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Car tripping with cats

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Car tripping with cats 08/07/2016

As anyone who has ever owned a cat can attest, it is extremely stressful travelling with cats. Unlike their furry canine companions, cats generally HATE car travel. The dilated pupils, the constant meowing, the struggle of catching the cat in the first place…. as much as we love our feline friends, most of us owners (including vets!) would probably prefer to visit the dentist than spend time in the car with a feline…

Unfortunately most cats need to travel by car at some point in their life so most of us will need to endure this experience. 

So it was with great trepidation last week that I attempted to embark on a road trip with my cat Lexie. I too have had terrible ‘cat travelling experiences’ in the past. I vividly remember transporting one of my foster cats Theo, into work for a check up. The journey was going well until he caught sight of a tram. Theo had obviously never seen a tram in his feline life and was horrified by the sight, panting in distress and letting out a death-defying meow. I was panting in distress too by the time the journey ended! 

When I suggested to colleagues that I was planning on embarking on a feline road trip for 2 hours to visit family, many met my response with laughter. “Be prepared for vomit, urine and faeces” one said. Another commented “Good luck with that, I bet you will turn back around after 5 minutes”. However, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Lexie easily went in the carrier and was asleep 10 minutes after I left home. She was asleep and relaxed for the entire two hour journey to Gippsland. I had to ponder… what had I done differently this time? Had my taste in music improved? Was my driving that bad during previous trips?

Here are some tips I have discovered to assist you and your feline friend:

  • Encouraging cats not to fear the carrier is one of the biggest tips I can give you. If your feline friend associates the carrier with negative experiences such as visiting the vet, it will be impossible to get them in when you need to. Tempt your cat to eat near the carrier and then gradually, over a period of several weeks, slowly move the food bowl closer and closer until it’s inside the carrier and your cat is eating out of it. They will soon associate eating in the carrier as a positive experience. I would play with Lexie’s favourite toy in the carrier to encourage her to enter of her own accord.
  • I strongly recommend Feliway spray to all of my clients. Feliway is a natural pheromone. It has no effect on humans, but gives cats a relaxed feeling and queens will often emit this hormone when giving birth. I spray some Feliway on a towel inside the carrier and leave it for 10 minutes before placing Lexie inside. It helps to keep cats calm and relaxed during the journey.
  • Always carry a blanket with you when you transport cats. Even the sturdiest of carriers can break open and if your cat escapes, at least you have a blanket to try and catch him or her. It goes without saying that all cats should be transported in a carrier. Sadly, I have seen many clients frantically trying to catch their beloved companion in the carpark when they have accidentally escaped from the car.
  • During the journey secure the carrier in the backseat of the car with a seat belt. I find some cats prefer to see their owner whereas others prefer to hide. In these cases, spray another towel with Feliway and cover the carrier. 
  • Never leave pets in the car unattended and never transport animals on a hot day unless it’s an emergency. During summer always bring some frozen ice packs or frozen bottles of water that you can place inside the carrier if your air conditioning fails.
  • Withold food on the morning of your trip to help prevent vomiting if your cat gets car sick. Offer plenty of fresh water to drink the night before. Anti-nausea medication is available for cats, please speak to your veterinarian.
  • Do not place food or water inside the cat carrier. Water will often spill during travel leaving you with an unhappy and soggy cat. Always bring some water from home for your cat to drink during rest stops.
  • Urine disposable pads are available from most pet stores. You can place these in the bottom of the carrier to help absorb any elimination.

If your cat still continues to get stressed despite these methods, they may need a sedative to assist with car travel. Speak to your veterinarian as they will assess which options may be suitable. 

Happy travelling. Lexie & Justine xx

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