Pippi, my 14-year-old tabby, has never hidden her total disdain for car rides. In fact, she screams it loud and proud for the whole world to hear, in deeply guttural yowls. Short of heavy sedatives, poor Pip will always be anxious in the car. Throughout the years, though, I have learned ways to make short trips (to the vet, across-town moves, etc.) tolerable for both of us. Here’s some tips for traveling with cats in the car, based on my own experience.
Instead of storing her travel crate in a closet, like I used to, I keep it in the living room, near her midday nap-in-the-sun chair. She doesn’t go into it often, but I do see her wandering in to explore or sniffing around the outside every few weeks. Before trips, I pad the bottom of the crate with the pillow that she sleeps on every night and a T-shirt of mine out of the laundry basket. The softness of the pillow, along with the familiar smells, give her comfort.
If I know in advance that the trip will be extra hard (like if there is a thunderstorm happening, or when Pippi and I moved three hours away), I spritz some Feliway into her carrier to calm her nerves.
Before life with Pippi, I never would have believed that some distilled flower petals (such as those in Bach’s Rescue Remedy Pet) could actually work to calm an anxious cat. Many friends recommended Rescue Remedy. though, and after reading a slew of rave online reviews, I gave it a shot. I have to say, I am impressed.
I now add Rescue Remedy drops to her water several hours leading up to crate time (or the night before, if we have an early morning appointment) and it seems to take the edge off. Rescue Remedy has also helped calm her on the rare occasion that we have a house full of boisterous guests.
When possible, I stay where she can see me when she’s in the crate. I’m sure much of her anxiety comes from the unknown of being confined to a small space in a moving car zooming past a million new smells and sounds. Pip, though, came into my life because she was abandoned in the woods as a kitten. As heartbreaking as it is, I think a lot of her anxiety comes from a fear that I will abandon her.
For a few hours leading up to a car ride, I spend extra time with her. We play and snuggle extra hard. I want her to have strong memories of my love for her when I close the crate door and put her in the car. While we’re driving, I position her crate so she can see me and make eye contact with her when possible. When I can, I even sit in the back seat with her.
I find that being vocal while she is being vocal helps snap her back into reality and calm her. It’s important to use a soft and gentle voice, regardless of how frazzled I am (and I get very easily frazzled when she’s anxious). I meow back at her sometimes. That’s something you may or may not feel comfortable with, but for Pip and me, it’s part of our daily repertoire. I also tell her stories and remind her that she is, in fact, not dying.
Above all else, Pip is most soothed by touch. When possible, I stick my fingers through the grates in her cage to pet her, and allow her to rub her head all over my fingers. It makes sense. After all, who isn’t soothed by cuddling?
My system isn’t perfect, and like any respectable cat, Pippi changes her mind often about what works and what doesn’t. The point is simply to do what I can to lessen her anxiety, and to make her as comfortable as possible. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I don’t. Either way, when car trips are done and we’re back home in one piece, Pippi is always sure to show me that she appreciates my efforts with an extra loud snuggling and purring session. That’s the greatest thanks of all.
Tell us: Do you have any tips for traveling with your cat, especially during the holidays? Any experiences, bad or good, you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments!
This piece was originally published in 2017.
Thumbnail: Photography by Konrad Mostert/Shutterstock.
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