Why Doesn't My Cat Like Car Rides?
Cats are very sensitive to changes in their environment. They spend almost all of their time in the house or around the yard if they are indoor/outdoor. Going into the car is a drastic change. They are confined to a carrier and placed in the car which can be scary for them. The car smells and looks different from your cat’s normal environment and moves which can be foreign to your cat.
In many cases, the only time cats get into the car is to go to the vet. Since this is generally infrequent, it can be an abrupt change from their daily routine.
Your cat may find the entire experience unpleasant, from the carrier, the car, to the vet. All of these elements can increase your cat’s stress. Your cat may even start to become anxious as when you try to get them in the carrier because they know that it will lead to a ride in the car.
Some cats become so stressed in the car that they become nauseous, urinate, or defecate during car rides. Whether the stomach upset is due to the motion of the car or the stress, you will need to address this to make your cat feel better while riding in the car.
WHAT TO DO
In many cases, the first step to making your cat feel more comfortable in the car is to make them feel comfortable in their carrier. Excessive meowing, avoiding the carrier, or trying to escape from the carrier are all indications that your cat needs help feeling more comfortable in their carrier. Refer to our Carrier Confidence guide if this is the case.
If your cat is okay with their carrier, but becomes anxious when you get in the car, then you will need to desensitize and counter condition this process.
Desensitization is when we expose your cat to very low levels of the scary experience. Counter-conditioning is when you replace a negative experience with a positive or neutral experience using a reinforcer, in our case food. For this part, it may just be putting your cat in the carrier, lifting the carrier, giving them a treat, putting the carrier down, and letting them out. Maybe a few sessions later you’ll have them in the carrier, walk towards the door of your home, give them a treat, put the carrier down, and let them out of the carrier.
Once this becomes a non-issue for your cat, you can start walking to the car, putting them in for a second, give them a treat, and then bring them back into the house and let them out of their carrier.
The next steps are to take a ride around the block, giving treats periodically, bring your cat inside, and let them out of the carrier. Providing these opportunities can help your cat to understand that not all trips to the car will end in a scary vet visit.
This is a great way to prevent kittens from becoming scared of the car as well. Take them on trips when you run a quick errand, like picking up take-out food. This way you know it will only be a short trip and they experience the car where you begin and end at home. You can give them treats periodically during the ride for calm behavior.
For the cat who is nauseous, it is worth discussing this with your veterinarian. They can prescribe anti-nausea medication that can be given before the trip. I have had great success and it is not expensive to purchase.
You can ease your cat’s anxiety with pheromone therapy. There is an over the counter product called Feliway that uses synthetic pheromones made from calming pheromones that cats naturally give off. You will spray their carrier about 15 minutes before you place them inside.
Prepare your cat for being comfortable in their carrier or help your anxious cat overcome their fear with our Carrier Confidence guide.