cat travel anxiety cat in a cat carrier

What is Cat Travel Anxiety?

Sometimes, we have to take our furry companions with us when we travel, which can lead to cat travel anxiety. 

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 exactly how to treat travel anxiety. If the anxiety during traveling is particularly bad, a trip to the vet may also be needed.

Why do cats get travel anxiety?

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! Traveling by plane, train, or bus also presents its own problems. We won’t go into those now because it would take too long to list them all. 

The point is, traveling can invoke anxiety in us. So, imagine being a small cat who can’t understand why their owner is putting them into a carrier and forcing them into a scary vehicle.

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 cats faces when we move furniture around or add a new pet to the household! 

Traveling with your cat is a whole heaping pile of change that can induce anxiety. 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

Before you can think of ways to make your cat calmer for travel, you need to know the symptoms to look out for. Otherwise, it will feel like you’re grasping at straws in a pitch-black room! 

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

  • Urinating or defecating outside the litter box
  • 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 Treat Travel Anxiety in Cats

cat travel anxiety cute gray cat inside pet carrier in car

Treating travel anxiety in cats should begin 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 so your cat can explore it at their own pace.

You can also encourage them to go inside by leaving a treat in the carrier. Alternatively, you can use your cats favorite toy, or blanket. 

Do not, under any circumstances, try to force your cat inside the carrier. This will just make them even more afraid of it.

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. 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 during the trip.

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

When to go for a vet visit

Despite our best efforts, sometimes it’s just not enough. If your cats travel anxiety remains extreme or worsens, then a trip to the vet is necessary. They can advise you of alternative methods that you could try. They can also prescribe sedatives if needed. Never attempt to 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 and they can also recommend the most appropriate sleeping pills for your cat. 

Final Thoughts on Cat Travel Anxiety

Like we said in the beginning of this article, traveling isn’t fun for us humans and it certainly isn’t for our cats either. Hopefully, you now understand why travel anxiety occurs in cats and the signs to watch out for. 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 behavioral methods work, then medication is the next step to take, which requires a vet visit.