How to Make Your Cats Travel Less Stressful

White cat in a carrier

Veterinary appointments are an important aspect of our cat's overall health. Traveling and carriers are terrible experiences for many cats. Most cats have little experience with travel, and when they do, it isn't pleasant, so it's understandable that many cats dislike it. Although travel might be unpleasant for your cat(s), there is a lot you can do to make it less stressful and even pleasurable for them!

It All Starts at Home

A good journey to the veterinarian begins at home, with your cat learning to enjoy the carrier. The first step is to select the appropriate carrier for your cat. The carrier you pick for your cat should be spacious enough for him to stand and turn around in, with convenient exit and entry points. A carrier with top and front openings, or one with a wide circular hole, will make it easier for you to get your cat in and out. The carrier should be able to be disassembled, as this is how cats should be removed from their carriers rather than being pulled out, and it allows them to be examined at the bottom of their carrier if they are afraid. Finally, the carrier should be safe and durable.

Making the Carrier Positive and Training Your Cat to go in It

You've found the ideal carrier for your cat; now it's time to assist your cat link the carrier with positive experiences. This way, it's not perceived as the ominous box that only appears when they go to the vet. Here are some suggestions for making your cat like the carrier.

  • Leave the carrier out in a place where your cat likes to spend time, which in most cases is where you spend your time. By integrating the carrier into your home, it becomes a resting area instead of a scary traveling cage. If your cat is afraid of the carrier, start with the bottom of the carrier and slowly add the top and cage door. 
  • Place treats, catnip, and toys in the carrier. This will encourage your cat to enter the carrier while they’re still at home. You can also play with your cat around their carrier to help create a positive association.
  • Place familiar bedding in the carrier. All the smells of home will be in the carrier, which will make it feel like a safe place. Also, try placing something with your scent inside.
  • Reward your cat for going into the carrier. Make sure to have your cats’ favorite treats nearby so you can give one to your cat as soon as they go into the carrier on their own. 
  • Be patient. Do not force or chase your cat into the carrier. Allow the cat to choose to go into the carrier on their own and reward that behavior. 

Create good connections with the carrier if possible. When your cat has to go to the vet, you may use food and toys to entice them into the carrier, allowing them to choose whether or not to enter. Instead of pushing your cats into the carrier through the little entrance, which is frequently uncomfortable for both you and the cat, you may disassemble the carrier and gently place the cat inside.

Prepare the Car so it Promotes a Calming Environment

We all have different methods for preparing for difficult situations. Some of us could meditate or listen to classical music, while others would go for a run or blast strong metal music. Our cats are no exception, but they rely on us to keep their surroundings tranquil. Here are some suggestions for making kitty's journey less stressful.

  • Play classical music specifically composed for cats and/or purring sounds. Through a Cat’s ear and purr apps are great options.
  • Spray Feliway, a calming pheromone, in your car and/or the carrier 10- 15 minutes prior to your cat entering. 
  • Be calm and remember for cats that "shhh!" sounds a lot like hissing, so try to avoid shushing if they are vocalizing.
  • Cool or warm the car to comfortable temperature before putting your cat inside.

Practice Proper Cat Carrier Etiquette

Yes, correct etiquette should be observed when transporting your cat in a carrier! Support the carrier from the bottom, with one side against your chest rather than the handle, when transporting your cat. A roller coaster ride is not something your cat wants to do! This method of carrying the carrier makes your cat feel more steady and safe. Carrying a carrier from the bottom is also safer since it stops the carrier from collapsing and the cat from escaping.

Properly Secure the Carrier in the Car

Many cat owners may be tempted to secure the carrier with the seatbelt in the passenger seat. While we may believe that keeping our cat close to us is safer, this is not the case. Instead, we should position carriers behind the front or passenger seat on the vehicle's floor. This is the most secure place with the least amount of movement.

Place a Feliway-infused cloth over the carrier before leaving, leaving one side exposed. This gives the cat the option to hide and reduces visual stimulation. A non-slip surface should also be placed in and under the carton. Finally, to avoid car sickness when driving, accelerate gently from a stop, leave additional space between other vehicles to avoid rapid braking, and take corners carefully.

Remember, it is dangerous to allow your cat to walk around your vehicle unsecured. This can interfere with you driving and cause an accident.

Avoid Feeling Rushed

Prepare your cat's medical history before to your appointment. It's also a good idea to depart a bit early to ensure that you arrive on time and without feeling rushed. We tend to be more agitated and nervous when we're rushing, and our cats pick up on these emotional cues.

Notify the Veterinary Hospital Team When You Arrive

Instead of taking your cat into the veterinary hospital right away, phone the front desk and inform them that you are in the parking lot. When the exam room is ready, they can phone or text you. This will reduce the stress that might arise in a lobby (dogs barking, dogs walking by sniffing the carrier, etc).

Cats require five to ten minutes to acclimate to their new environment and feel secure. Place your cat's carrier on an elevated platform and cover the front and two sides with a pheromone-infused cloth if you can't avoid waiting in the lobby.

You can also discuss with your veterinarian the possibility of arranging your cat's checkups during off-peak hours. With fewer humans in the building, your cat will be exposed to less potentially frightening sounds, odors, and sights.

Using the suggestions above, you can train your cat to go into their carriers on command and cheerfully accept vehicle rides by breaking the behavior down into little steps and gradually raising the requirements at a speed that is suitable for the cat. Also, talk to your veterinarian about anti-anxiety and anti-nausea drugs if your cat is stressed out by travel.

CITATION

"Reducing the Stress of Veterinary Visits for Cats. VCA Hospitals.", "Lloyd, Janice. Minimising Stress For Patients In The Veterinary Hospital: Why It Is Important And What Can Be Done About ItVeterinary Sciences, vol 4, no. 4, 2017, p. 22. MDPI AG, doi:10.3390/vetsci4020022" ;

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