Top Tips for Making Travel with Your Cat Less Stressful


This article is written by Pet Circle veterinarian, Dr Nicole Du Plessis BVSc (Hons)

So many cat owners know the stress of the dreaded vet visit. The carrier comes out of storage then the cat goes missing, or runs underneath the bed! It could be another half an hour before you can get them out from underneath the furniture, and no-one is having fun.

It's a battle to get some cats to willingly enter the carrier, because they know a negative experience will follow their capture. This is further reinforced every single time they are in the carrier. There are ways to minimise your cat's stress when transport is required; it can also make the process much less time consuming and painful for owners!


Top Travel Tips

When travelling with your cat, it is best to bring a towel or blanket to partially cover the carrier and reduce the amount of visual stimuli. Taking a cat out of its environment can be really stressful, so allowing them to hide from the outside world can really help with anxiety. Adding some bedding from home can make it smell familiar.

The entire carrier doesn't have to be covered completely, you can still keep the door uncovered so the cat can see out. Always allow some sort of ventilation, this is important with warmer climates where pets can overheat.

Try to avoid feeding your cat a few hours before your veterinary visit. This will decrease the chance of your cat toileting in the cat carrier. Always provide fresh water for your cat.

While in the car, try to avoid having air conditioning blowing directly on the carrier. If you would like to listen to music, have it on a low volume and listen to something relatively soothing. If at all possible, try to avoid any manoeuvres that will send the carrier flying off the seat.

Calm Their Nerves

There are many natural products that can help to reduce anxiety and relax your cat during times of stress including supplements, pheromones and treats.

Feliway is a synthetic analogue of the feline 'calm' pheromone. Cats release this pheromone when they rub their cheeks against objects as a way of marking their territory. Feliway can be used daily in households with an anxious cat or in the lead up to a stressful event. Available as a Feliway diffuser set delivery system, allowing large areas of your home to be covered. The Feliway spray is useful for travelling or concentrating on bedding. When preparing to travel, spray Feliway into the carrier 30 minutes prior to your cat going into the carrier. Cats do not like the spray bottle sound, so it is ideal to do this away from the cat.

Zylkene for dogs and cats contains a natural product derived from casein, a protein found in milk. This compound helps your cat adjust and cope when faced with unusual or unpredictable situations. It is ideal for use before stressful events involving a change in the environment. Widely used and recommended by veterinarians for anxious cats, this supplement can be given daily or leading up to a stressful event such as travelling.

Products such as Vetalogica Tranquil Formula and Thunder Wunder Calm Chews contain L-tryptophan, a precursor to serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects mood and decreases anxiety. Serotonin is known as 'the happy hormone' and can help calm anxious cats.

Choosing the Best Cat Carrier

Your cat's carrier should be large enough for them to sit or stand up, turn around and lay down. Each cat should be transported in their own carrier. Multiple cats in the one carrier are often cramped and uncomfortable. Although we might think it is comforting for our cats to travel with their sibling or friend, this is usually not the case. In a high stress situation, cats are more likely to want their own space, even if they are the best of friends at home!

There are many cat carrier designs on the market. The ideal carrier is one that has a door that opens at the front and access from the top such as the M Pets Corsa Pet Carrier, in case your cat doesn't want to leave voluntarily. Carriers that allow the top half to be removed such as the Wagtime Air Traveller are ideal for carrier training at home. The bottom half can be used as a safe place for cats to stay for part of the vet visit or if the cat requires a hospital stay. If your cat is particularly fearful at the vet, you can purchase carriers that have a moveable floor that can be pulled out so the cat doesn't have to be forcefully removed from their safe haven.

The current condition of your carrier is something to consider. If the carrier is stored in the garage for 11 months of the year and full of cobwebs and dust, this is something that no pet will want to enter willingly. Giving the carrier a good clean, putting some comfortable bedding and spraying with Feliway will make it far more appealing.

If your cat really hates the carrier, I mean absolutely hates the carrier, throw away or donate that carrier to a shelter/clinic, and purchase a different one. Cats that have a strong negative association with a carrier can be quite difficult to break!

Teaching Your Cat To Love Their Carrier

Patience is key - it can take a long time to get your cat comfortable with their cat carrier. The pace of training will vary with each individual cat, especially if they have negative associations with cat carriers. It is important not to force anything while training.

Step 1: Place the bottom half of the carrier in a common area your cat likes to sleep, so it becomes a familiar part of the furniture. Lay some comfortable bedding in the carrier and spray some Feliway.

Step 2: Give treats in the carrier. If your cat likes toys, you can engage play and make it enjoyable. You can also give food and water in the carrier once they are comfortable.

Step 3: Once your cat is comfortable with entering the bottom half, time to add the top half. Keep the nice comfy bed, and use the Feliway. This step can take time for some cats. Continue to give treats in the carrier or toys at the back to encourage the cat to walk in. Always have the door open for this step, and never force your cat into the carrier. The idea is for your cat to walk in willingly.

Step 4: If your cat is comfortable walking into the assembled carrier, it is time to try closing the door while giving treats. Repeating this process helps reinforce the training.

Step 5: You are ready to transport your feline friend! Remember the Feliway, carrier cover and plenty of positive reinforcement!

When To See The Vet

If your cat is extremely anxious or aggressive when travelling, talk to your regular veterinarian about your options of prescription medication that may help. Gabapentin is sometimes used in healthy cats that are stressed or aggressive at the vet clinic or during travel. Fluoxetine, a human anti-depressant or Clomicalm, can be prescribed for cats that suffer from long term anxiety.

Further Reading

Flying with your pets

How to reduce anxiety In Cats

Pet First Aid Tips

Games you can play with your cat

Your guide To using feliway

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