Get Your Cat to Like the Car

Cat looking at the traffic

Getting your cat to the vet can be tricky if your cat hates the car. For many cats, riding in the car is unpleasant. But for some, it's the worst thing that could ever happen to them (according to them, at least).

So once your cat is comfortable in his carrier, the next step to reducing the stress of vet visits (or travel in general) is to create positive car associations for your cat. The process takes some time and patience, but it's worth it. Here's how:

  1. Start young: Kittens usually adjust to new experiences and surroundings more easily than adult or senior cats, so start the travel-training process as early as possible. If your cat is past kittenhood, don't worry: Adult and senior cats can still learn to tolerate car rides.
  2. Rule out motion sickness: If your cat already has difficulty traveling in the car, ask your vet whether your cat could be getting motion sickness. Symptoms include drooling, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. If you suspect that your cat is getting motion sickness, your vet may recommend a medication such as Dramamine to treat the nausea. (Never give your cat medication without asking your vet first.)
  3. Practice getting in the car: Bring your cat, secured safely in his carrier, out to your car (with its engine off). Strap him in with a seatbelt and sit next to him. If your cat is calm, give him his favorite treat. Repeat, gradually increasing the amount of time he has to wait in the car until he gets treats. If he seems upset or tries to get out, don't give him a treat and try again with less time in the car. When you bring him back into the house, let him out calmly and without fanfare.
  4. Practice turning on the engine: After your cat learns that sitting in the carrier in the car is okay, try turning on the engine before giving him treats. Add this to your routine, rewarding calm behavior with treats and stopping when you observe nervous behavior.
  5. Practice driving around the block: Once your cat can stay calm while you have the engine on for a few minutes, try driving around the block, then give your cat a treat. After he's eaten the treat, bring him back inside and let him out. If your cat did well on that short trip, repeat the process, gradually increasing the distance you drive and rewarding your cat for staying calm. Having a second person to give your cat treats while you drive can help.
  6. Practice driving at different speeds and around corners: After your cat's a pro at driving around your neighborhood, try driving one exit on a highway and/or a short distance on a winding road. Once you're in a safe place to stop, pull over and give your cat a treat if he's done well.
  7. Practice driving to your vet's office: If your cat's like mine, he can tell where you're headed from the twists and turns of the road. So get him used to the route you take to and from the vet's office by following the same routine described above, rewarding calm behavior.

Despite your best efforts, some cats may never fully get comfortable being in the car. For those cats, you may want to consider finding a vet within walking distance of your house, or getting a vet that does house calls. This will make sure you cat stays calm before seeing the vet, and give your vet the best chance of giving a thorough examination.