Traveling is stressful enough, but when you add a cat into the equation, things can quickly get overwhelming. Cats love routine, and the new sights and sounds that come with traveling can cause extreme stress for your cat.
Whether you’re traveling by car or by airplane, it’s important to be prepared so you can keep your cat comfortable.
Why do cats get stressed during travel?
There are a few reasons why cats get stressed during trips. Cats are prey animals that generally like a predictable routine in order to anticipate an attack, so any kind of change can be scary for them. When travelling, the extra sights, sounds, and movement that come with traveling can be scary in their own right. Additionally, traveling in a car can cause motion sickness.
How can I tell if my cat is stressed?
Every cat has their own unique personality, and some cats get more stressed than others during travels. If your cat is stressed on the road, they might start meowing loudly or making abnormal vocalizations. In some cases, they may also start drooling or panting. Panting is considered abnormal in cats, and if this happens you should consider booking a check-up with your vet to make sure they haven’t got a heart problem.
Should I sedate my cat? What are my sedative options?
If your cat gets very stressed out during travel, sedation could be the best way to ensure they stay comfortable during travel. However, vets recommend only using sedation as a last and final resort. This is because it’s generally not possible to properly monitor your sedated cat during travel- their airway could become compromised, their blood pressure could drop, or their heartbeat could become irregular with nobody any the wiser. So, we suggest looking into alternative and herbal sedative methods and techniques for calming your cat that we set out below.
Alternatives to Sedating Your Cat
Sedating your cat for travel should always be a last resort. Most cats will do well on a trip with other, alternative calming techniques. You should always try these other alternatives before relying on sedatives to travel with your cat.
Swaddling your furry friend in a blanket can help calm their nerves by making them feel more secure. It brings them back to their kitten days, when their mothers would make them feel warm and taken care of. There are even blankets that are designed specifically for swaddling cats. You can also try covering their cat carrier with a blanket to reduce their exposure to stressful external stimuli.
Cats are very responsive to pheromones, so you can use a pheromone calming spray to help them relax. Feliway and other pheromone sprays are designed to replicate the pheromones that cats use to mark their territory, so spraying them in the cat carrier before your trip can help them relax and feel more at home.
Make sure you follow any instructions on the pack, and most recommend that they’re used at least 20minutes before the carrier is needed to allow time for the smelly alcohol and other ingredients to evaporate, leaving just the pheromone. There are also pheromone wipes that have a similar effect.
Another option is a pheromone collar, which goes around your cat’s neck and releases a calming scent that mother cats use to relax their kittens. If your cat doesn’t mind having something around their neck, using a collar can be an easy way to calm them down without sedatives. Ideally, you should put it on several hours before it’s needed so that your cat can benefit from the full effect.
There are also several different herbs that can work to calm your cat down in a stressful situation. Herbs don’t have the same side effects as sedatives, so they can be helpful for calming your cat down. Two good options are catnip and valerian. These need to be given to your cat before the trip – this will give them a very quick energy boost and then they will feel calm afterwards.
If you’re looking for immediate calm, you can also use chamomile or hops, which may have a relaxing effect.
However, it’s generally best to buy these calming products in a pre-prepared, safety-tested tablet, capsule or sprinkle, rather than risk giving the wrong dose or the wrong plant entirely with a homemade sedative for cats!
There are lots of herbal-based calming sedatives on the market, and your veterinarian will be able to talk through the best option for your cat. Make sure you pay attention to whether the product is suitable for sustained use or not if you plan to give it regularly, as not all products can be given often.
Tips For Road Trips With Your Cat
Cats don’t always like cars, but with some practice and advance planning, you can get them comfortable enough for a road trip. Here are some important tips to make the process easier.
Get your cat used to their carrier at a young age
Practice putting your cat in her carrier as a kitten to help them get used to it. They are much more impressionable at this age, so creating a travel routine for them now will be helpful as they get older. You’ve probably heard a lot about socialising dogs, but the same goes for cats – what you introduce them to now will be better accepted when they’re older!
Start with baby steps, by showing them the carrier is a safe and fun place to be – this is a lot like crate training a dog! Once they accept the carrier, practice carrying it to the car. At first, you don’t need to go anywhere – just out to the car and back is fine. Once they’re happy with that, move onto turning the engine on and, later, to going for a short drive. Building up in this way makes scary things easier to manage and, although it seems like a faff, is well worth it!
Don’t give your cat breakfast before travel.
Cats can get motion sick in the car, so it’s best not to feed them right before the trip. To avoid nausea and vomiting, alter your cat’s feeding schedule so they’ll eat the night before the trip as well as after the trip. If you’re travelling later in the day, try to allow their stomach to empty for around 4 hours before the journey.
Put a blanket over the carrier.
The sights of the car can be very overstimulating for your cat. Putting a blanket over their carrier can help them feel a little bit calmer during the drive. They’ll feel safer, as though they’re hiding in a den. It may also help to minimize some of the motion sickness that comes with a road trip.
Make sure you’re prepared.
When packing for the trip, make sure you have everything you need for your kitty. Bring along their medical documents in case you need to go to the vet at your final destination. You should also make sure you have food and water, familiar food bowls, some litter, and maybe even some disposable litter boxes. Prepping ahead of time will help you avoid last-minute trips to the store.
Tips for Air Travel With Your Cat
Taking your cat on a plane can be incredibly challenging – for most cats, it’s a completely new environment, and in some cases, you may even be separated from your kitty during the flight. Here’s what to keep in mind while flying with your cat.
Check with your airline ahead of time.
Every airline has different rules for bringing cats on board. Make sure to check with your airline ahead of time to see what their rules are for flying with your cat. You may need to bring a specific type of carrier, for example, or pay an additional pet fare.
Get any necessary vaccinations well before your trip.
Many airlines require that your cat has specific vaccinations before boarding the plane. If you’re traveling to a different country, they may also have requirements about vaccinations for your cat or your cat may need special paperwork. Talk to your vet well in advance of your trip to make sure you have time to get all of the necessary certificates. For some countries, emigration paperwork can take months so leave plenty of time!
Ask if you can have the cat in the cabin with you.
The most preferable way to fly with your cat is by having them in the cabin with you, under the seat in front of you. That way, you can talk to them and check on them throughout the flight to keep them calm. Some airlines won’t allow this, but many do, so don’t be afraid to ask.
Put an absorbent liner in the carrier.
Since your cat won’t have access to a litter box during the flight, the best way to avoid a mess is to put an absorbent potty pad in the bottom of the carrier. If they do go to the bathroom at any point during your travels, you can easily clean it up by removing the pad and putting in a fresh one. Pet-safe wet wipes are also a good option, in case your cat gets poop on their carrier – you’ll want to remove it all to reduce the smell!
Pack everything you need in your carry-on.
You don’t want to run the risk of having your cat supplies get lost, so put everything you need in a carry-on bag. This includes food, litter, any necessary medications, favorite toys or blankets, and your cat’s medical documents. Create your own packing list ahead of time to ensure you don’t forget anything.
A last resort… cat sedatives for travelling
If, despite all this, you’re still struggling to travel your cat, sedation could be the only way for them to be able to travel safely. No matter what, you should never give your cat a sedative designed for humans, as this can be deadly for cats. Instead, you’ll need to talk to your vet to get a prescription sedative. Your vet will be able to find the safest option for your cat depending on their level of fear, the length of the journey, and how well you’ll be able to monitor them and get them help if they need it. Here are some of the medications that your vet may prescribe your cat.
This drug is usually used to manage pain stemming from neurological issues in cats. However, it is becoming more common to use it as an anxiety treatment. It doesn’t have much of a taste, so it’s a good option for cats who are sensitive about their food. It’s usually prescribed by vets as a one-off before travel or veterinary procedures- you’ll need to talk to your vet if you think this will be necessary, as it’s a prescription-only drug.
SARIs (like Trazodone)
This is a category of anxiety drugs that can be helpful for sedation during travel. It works quickly and can really help your cat calm down. However, it can be very dangerous for cats who have certain chronic health conditions, so always check with your veterinarian and gain an individualised recommendation before using.
This is a category of sedatives that affect your cat’s neurotransmitters to make them feel relaxed and sleepy. However, they are not the best option for all cats – they can be dangerous for pregnant cats or cats with kidney and liver issues. They can also cause some harsh side effects such as aggression and nausea. Always discuss using sedatives like benzodiazepines with your vet before use.
While traveling with your cat can be tricky, it does get easier with practice and preparation. Talk to your vet ahead of time to determine the most effective way to calm your cat down for travel. Lastly, never, ever give your cat a sedative unless your hands-on vet has recommended it – it’s not worth the risk!