Taking your Cats out for a Spin in the Car

Updated: Mar 8

With the spring break and the promise of warmer temperatures in our neck of the woods just around the corner, we are already starting to plan our seasonal road trips. This year will be different because we have decided to bring our cats.

If you're like us, a road trip with our beloved feline family members sounds splendid! I mean, who doesn't want to wake up in their Air BnB or hotel or tent with their lovely cats purring underfoot, ready for breakfast?

If this sounds like you? Read on!

This summer, we are planning an epic road trip to the Canadian maritimes with our cats. We are planning a combination tent camping and Air BnB adventure. However, we know that we can't just spring a long car ride on the cats at the last minute.

No doubt, you've probably heard that ancient proverb, 'a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.' This means that a single, first step puts you on the path to completing a difficult task. And however challenging that task is, you can only complete it, if you first start. And for us, knowing we want to take the cats on a road trip this summer has allowed us plenty of time to get smaller trips in the car under our belt.

Most cats - and some dogs - may never enjoy or feel comfortable in cars. Some may even require special medications or stress jackets in order to endure a short ride. Speak to your vet if your cat or dog is in this situation. However, if you're like us - where your cats display no medical issues or major anxieties in these situations - then you can train your cat to feel comfortable in the car.

Getting used to the car: Start Small

The key, like any new activity, is to start with a small step. And by small, this could mean, just putting your cat in their carrier and staying in the car. When we started training Fox and Frankie for car rides, we tethered them into their backpacks and opened the top. We would just sit in the car, engine running, but not go anywhere. We did this for about 10 minutes at a time. Of course, we gave them treats to help them associate car rides with a positive experience.

Because they were kittens. Fox and Frankie caught on quickly. So after about five or six times doing this, we actually started the car and went around the block. At first they used to cry a bit. But one of us would sit in the back of the car and pet and reassure them.

Once they got comfortable with going around the block, we would go to the park that is about five to ten minutes away. In the beginning, one of us would continue to sit in the back with both of them, petting them in their backpacks if they started to show any anxiety.

After a while, these 10 minute trips got longer and longer. And now we no longer need to sit with them to comfort them. Usually for car rides for more than 30 minutes, they just fall asleep.

Recently, we did a road trip where Fox and Frankie were in the car for about five hours straight. In this situation we planned a stop where they could stretch their legs and have some water or food if they wished. We also put a litter box in the car, though they did not use it. By all accounts, this road trip was successful. Both Fox and Frankie adjusted well to the car ride quickly. But it took little steps to get to this point.

See our litter box set up in the car, in the video below. Note, we were fully stopped and parked in this situation.

Trouble Shooting

Sometimes the road travelled may be "bumpy" and things may not go as planned or your cats may get a bit more anxious. This is normal. In these situations, step backwards and comfort and pet your cat if it starts to pant or cry. As mentioned earlier, if your cat is suffering from motion sickness or is exhibiting other behaviours that would perhaps indicate they are in distress, speak to your vet.

The Road Ahead

Paying attention to your cat's response and behaviours while in the car is key. And once your cat is comfortable in the car, that road trip you've been thinking about becomes possible.

Happy travels!

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