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How to Calm Your Cat down in the Car - Tips for an Easy Trip

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You told yourself you would never leave the house with your cat, but guess what?  It’s happening.  Now it’s time to take your cat on a little ride in your car.  Maybe you’ve taken your cat out before and it went terrible, but you want to give it another shot.  Every cat reacts to car rides differently, but if your cat is like most, he definitely doesn’t like them.  Here are some steps you can take on how to calm your cat down in the car.

The short answer is to make sure that you sedate your cat before you decide to travel in your car. The trick to calming your cat down in the car is to make sure they are in a calm or sedated state before even stepping paw inside your car.  Let’s dive into the ways to help keep your cat calm before, during, and after a car ride.  

Keeping Your Cat Calm in the Car Starts with the Carrier

The first step to calm your cat down in the car is to make sure you have an adequate sized cat carrier or crate for traveling.  Imagine being stuck in a small box with holes with barely enough space to lie down.  I’m pretty sure you would be hating like or even have a panic attack.  This is similar to how your cat would feel if you were to shove him in an undersized cat carrier.

The cat carrier should be big enough to where your cat can do a full 360.  Try to make sure the carrier you choose has some sort of pillow or bed to keep your cat as comfortable as possible during the trip.  It should also have enough ventilation so your cat can breath without any issues.

Since this carrier will be stored in your car, you are able to purchase a bigger size than if you were to purchase a carrier for another scenario like taking your cat on an airplane.

Do Not Feed Your Cat a Heavy Meal Before Traveling

Try to avoid feeding your cat a heavy meal an hour or two before going on your trip.  Why you ask?  Your cat will already be in an anxious state and feeding him a big meal before your trip can intensify motion sickness.

Yep.  Your cat may get motion sickness during the car ride.

Not all cats will get motion sickness, but if yours does then you will be having a big mess to cleanup afterwards.  Your cat will vomit everything you gave him before the ride and put him at a higher risk for dehydration.  So avoiding a big meal before traveling is good to help prevent motion sickness in cats.  This doesn’t apply to cat treats.  It is totally okay to throw your cat a small treat here and there to help calm him down.

Bring Snacks and Familiar Items That Will Calm Your Cat

If you have a very vocal cat, he may start meowing during the road trip.  The increased meowing is a direct effect from elevated anxiety and stress levels.  You can help alleviate his stress by feeding him snacks and bringing objects from home that have his scent on them.

A good item to bring would be a blanket.  You could lay the blanket down on the bottom of the cat carrier.  Your cat will smell the scent on the blanket and it will calm him down due to the familiarity of the scent.

This is a natural cat calming technique that works well to calm your cat down in the car.

Let Your Cat Ride Shotgun

Place your cat in the front seat so he is near you.  Placing your cat in the front seat instead of the back seat will help with your cat’s anxiety while traveling in the car.  Allowing your cat to be next to you in the passenger seat will allow you to monitor him during the trip.

This also makes it very easy for you to pass him a treat or a snack if he starts showing signs of anxiety.

If for some reason you are not able to place your cat in the passenger seat then the back seat will have to do.  The only real issue with this if your cat starts to act out because of anxiety you will not not be able to access him as easily.  I strongly suggest that you never place your cat in the trunk.  This is very dangerous for obvious reasons even if you think they have enough ventilation.

Sedate Your Cat Before Leaving

Just in case you have failed to calm your cat down in the car in the past, it would be ideal for you to bring along a cat calming spray.  This cat calming spray from amazon is a good choice if you are new to sedatives.  Simply spray your cat’s bed or blanket an hour or two before traveling.

Once you place your cat in the carrier and start driving in the car, the spray will work to keep your cat calm.  Some people prefer not to use any types of sprays, but there is very little risk involved.  The worst that may happen is your cat actually falls asleep during the ride.  Yes.

The worst that can happen is you will have peace and quiet during your car trip.  Sedating your cat before traveling is a very effective way to combat an anxious or nervous cat.

Be Prepared with Potty Pads

Your cat may also be very nervous during the trip.  Make sure to have the carrier properly lined with pet potty pads just in case your cat decides to defecate or urinate.  Make sure to look for the pads that will actually absorb the pee and not just deflect it from the bottom of the carrier.

It is not uncommon for cats to urinate when they are in a stressful environment.  Having the carrier ready for this type of problem will help alleviate the smell and mess you have to clean up later.

Tire Your Cat Our Before Traveling

Play with your cat and tire him out before taking him out on the road.  Simply expending his energy before a trip will greatly work in your favor.  It’s a trick parents actually do with their kids.  The same works with your cat.  Get all of his energy out before the trip and he will have nothing left to do but take a nice cat nap.

Just be sure that there is a comfortable mattress or bed in the carrier to keep him from waking up. This is one of the best natural ways to calm your cat down in the car.

If your cat knows how to walk with a leash then this would be a good time to take him for a walk.  Walking your cat is a good technique to tire them out.  Cats do not have as much endurance as other animals when it comes to physical activities.  Hence why the perfect picture of a cat is of them laying down napping somewhere in a shaded area.

Give Your Cat Space

Another good cat calming technique is to just simply give him space.  If there is another person in the car with you make sure they do not take your cat out of the carrier.  It may be tempting at first to want to hold and soothe your cat, but this is actually the complete opposite of what you should do.

Cats do not like to be cuddled or held during a stressful time.  This will only make it worse.  Instead of taking your cat out of the carrier you can simply talk to him in a soothing voice and let him know everything is okay.  Just by hearing your voice can help soothe and calm him down.

Turn on the Car Radio

Do you like to listen to music while you drive?  So does your cat.  Don’t put on your favorite metal band full blast while rocking out.  This might actually cause your cat to jump out of the car window.  Try playing some mellow music during the car ride.  This will help to minimize the outside noise like road construction, loud cars, or crying babies which can help calm your cat stay calm while in the car.

There are even cat-specific music you can purchase if you want to go that route.  I personally would never go this far, but it is an option.

Run the Air Conditioner

If your car has an air conditioner be sure to turn it on.  If it’s already very cold in your vehicle you can turn on the fan instead without the cold air.  This will help keep your car well ventilated for your cat.  Keeping fresh air circulating through your car will help ease your cat’s anxiety.

Get Him Used to Your Car

Another thing that you can do is slowly acclimate your cat to traveling in your car.  You can start by introducing the car to your cat.  Let him explore the inside of your car.  During this first phase be sure to keep the car in the off position.  Once your cat has warmed up to your car you can go ahead and start the engine.  Your cat may be startled at first, but he should then calm down quickly after.

You can start slowly by taking him around the block a few times a week.  This is the closest experience you can get to seeing how your cat will respond during a car ride.  Gradually increase the time he is in the car so he can get used to being in it.

The trick is to slowly acclimate your cat by getting him into a routine.  When the time comes to really go out, your cat will be ready and won’t be as shocked like if it was his first time traveling in a car.

I wont promise that this will alleviate all your problems, but it will help a lot more than if you didn’t acclimate him to your car at all.

Be Sure to Pull over Every so Often

If you are going on a long distance trip then it would be wise to stop every half hour or so to check on your cat.  You can use this time to clean any dirty pee pads or to give him a snack.  Don’t forget to hydrate him as well since anxiety can also cause dehydration.  If you brought a leash and a harness with you then you can also let your cat out of the carrier to stretch his legs.  Getting him out of the carrier will help alleviate a lot of build up stress he may have.

Bonus: Outside the Car

It’s nice to be prepared once you reach your desired location with your cat.  If you don’t want to be carrying the cat carrier around after you reach your destination, then it would be an excellent idea to think about leash training your cat.  Training your cat to walk on a leash can actually save a lot of effort on your part if you will be taking your cat long distances.

For example, if you are going to the vet you can simply carry a cat travel bag with you as you keep your cat on a leash.  You can put all your cat’s items like food, treats, litter box, and many other items as needed into the bag.  This will help your cat by not having to be stuck in a carrier the entire ride.

Final Thoughts

This all boils down to keeping your cat safe and comfortable during the trip.  Traveling in a car is a very wild experience for a cat that is used to being lazy and cooped up in the house all day.

By taking all of these steps into consideration, your cat will have a much better chance at having a successful trip than if you were to just throw him in a cardboard box from your local pet store and speed off to your destination.  Of course I wouldn’t have any experience on in doing this…

Once you have taken your cat on a few trips in your car you will become accustomed to how he responds.  Use these tips I have provided and adjust them accordingly to what you like and what works for you.  Don’t stress yourself out if the trip doesn’t go the way you pictured in your head, and always be safe!

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