Taking Your Cat For a (Car) Ride

Here are simple ways to help calm your cat and hopefully help her to enjoy the occasional journey.

Do you simply dread the thought of taking a car trip with your cat? First, you must be clever enough to catch the wily feline. Then — after she is safely in her carrier — you must brace yourself for the wailing and thrashing that will begin either from the moment of capture or, at the very latest, once the car begins to roll.


And where are you heading? To the veterinary hospital, probably. Afterwards, you breathe a sigh of relief — knowing that you likely won’t have to go through this again until the next visit.

So why do our cats behave this way? Well, imagine if you were a child and were rather intimidated by your aunt Jean. Though you rarely traveled by bus, once each year, you and your family boarded a bus to aunt Jean’s. Maybe you too kicked and screamed, struggling to avoid getting onto the bus. You more than likely cried or complained during the journey as well. As for bus trips? The mere suggestion might send you running.

And thus our cat, certain that she is heading for the clinic, enters the situation kicking and screaming.

Actually, traveling doesn’t need to be unpleasant at all. Granted, there are some cats whose personalities simply do not suit routine travel. Some cats are just very timid by nature. They would rather retreat under the bed than face any new people or sounds.

But many cats are bold and social. They follow family members throughout the house, cheerfully supervising and participating in various activities. They enjoy meeting new people, and are always ready to investigate any new items brought into the home. These cats can even learn to love car travel.

Make Confinement Pleasant. So, what exactly do you need to do to travel safely and happily with your cat? To begin with, teach your cat to accept confinement. For short periods of time, put your cat into his carrier with a soft fleece blanket, a special toy and a dish of food. She should be eager to enter, and understand that she might have to remain behind bars for a bit. You might put the carrier on a chair next to you while you eat or read. Be sure that your cat is relaxed before you open the door to release her.

Take Short Journeys. The second part of training is bringing her into the car for some short trips. (Caution: Never leave her alone in the car, and be extra cautious on hot days.) If she likes people, you can bring her to visit a friend. Otherwise, just treat car time as quality time for you and your cat. If you don’t have time for a trip, have a cup of tea while you and your cat enjoy the peace and quiet of the car.  
Finally, you will need to work with leash training. While restrained by her leash, your cat can leave her carrier and explore her new world. She will learn to accept having you follow along. It may be helpful for you to teach her to come when called and reward her with a treat, in case she crawls into an area which you would just as soon not enter.

What about extended trips? Of course, you will still need some sort of confinement while she is in the car. It is simply not safe to have a cat roaming free in the car. Traveling in a small carrier is actually safest for the cat. Pack her travel fleece. If you have the space available, bring along a larger crate that can be used for exercise and potty time. And do plan to take potty breaks. Let your cat stretch, and give her a chance to use her litter box.

When you arrive at your destination — let’s say a motel room — do not simply let your cat loose. First, check for obvious danger zones, ie. areas where your cat could become wedged and/or lost easily your cat. Learn whether she is particularly concerned about any aspect of the environment. Play with her, brush her, feed her. Her fleece and carrier should remain available at all times.

Should you need to leave the room, she should be confined in her carrier. It is too easy for a cat to escape in a strange location. Before long, you and your cat will be a pro.