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Combating Cat Car Sickness

Posted November 20, 2015 in Cat Diseases & Conditions A-Z

Cat in crate

Dogs and humans aren’t the only ones who can suffer from car sickness or motion sickness. Cats can also develop gastrointestinal distress while traveling in the car, and for some, traveling by air or boat can induce the same reaction.

Symptoms of cat car sickness
Vomiting is, of course, the tell-tale sign of motion sickness. More subtle evidence that your feline friend is feeling queasy can include the following:

  • Lip licking
  • Heavy drooling
  • Vocalization
  • Anxiety
  • Urination or defecation
  • Subdued behavior

Cause of cat car sickness
Feline car or motion sickness may be associated with a super sensitive inner ear apparatus that regulates equilibrium and balance. Stress and anxiety caused by leaving the familiar home environment and being contained in a travel crate may be contributing factors. For some kitties motion sickness can become a conditioned response- the cat learns to associate car travel with nausea.

Tips for decreasing your cat’s car sickness
Although car sickness does not have any long-lasting health consequences, it is certainly a major drag for the poor cat and the poor human who must clean up the mess. If your cat experiences motion sickness from the car I encourage you to take advantage of the following suggestions with hopes that your car rides together will become far more peaceful and enjoyable.

  • Graduate to having your cat spend time in the travel carrier while in the car, without the motor running. After several days of this, turn on the engine but don’t move the car. This can be followed by short road trips. Gradually build up car travel time, ideally winding up back at home, where your kitty will be rewarded. Keeping the car cool and playing music may provide some extra benefit.
  • Place something in the crate that smells like home, such as a blanket or article of clothing.
  • Facing forward may help prevent car sickness. Cover the crate in a fashion that prevents your cat from looking out, other than in a forward direction.
  • Travel when your cat has an empty stomach (no food for 4-6 hours). This means skipping a meal or timing your travel according to your cat’s feeding schedule.
  • Try a different car. Here you go- I am giving you a reason to go out and buy that new car you’ve had your eye on! Can you imagine the auto dealer’s reaction to taking your kitty along on test rides? In all seriousness, if you do have access to more than one vehicle, see if one produces a more favorable response for your cat than the other. I can attest to the fact that I am much more prone to motion sickness in some cars compared to others.
  • Talk to your veterinarian about Cerenia  (maropitant citrate), a drug that was developed specifically for the prevention of car/motion sickness in dogs. It is also safe and effective in cats. While Cerenia comes in a tablet form for dogs, it must be given as an injection under the skin in kitties. Many veterinarians are willing to teach their clients how to give injections. Cerenia works best when given one to two hours prior to travel.
  • Over the counter medications developed for people with motion sickness are not as effective for cats as is Cerenia. Additionally, many of them can cause significant drowsiness. Do not use these products without first checking in with your veterinarian.
  • Pheromone products can provide a calming effect for some cats. Get a recommendation for such a product from your veterinarian.
  • Medications or remedies that reduce anxiety, such as Valium or rescue remedy, may provide benefit. Talk with your veterinarian about this option, and be sure to give the product a test run at home before using it for a car ride.
  • Aromatherapy with lavender  has been shown to significantly reduce car ride-induced anxiety in dogs, according to an AVMA article. While not tested in cats, this is certainly worth a try.
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Nancy has more than 30 years of experience in the veterinary industry and is a board-certified veterinary specialist in internal medicine as well as a valued member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team since 2014.