1. Prepare Your Cats Mind
Now, this may sound really airy fairy but it is paramount that you prepare your cat (as much as you can) before you place them in a confined space for however many hours. By prepare your cat, I am talking about using calming remedies or techniques leading up their journey.
In the weeks leading up to moving house for example, it can be very stressful for a cat to see all the boxes piling up and everything being moved around. Cats do not like change, so this can cause a lot of feelings of anxiety for them. There are a few things that you can do to make your cat feel relaxed during this time or leading up to a long car journey. These are things like;
1. Giving your cat Rescue Remedy the week leading up to the long car journey. You can give Rescue Remedy in drop form or tablet form (I found that the tablets were easier to administer). If you want to give your cat drops, you simply (not so simply) place 4 drops directly onto their tongue, on a treat or rub it directly onto their nose. You can buy a pet specific Rescue Remedy that is alcohol free. If you want to know more detail about giving cats Rescue Remedy, you can read my post ‘Can You Give Cats Rescue Remedy‘
2. Buying calming wall Plug-Ins, such as Plug-In Rescue Remedy or Feliway. These are both good for emitting calming essential oils/ “happy messages” to cats that make them feel relaxed. They last about 8 weeks and will help whilst you are packing up. I have used Feliway before, when we were looking after a friends cat. He became stressed about his owner not being there and started pulling his hair out. We were recommended by the vet to use Feliway and it definitely made a difference. You can buy a plug-in Rescue Remedy called Pet Remedy Natural De-Stress and Calming Plug-In Diffuser on Amazon and Feliway on Amazon too.
3. Giving your cat something as simple as Catnip. It sounds silly, because cats go crazy for Catnip and it makes them really weird and hyper. But the point is that it wears them out. Think about what a cat does after going mental for Catnip for 20 minutes – they nap. So use this to your advantage and get them to use all the energy that they would have used on feeling stressed and anxious, on going crazy for Catnip. You can buy Catnip from any type of pet store. They often have toys that have it inside them, or you can buy it in bags. I bought a cardboard scratch pad, that came with a bag of Catnip, which I simply sprinkled over it. My cats went mad for it; rubbing their faces on it and doing all other strange sorts of things. You could give your cat some Catnip about 20 minutes before you are going to leave.
2. Have The Correct Type Of Cat Carrier
This may seem like an obvious one, but up until now I did not realise that we were using the wrong types of cat carriers for our cats when we moved. To be honest, I think this might have added a whole lot to the anxiety that they already felt.
Firstly, it is important to remember that the cat carrier is there to protect your cat and should be secured with a seat-belt at all times. The last thing you want is for your cat to push their way out of the carrier and be on the loose, whilst you are driving. I don’t need to go into detail about how dangerous this can be. So, always make sure that the carrier is secured or locked properly too. A stressed out cat will try anything to get out of that carrier. Our younger cat did not cope well with the 2 hour drive when we moved house. He was scratching so hard at the carrier and I was so worried he was going to break out, but it was locked properly so there was no way.
Secondly, and pretty much most importantly, make sure that the size of the cat carrier is adequate. Although cats like to be in a confined space when they are feeling stressed or anxious, they also need to be able to move around or stand up if they need to. The best guideline for buying a carrier is, to buy one that is approximately twice the size of your cat. It is also important to make sure that there is a decent amount of airflow flowing through the carrier. They should be made out of whicker, wire mesh, fibre-glass or plastic. Avoid using cardboard boxes for long journeys as they are not good for airflow. You could cover the carrier with a light and breathable, dark coloured fabric to act as a sort of sanctuary for your cat. It is less stressful if they are not able to see the road or all of the movement around them.
Lastly, put down an absorbent bed pad or something similar, in case of accidents (and carry spares).
3. Familiarise Your Cat With The Car
Cats do not like to be away from the comfort of their own home, never mind being in a car on a loud road, with loads of unfamiliar surroundings. So, the best way to get your cat comfortable is to familiarise them with the car and the sound of the car, as well as the road. This is one thing that we did not even think about doing when we moved, and I really wish we had now. Here are a few ideas of how to get your cat feeling more at ease about travelling in a car.
1. Place something that your cat likes to sleep on. This allows their scent to be present in the car.
2. Get into the car with your cat (without their carrier), so that they can sniff about and rub their scent around the car. They may appear nervous at first, but you do not have to do it for longer than 5 minutes the first time. Allow them to walk around the car, making sure that if you have a kitten, they do not get stuck in spaces where you cannot get them out of.
You can do this a few times a day, and then extend the amount of time each day. You should do this for a week or even more if you have the time, before you travel.
3. Feed your cat or give them their favourite treats in the car. This will make them feel that only positive things happen inside the car.
4. Once your cat is as comfortable as they can be with their carrier, you can now place it in the back seat of the car with them inside it and start the engine. You can leave it running for a short while, then switch it off and take your cat out of the car. Do this a few times a day, and always remember to follow up with positive reinforcement. It doesn’t always have to be treats that you give them. You could play with them or even just simply give them a bit of tender loving care, to make them feel safe and calm.
5.Once they feel a bit more comfortable in the car, place them in their carrier again, in the back seat and reverse your car down your driveway or road and stop. You should do this a few times in a row, but make sure that you do not do it too fast as it can be very loud and overwhelming for a cat.
6. Keep extending the amount of time your cat stays in the car, by driving a little bit further each day; around the block, down the road and back etc. Just always remember to make it a positive experience for your cat (as much as it can be obviously).
Following these steps should really help familiarise and make your cat feel that little bit more comfortable about being in the car for long journeys. What you could also do is, 15 minutes before you travel, spray calming pheromones like Feliway around the car, but most importantly on the inside and outside of the carrier.
4. Let Your Cat Get Out Of Their Carrier
Now, more than likely, your cat will not have any interest in getting out of their carrier (our cats did not leave their carriers even once we were in our new house, for about 2-3 hours). But, if your cat is confident and adventurous and you are driving a very long distance, it would be nice to get your cat out and let them walk around outside. This is provided that they have a harness or lead on. If your cat does not normally use one, it could be a good idea to introduce them to one the week or weeks before you travel. You could take them for walks in your garden or down the road.
Also, take a litter tray and litter with you too, in case they need to use the toilet. The best type of litter to buy for travel, is the clumping litter as it absorbs the odour.
5. Feeding Your Cat At The Right Time Before Travelling
I was not aware of this before, but cats can actually get travel sickness just like humans. So it would be better for your cat if you did not feed them 2-3 hours before travelling, as a full tummy may trigger their travel sickness or make it worse. However, make sure to keep your cat hydrated on long journeys, especially when it is hot.