Cats and cars can go together! Here’s how to make traveling with your kitty fun for both of you.

The thought of taking your cat on a car trip may make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. So you may be surprised to learn that many people regularly travel with their cats, and both kitties and their human parents enjoy the rides.

If you were driven to the dentist every time you got in a car, how many trips would it take to convince you not to like car rides, and how loudly would you protest during the trip? Sound familiar? Your cat knows your car has one destiny, and one destiny only – the veterinary clinic. That’s why he doesn’t want any part of a car ride!

You need to teach your cat that car rides are enjoyable. If this sounds impossible, consider this: when our family fi rst fostered a 13-year-old male Persian rescued from a breeder’s small cage, he was terrifi ed of everything. Yet, we easily taught Mr. Purrfect to love car rides.
Here’s how we did it, and how you can teach your own cat to feel comfortable in the car.

Baby steps

  • Start by letting your feline explore the vehicle while it’s turned off. Chat with him, play with him, and give him a treat so he learns the car is a nice place to be.
  • Once your cat’s body language looks relaxed, start the car.
  • Once he’s comfortable with the noise, drive slowly up and down your driveway, if it’s long enough, or along the street. Go very short distances at a time.
  • If the cat’s body language looks agitated, immediately return home. That way, you alleviate his fear for the next short trip, and he learns the car won’t always end up at the veterinary clinic.

A carrier or seat

Before taking your cat any distance, consider his safety and invest in a comfortable crate or carrier (if he’s shy and likes to hide) or harness him in a soft mesh pet seat that buckles securely with the car’s seat belts (if he’s the inquisitive type and likes to look out). These are readily available at pet stores. An example is the Snoozer Lookout Car Seat. Cats are visual and many like to see outside the car. It helps calm them and distracts them from car smells and road noise. If you opt for a safety seat, you will also have to buy a harness for your cat and get him accustomed to wearing it.

Although it might seem more fun to let your cat have total freedom in the car, it’s not safe for either you or him. In a vehicular accident, unrestrained animals become projectiles and are often injured or killed, or flee from open doors or broken windows. Conversely, a loose cat roaming around the car may distract you and cause an accident. In fact, the American Automobile Association (AAA) reports that animals moving around in vehicles are one of the biggest distractions for drivers. At one accident scene, a driver was killed when her animal lodged between her foot and the car’s brake.

Once you’ve acquired some form of restraint and have accustomed your cat to it as well as the car, begin taking him somewhere fun on a regular basis; drive by the ducks at the park, for example. In time, he’ll come to enjoy car rides enough that you’ll be able to travel with him comfortably.

Car rides stimulate an indoor cat’s senses, and help relieve boredom.

Additional tips

  • Always have a litter box in the cat’s carrier or near his car seat. There’s something about a car ride that con-nects to a cat’s plumbing!
  • Once you arrive at your destination or back home, never let your cat jump from the car once you’ve released him from his crate or car seat. Always carry him, or take him in his carrier. This teaches him to patiently wait until he is lifted from the car, and prevents him from unexpectedly jumping out when you are entering or exiting the vehicle.
  • Reward your cat with his favorite food or treat when you get to your destination or return home.
  • If you feel the need to calm your cat, try the homeopathic remedy Pet Calm or Bach Rescue Remedy.
  • Use elevated trays to hold the cat’s food and water so the dishes do not slide around in the car.
  • Even if your cat has microchip ID, a cat harness with your name and cell phone number attached is a good idea.
  • A cat’s center of gravity is different from a human’s, and erratic driving tosses him about. Keep your driving steady and smooth even if your cat is in a carrier, as he can easily be jostled from side to side.

When Mr. Purrfect found his forever home, his guardian owned two houses 500 miles apart. Mr. Purrfect loved the car rides back and forth. His guardian was grateful to have him so calm for the long trips, and she enjoyed his company. It seems you can teach an old cat new tricks!

Follow these suggestions, be patient, and your cat will eventually enjoy and look forward to car rides as much as Mr. Purrfect does!