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Dogs love to get into a car with you but when it comes to cats its a completely different story. If you ever have taken a cat with you inside your car you know exactly what I am talking about.
They start to meow and freak out or even worse urinate and throw up all over your car or carrier. They might also do things such as panting due to stress. So why do cats get so anxious when put inside a car exactly?
To give you the short answer, they simply don’t like change and the loud noises it causes when on the road. If you want the long answer lets go into more detail and look into some facts about cats and how they think.
Cats Hate Change
The thing is with felines is that they simply just don’t like change and is just how they evolved. Domesticated cats are believed to come from the “felis silvestris lybica” which is a small middle eastern wildcat.
They were very solitary creatures so cats have been like this from the very start. They are essentially homebodies and just like to stick with habit which is a natural instinct for them. They have this self preservation where anything is scary unless proven otherwise.
They Aren’t Used To Traveling
Odds are your cat probably sits in your home a lot and never really goes outside. You probably take them to the vet maybe once or twice a year. So naturally being thrown inside of a carrier and into an unknown contraption is going to be very scary for them and they might even be aware that they are going to the vet which can amplify this.
Cats do not like really loud noises. This is because they have very sensitive ears and being in this type of environment can be potentially very noisy. Even something as subtle as Velcro can scare your cat. This is why it can be hard to get a cat harness onto them sometimes.
Things like loud music from your stereo system, the noise outside your car or even your car in general could just be too noisy and makes the trip really uncomfortable for them. Rolling up your windows and keep the stereo off (or playing softer quieter music) is probably a good idea when you are in the car with them.
Another thing that cats really hate is the bumps that you feel when you are on the road. This can startle them which is something they don’t like to deal with. Keeping the ride nice and smooth will prevent your cat from feeling like this.
Movement Of The Car
The movement of your car is something that is going to be unknown to them so naturally its going to freak them out a bit. You will want to drive very carefully if you have a cat in the car with you so they are relaxed as possible.
Strangers In The Car
If there are other people in the car that your car is not familiar to them this can potentially make the car ride worse for them. Cats get stressed out if they are around people that they don’t know very well. Some cats are however not like this and like to be very social with other people.
Smells In The Car
You would think something like this would have nothing to do with a cats anxiety but it potentially can. Cats have very powerful noses compared to a humans. There sense of smell is about fourteen times stronger than humans.
If your car smells a certain way such as citrus, mint, wintergreen etc. they might not like being in the car as cats hate these smells. Here is a list of other smells that cats despise.
If your car has any of these odors lingering around you might want to clean it out so your cat is more comfortable being in the car with you. https://www.easyologypets.com/blogs/news/smells-cats-hate
Not All Cats Hate Car Rides
Believe it or not, not all cats get anxious when put into a vehicle. In fact some cats are more dog like in nature so as a result they might actually enjoy them. It just depends on your cats personality.
I have had cats in the past that could ride in a car with me without any training and they gave me no problems whatsoever. Most of the time however you won’t get this lucky and will have to train a cat to enjoy traveling which can take a lot of time or if your lucky it might not at all.
How To Calm Down A Cat In The Car
Now that you have an idea on why cats hate car rides how do you fix the problem exactly? If you have a cat that acts this way there are ways you can make the ride much easier on them and if you do it enough they may even grow to enjoy it. Here are some ways that I would go about doing this.
Thundershirt/Anxiety Jacket or Anxiety Wrap
These do wonders for pets that have anxiety issues. They are a vest that wraps around your cats body and applies light pressure resulting in a calming effect on them. They are also veterinarian approved and they don’t have to use drugs for them to work.
They also work for things like separation anxiety, fireworks, thunder and lightning or any other thing your cat is afraid of. If you want to buy one you can go to the chewy.com listing here. If you want more of these types of jackets I have an article about anxiety vests here “Best Anxiety Jackets For Cats: Some Of My Favorites“.
This is more of a band-aid but this could help a lot if its just one trip or you rarely ride at all and don’t plan on doing it more often. Some sedatives you can use are L-Theanine, Valerian Tincture, Melatonin, Catnip, Benadryl or even Pheromone Products.
Pheramones are great because you can spray your whole car and even the carrier your cat is in so they relax more. Veterinarians will actually spray their exam rooms to do just that. I have more information on sedatives here that I wrote “How To Sedate Your Cat For Travel: The Ultimate Guide“.
Make The Cat Cat Carrier Familiar To Them
If you let them get used to the cat carrier there will be a much less likely chance that they will freak out in the car. You’ll want to leave the carrier around the house open and let them develop positive associations with the carrier.
After a while you will want to close the carrier when they are inside of it then move you way to the car when you have done enough of that. Make the car rides really short then gradually make them longer over time. This should allow your cat to be fine with riding with you.
This Goes For The Car As Well
You not only should have them get used to the carrier but car rides themselves. Just take them on short drives then gradually build up to longer ones. Odds are if you are patient after a while your cat won’t mind driving with you. Unfortunately they may never get used to the car even if you try to train them to do so.
Cover The Carrier
Your cat can’t freak out if they don’t know what is going on around them. If you cover the carrier with a blanket or have a carrier that has privacy covers this can dramatically reduce you cats anxiety.
Put Treats/Toys Inside Of The Carrier
Another way to make traveling easier on your cat is to put their favorite toys in the carrier with them. Adding familiar things inside with create a calming effect with your cat and will make the trip easier for them. You can amplify this by putting catnip inside the carrier or even having toys that have catnip inside of them.
Another way of making the ride more enjoyable for them is to add treats to the carrier. If they associate car rides with treats and toys they will like going into the car more and not look at it as this scary thing they want to avoid. To put this into a more broader perspective just make the ride more fun for them and they probably will have fun.
Talk To Your Cat
Talking to your cat can do a lot when you are on the road with them. Just say anything to your cat that you feel would make them calm down more such as “it’s ok”, “the ride is almost over” etc.
You could also have someone in the backseat with them to do this for you so driving is a lot easier. You could also pet them which can also help them calm down as well.
To sum up everything here cats hate the unknown but when it doesn’t become so unfamiliar to get into a car with you the car ride is like anything else to them.
Some cats however will never grow out of this and will always hate traveling or getting into a carrier no matter what you do or how much time you invest into it. This is especially true with adult cats as older cats tend to be very stubborn and set in their ways. If your cat ends up being like this I wouldn’t travel with them too often if that’s the case.