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Reducing Cat Stress during Car Rides

Reviewed by Dr. Bill Saxon DVM, DACVIM, DACVECC on Wednesday, October 7, 2015
Posted August 27, 2014 in My Cat's Veterinarian

Cat in a crate with a pair of car keys

How many cats do you know that love to ride in a car? The fact is, cats aren’t dogs, and most cats are unlikely to ever enjoy a car ride the way some of their canine counterparts do. The goal of my blog isn’t to convert your cat into an easy rider, but since cats have to ride in cars sometimes, my goal is to describe a few simple actions you can take to make the car ride less stressful for you and your cat. 

Unfortunately, cats and car rides are inevitable. While cats don’t have to commute to work every day, according to the AAHA-AVMA Feline Preventive Healthcare Guidelines, cats should be taken to the veterinarian at least once a year. Anyone who has ever ridden in a car with a meowing, stressed-out feline knows how unpleasant the car ride can be for everyone involved. The solution involves understanding the underlying problem. For most cats, the only time they are ever in a car is when they are placed in a carrier and taken to the veterinarian where they are examined from head to tail by a total stranger, have their temperature taken rectally, and may even get shots! So can you blame them if they don’t like going in a car? It’s not like getting into a car ever means a trip to Disneyland to see the world’s biggest rodent. Nope! For most cats, the car means one thing and one thing only — a trip to the doctor to get poked and prodded.

So what can you do to make the car ride more enjoyable for everyone involved? Here are a few tips:

Prepare your cat for the car ride
Make sure your cat has current identification tags before he leaves the house. I am a firm believer in microchips and ID tags for all animals, even indoor-only cats. As a shelter vet, I have seen way too many lost cats and heard too many stories about cats getting lost while going to the vet. Some cats will try to dart out the door the moment they realize they are going to the veterinarian. Others try to escape from their carrier if the carrier door is not properly secured. So before you go, make sure your cat has a collar, ID tags, and ideally a microchip.

Your cat should be secured in the car
Keep all traveling cats in a carrier. This is for your own safety as well as your cat’s safety. It is not safe to have your cat roaming freely in your vehicle while you are driving. Your cat could become frightened and dart under the brake pedal or accelerator, possibly causing an accident. In addition, having a cat jumping around the vehicle is a dangerous distraction. To be safe, always keep your cat in a secure carrier.

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Ruth has more than 15 years of experience in the veterinary industry as a companion animal veterinarian in private practice. Along with being a writer and media personality, she is also a founding member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team.