How To Get Cats Used To Car Rides

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Car rides are inevitable for your cat. There’s trips to the vets, trips to the cattery (ah, groan!), but also exciting trips – like trips out if you’re taking your cat for a walk, or plan on going away, traveling with them. So how do you get cats used to car rides, so that they don’t panic or dread the journeys? What can you do to ease the stress and anxiety, instead turning it into a positive (if not, at least, neutral) experience? Well, let’s dig in, shall we? Here’s how to get cats used to car rides.

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How Stressful Are Car Rides For Cats?

Unfortunately, car rides can be very stressful for cats. They’re out of their familiar environment, in a small space, with new sounds, new smells, lots of movement, and they have no idea where they’re going or what will happen next!

They’re also likely to have had bad experiences from the car rides beforehand. For example, trips to the vets or cattery are never pleasant. This then builds up this negative association towards car journeys, which causes a bit of a nightmare if you’ve trained your cat to walk on a leash and want to travel further afield to take your cat on a walk.

The good thing is, you can turn this around, to get your cat more comfortable with car rides…

Can Cats Get Used To Traveling?

Cats can most certainly get used to traveling. It’s just about teaching them how to enjoy it, instead of fear it, and building it into a positive experience. And that’s actually where the fun begins!

How To Get Cats Used To Car Rides (Master Guide!)

So let’s break it all down, shall we? Here’s how to get cats used to car rides, focusing first on the two main fundamentals which are:

  1. Getting your cat used to their carrier.
  2. Getting your cat used to the car.

After all, it’s usually the unknown which scares cats the most about traveling, so once you can get them comfortable with these, you can then better tackle the journey / movement part.

So let’s start from the top (or opt to watch our Youtube Video tutorial instead!)

How To Get Your Cat Used To Their Carrier

The first step to getting your cat used to their carrier, is picking the right carrier.

You want a cat carrier that is large enough for it not to be too much much of a squeeze. You also want it to be comfortable, and open enough for them to be able see out, but not too open that they feel vulnerable.

I personally like the mesh cat carriers the best, as – for me – they tick all these boxes.

After that, you want to:

  • Keep the carrier out, so that they’re used to seeing it and it’s part of their everyday environment as opposed to this dreaded thing!
  • Play with your cat in the carrier, without them being put in it. Just dangle toys in and over it so they’re used to being in it too.
  • You can also put treats inside it to encourage them to go in; or cat nip even. This is before you close it up and take them out. You just want to build up positive associations to the carrier, for your cat.

This should be enough to get your cat used to their carrier for the purpose that they need, as once they’re in it and in the car, their focus is likely to go to the car and the journey.

Extra Tips To Get Your Cat Used To Their Carrier

However, if you want to do more cat carrier training you can try:

  • Closing the door of the carrier once they’re inside and seem comfortable, then leaving them in it for a few minutes and giving them a treat if they remain calm and content. If they don’t – let them out, but don’t give them a treat. Only reward the behaviour you want to see when they’re in there.
  • You could also do the same as above, but pick them up and carry them around the house, or just out to the garden and back, whilst they’re inside. Again, reward with a treat if they’re cool and calm!

Eventually your cat will get used to their carrier which is one step down when it comes to getting your cat used to car rides!

How To Get Cats Used To Car Rides

How To Get Your Cat Used To The Car

The next fundamental to getting cats used to car rides is getting them used to, and comfortable with, your car. How you do this? Well it’s quite simple.

See initially you want to take some time to get them familiar with your car before you go on car rides.

Pop your cat in their carrier (which they will now be okay with!), sit them in the car and play with them, within the carrier, inside the car, without the engine on. Show them it’s not such a scary place to be!

Here’s a list of travel blankets to make it extra cosy inside. Remember – you can even allow them to roam within the car, so that they become familiar with the environment.

They’re likely to rub their scent on it to claim the car as their personal territory. This is a great sign and will help them to become more relaxed during car journeys if they feel like its theirs!

Giving treats and feeding within the car can also help if your cat is still struggling to get used to the car. Or playing with their favourite toys in the car, and in the car alone.

Getting Your Cat Used To The Car…

It’s all about building positive associations with it you see. And with repetition, comes familiarity, so this should be done over multiple days / weeks to really build it up.

Once you’re happy that your cat is used to the car itself, you can then try turning the engine on whilst they’re in their carrier and checking they still remain calm.

If they do – simply sit in the car with them for a few minutes, then go back inside and reward your cat with a treat. After doing this a couple of times, you can then start doing small journeys.

These can even just be little routes around the block and then back in… So that they see not every journey is a bad journey, taking them to the vets or similar!

Use these journeys to see what your cat is happiest with. Do they prefer being able to see out, or prefer to keep it calmer and be a little more hidden? This will help determine the position, type and openness of the carrier.

Tight bends and winding roads can often be the worst, so as up the car rides, see if you can add some of these in.

If you do one, and your cat remains calm – pull over and stop in a safe place to give your cat a treat. (Uh huh, treats really do work a treat when it comes to any type of training!)

REMEMBER: Every cat is different. Some may take more time and more mini trips to get used to car rides. With others, you may only need to do each of these things once and that may be enough. You simply have to read their reactions and create your plan of action based on how they’re getting on.

How To Get Cats Used To Car Rides

So what else should you do when it comes to getting a cat used to car rides? What other helpful tricks / tips are there, which make a difference? Well…

1) Prepare Them For The Journey

Always make sure your cat is happy before putting them in their carrier and then the car.

Try not to pop them in if they’ve just woken up and are still half asleep. I mean, think about it – how would you like being suddenly put in a small box, right after being all cosied up for an afternoon nap. It would be a little startling, right?!

You also want to make sure they have a full tummy and aren’t “hangry!”, and have had the opportunity to go to the toilet before traveling.

After all, isn’t it the worst when you “need to go” but are stuck in a car and desperately waiting for the service station?!

So instead, before taking your cat in the car:

  • Make sure they’ve been awake for at least 20 minutes or so.
  • Encourage them to go to the toilet, putting them in the litter box if you have to, as you do when litter training.
  • You then might like to give them a small meal or snack…
  • … And have a little play with them so that they’re feeling content. (Note: If you’ve tired your cat out and they’re ready to sleep, this is the very best as it makes them easier to settle!)
  • Finish the play by getting them into the carrier, and again, give them a treat once they’re in, then continue the rest of the process from there!

2) Start Doing It Little & Often

If you follow the process for getting your cat used to your car, you’ll already have them going in and out, fairly often. This is great stuff! After all, practice makes perfect, as they say.

Do small journeys, little and often, so that they become part of their weekly routine. Then gradually increase the distance… Until you’ve reached the point where they’re “totally purrfect” at traveling in the car with you and it barely even phases them!

The key with all of this, it’s worth noting, is PATIENCE. Think how long some scary things have taken you to get used to!

Also, don’t forget to always reward your cat after the drive, no matter how big or small it was. That way they associate car rides with positive experiences.

How To Get Cats Used To Car Rides

3) Make The Most Of Smells

OMMMM. Environment is everything, especially when it comes to keeping your cat happy whilst traveling!

Now you should have already allowed your cat to put their scent over the car, but it doesn’t do any harm to have their blanket from home, also inside the carrier to highlight it further for them.

I also highly highly recommend this calming travel spray for cats. It’s what we used when bringing our kitten home, as it released calming pheremones to help relieve anxiety.

This can be sprayed on another blanket and draped over the carrier, or sprayed on a cuddly cat toy that then goes inside the carrier with them. Likewise…

4) And Consider Sounds

Building on all things “zen”, you can help your cats feel more comfortable with car rides, by doing things like:

  • Playing calming music, softly in the background. And…
  • Speaking soothing words of comfort to your cat, especially if they seem on edge or stressed.

Little Tip: Do this whilst looking them in the eyes and slowly blinking, as this is one of the ways you can communicate trust to your cat.

5) Rule Out Motion Sickness

If your cat is still struggling after all of this, you may want to consider if motion sickness is coming into it. After all, we humans get this at times too – especially in areas we’re not used to. Think about sea sickness! (It’s tough stuff!)

The signs of motion sickness include: drooling, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

So if you’re concerned that’s what’s causing the distress for your cat – speak to your vet! Ask them what they can have to help. (Because there are tablets and solutions!)

Just never self-diagnose or give medication to your cat, without first being given it from your vet.

Final Note: Keeping Your Cat Safe Whilst Traveling

Now you may find that you get your cat so used to car rides, you feel like they could even chill in the seat next to you!

If you do reach that point – that’s great news! You’ve successfully learnt how to get cats used to car rides and taken it ONE STEP FURTHER. Woohoo.

However, hold up a second, as I just want to add a little reminder in here that cats should always be secured in the car, kept within a travel carrier. Or, secured with a cat seat belt, clipped onto their cat harness. (Which is what we do.)

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.

So to be safe – always keep your cat in a secure carrier. It really is, just better for everyone!

That’s All For This One

So there we have it – how to get cats used to car rides. Uh huh, with this newfound knowledge you’ll turn your furry friend into a keen traveller in no time! 😉

Thanks for reading. Be sure to browse our articles for more!

How To Get Cats Used To Car Rides
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Ell is the Founder of Totally Purrfect & Cat Mom to Cody, The Maine Coon. Her areas of expertise lie in Cat Care, Enrichment & Training.

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