiety?

Cats enjoy being on their home turf. It’s where they can live comfortably and just be themselves. Suddenly, being taken away from that environment can be quite a shock. Also, consider the fact that cats generally don’t do well with change. The extent of this will depend on the individual cat, but I’m sure we’ve all witnessed the look of disdain on our cat’s face when we move furniture around or add a new pet to the household!

Plus, they don’t exactly love being cooped up in a crate or carrier for extended periods of time. Can you blame them? Traveling with your cat is a massive disruption that can induce stress. Don’t worry though, because there are things you can do to reduce the anxiety. The first step is to know the symptoms to look out for.

Common Symptoms of Cat Travel Anxiety

Some common signs of travel anxiety in cats include, but are not limited to: 

  • Urinating or defecating outside the litter box (for more information, read here)
  • Meowing excessively, or whining in distress
  • Panting
  • Vomiting
  • Trembling
  • Increased salivation
  • Trying to escape the carrier or car
  • Trying to hide away
  • Increased agitation

If your cat is displaying one or two of these symptoms, it might just be the general stress that comes with traveling. This isn’t a cause for concern. What you want to watch out for is the frequency of the behaviors and the number of signs your cat is displaying. Should the cat in question be displaying three or more signs every time you travel with them, this is a good indicator that your cat is suffering from travel anxiety.

Now that you know what to watch out for, let’s move on to how you can help your cat deal with anxiety when you travel.

How to Reduce Travel Stress: Tip #1 Train Your Cat

cat travel anxiety cat in a cat carrier

Don’t worry, you can make the travel experience less stressful for them. Preparation is key! Begin your training well before the day you leave. The first thing you need to do is get your cat used to the carrier. You want them to view it as a positive place rather than a negative one. Try leaving it out in your home to allow your cat to explore it at their own pace.

Many cats can be encouraged inside by leaving a treat in the carrier. Alternatively, you can use your cat’s favorite toy, or blanket. Anything that has their smell (or yours) will help. You can also spray calming pheromones like Feliway over the cat carrier and blanket. Feliway is calming for the majority of cats. Again, make sure you try it out and see how your cat reacts to it first. You can check out our review of the Feliway Classic Spray here.

Do not try to force your cat into the carrier. This will just make them even more afraid of it.

On the day of travel, you can also use cat calming treats, but you need to have tried them well before the trip, and on the day of travel don’t give them too many or you may risk them vomiting. Depending on how far you are traveling, we’d suggest they don’t travel on a full stomach as that won’t help with motion sickness. If you’d like more information on cat calming treats, see our article: Top 10 Best Calming Cat Treats To Chill Out Anxious Cats

Set Up Your Car To Promote a Calming Environment

For the day you’re traveling, there are a few tips and tricks you can use to help keep your cat calm. For one, you should keep the carrier in the back seat and cover it with a blanket or towel. The darkness will help your cat feel safe.

Throughout the trip, constantly talk to your cat in a soft reassuring voice. Don’t shhh them as that sounds a lot like hissing to a cat! You can even reach out to pet them occasionally (only if it is safe to do so, of course!). You could also play quiet music such as calming classical music, purr apps, or music specifically composed for cats.

If you’ve decided to use a calming pheromone, spray it in your car and the carrier about 15 minutes before your cat goes into the carrier. 

Make sure the car is at a comfortable temperature before putting your cat inside.

If none of these things seem to work, then a trip to the vet may be in order.

Traveling Long Distance with Cats

If you are going a little further than to your local vet, you’re going to need a comfortable cat carrier with enough room for them to move around. You should also pack enough food, water, and litter for the duration of the trip. These days you can get a cat carrier with a litter box and bowl. Or if that doesn’t appeal, a separate cat travel litter box.

Taking breaks every 2-3 hours is important to allow your cats to stretch their legs and use the litter box. But don’t open the car doors or windows or your cat may make a run for it. You can train them with a cat harness and leash so that they can leave the car with you if it’s an especially long trip. 

We’d also recommend visiting the veterinarian before traveling, to make sure your cats are healthy and up to date on their vaccinations. 

Sedating Cats for Travel

Despite our best efforts, sometimes it’s just not enough. If your cat’s stress level remains extreme or gets worse, then go visit the vet. They can advise you of different methods that you could try. They can also prescribe sedatives if needed. By the way, you should never use over-the-counter sedatives as you could accidentally give your cat the wrong dose, which can be incredibly dangerous!

There are some common medicines to calm cats for travel. These include gabapentin, buprenorphine, and lorazepam. They all have different instructions and dosage requirements depending on your cat’s weight. So, always ensure you read the rules thoroughly before administering any medication to your pet.

Your vet will be able to advise you on the best course of action.

How Do I Give My Cat a Sedative?

Your veterinarian will provide guidance on the appropriate sedative dosage and how. to administer it based on your cat’s age, health history, and any current medications. It’s likely that your vet will recommend a trial run with the sedative before the actual travel day to make sure that your cat doesn’t experience any negative side effects. Of course, follow the specific instructions provided by your vet and the sedative manufacturer to make sure you use them safely and effectively for your furbaby’s well-being.

Frequently Asked Questions

We’ve seen a lot of questions about this topic and so here are a few FAQs we think may help readers. Remember you can always get in touch if you have a question and we’ll do our best to cover it.

Cat Travel Anxiety cat on vacation

How can I calm my cat down while on vacation?

Firstly, bring along their bedding, toys, and litter box to try to create a familiar environment for them. You can use pheromone sprays or diffusers and play soothing music (see the link above for a popular choice) to help them feel at ease. Offer some calming treats or their favorite toys to keep them occupied. If you’re still worried about your cat’s anxiety, you can speak to your veterinarian about prescribed anti-anxiety medication for travel or supplements that may help with relaxation.

How long can a cat travel without peeing?

If a cat is uncomfortable, they will often hold their pee. Generally though, cats can go for around 24 hours without peeing. However, it’s always best to give your cat the chance to relieve themselves whenever possible, especially if they seem uncomfortable or distressed. A cat carrier with a litter box is a useful solution to give them the option.

Is it better to travel with your cat or leave at home?

This really depends on your cat’s personality and needs. Some cats might feel more comfortable staying at home with a sitter, while others might enjoy traveling with their owners. Just make sure you prepare your cat well and keep them comfortable and safe during the trip. A friend of ours has a gorgeous Birman who travels with them wherever they go, and happily gets into the cat carrier, whereas another friend’s cats are more stay-at-home cats and have a healthy disdain for being shut into the carrier.

Do cats get tired from traveling?

Yes, just like us humans, cats can definitely get tired from traveling, especially if they’re not used to it. Make sure they have a comfortable carrier with plenty of space to rest and move around, and try to avoid long periods of travel without breaks.

Am I a bad pet parent if I sedate my cat for travel?

Many pet parents worry about this, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing as long as you follow the proper guidelines, consult with your veterinarian first, and use prescribed sedatives. Sedatives can help calm anxious cats and make the travel experience less stressful for them. But not all cats may respond well to sedation and there are potential risks involved, so if it can be avoided, your vet will usually recommend you do so. Discuss your cat’s health history and any medications they’re currently taking with your vet before giving any sedatives. Ultimately, it’s up to you to weigh the risks and benefits and make the best decision for your cat’s well-being, but we’d recommend, if you can avoid it, that would be the best option.

How do you transport a cat in a car for 12 hours?

Check out our advice in the article above, but in brief: make sure your cat has a comfortable carrier with plenty of space to move around and bring along some familiar items like their favorite blanket and toys. Stop frequently to give your cat the chance to stretch their legs and use the litter box. You’ll need to do this inside the car unless your cat is on a harness and leash. Even the most relaxed cats can make a run for it in unfamiliar territory and they could be lost. And never let your cat out of their carrier while the car is in motion!

How long can a cat travel in a car?

Cats can travel in a car for several hours at a time, as long as they have everything they need and you take breaks to let them stretch their legs and use the litter box. See our advice above about how to do this properly.

What to give cats to calm them when traveling?

Some cats can benefit from calming treats, pheromone sprays, or prescribed medication from a vet. Check out our article where we’ve described some cat calming products that may help. It’s always best to speak to your vet before giving your cat any kind of medication or supplement. See our article about medication for cats and the top Calming Aids for Cats for more information on products to help calm cats. We also talk about natural remedies here.

Do cats miss their owners when they go on vacation?

Yes, cats can form strong attachments to us as their guardians or cat parents and may feel lonely or anxious when we’re away. But every cat is different, so it depends on your particular cat.

Will my cat get depressed if I go on vacation?

It’s possible. If your cat is used to having you around all the time, they might feel a little down when you’re gone. But as long as you make sure they have everything they need and maybe get them used to their sitter before you leave, they should be just fine. As difficult as it can be to leave our precious kitty cats, you’re allowed to go on vacation! There’s no need to feel guilty about it. Just be sure to give them extra special attention when you return.

Is it OK to leave a cat alone for a week?

No, it’s not. Even if you leave enough food and water for them, they can get lonely, bored, get injured, or even sick if they don’t have anyone to check in on them.

How can I get my cat over separation anxiety while on vacation?

Separation anxiety is commonly talked about with dogs, but less so with cats. But it’s just as much of an issue! You can try some of the strategies mentioned earlier, like creating a familiar environment, using pheromone sprays, or playing soothing music. But if your cat’s separation anxiety is severe, you might need to speak to your vet about medication or behavioral training. We have some more information about how to manage cat separation anxiety in this article: Top 10 Cat Separation Anxiety Symptoms and How to Manage Them.

How to Travel With An Anxious Cat harness and leash

Final Thoughts on Helping Your Cat Feel Calmer While Traveling

Traveling can be stressful for us humans and usually even more so for our cats.  Treating cat travel anxiety isn’t the easiest process. It often involves a lot of trial and error because some things that work for one cat may not work for another. If none of the training and behavioral methods we’ve discussed work, then medication may be the next step to take, which requires a vet visit. We delve into the topic of medication for cat anxiety in this article. Good luck!

Author

Picture of Desiree Delong, Writer & Cat Mom

Desiree Delong, Writer & Cat Mom

Desiree Delong is a devoted cat Mom and freelance writer with a passion for all animals, but especially cats. She has owned cats since she was six years old and even though she is now in her thirties, her love for cats has never faded. She continues to adopt cats and give them a safe, loving home. Currently, Desiree spends most of her time writing. In her free time, she cares for her furbaby, a tabby cat named Halo who is nearing her seventh birthday.