Cat travel stress can be a concern for any owner, whether you’re moving home with your kitty or simply taking them to the vet. Most kitties hate change and traveling somewhere unfamiliar can cause anxiety for your fur friend. But while travel—even if it’s just for an annual vet visit—is unavoidable for Mr Whiskers, your cat’s travel stress doesn’t have to be. 

Are you worried about an upcoming trip with your furry friend? Below, Cat in a Flat offers tips on how to reduce your cat’s travel stress.

Signs of a cat with travel stress

You can usually tell by your kitty’s facial expression whether they’re happy or unhappy, but do you know the signs of a cat with travel stress? Here are a few mannerisms to watch out for: 

  • Excessive vocalization such as howling or meowing.
  • Panting. It may look cute, but if your cat is panting like a dog, it could be a sign they are stressed.
  • Aggression such as scratching, hissing, or biting.
  • Excessive drooling or licking of lips.

Now that you know how to identify your cat’s travel stress, here are some ways to make a journey anywhere—whether it be a few miles or a hundred—more comfortable for your feline. 

Which carrier will reduce my cat’s travel stress?

First things first, you need to choose the ideal cat carrier before you even consider taking Mr Whiskers anywhere. Hard or soft carriers are the most common for pets. However, your furry friend’s personality plays a big role in which type of carrier will reduce travel stress for your cat. 

Soft carriers vs. Hard carriers

  • If your kitty is aggressive when under stress, it’s best to avoid soft cat carriers. Soft cat carriers are usually made up of mesh and fabric, which makes them easier for your kitty to destroy when upset. And, because Mr Whiskers can grip the mesh or fabric with his claws, it can also be incredibly difficult to get a stressed cat out of a soft carrier.
  • If you have a placid fur friend, or your cat shows travel stress by becoming more docile, a soft carrier will work just fine. In fact, it will probably be more comfortable because they are, well, soft. 
  • Hard carriers, especially those with removable tops, work best with easily stressed kitties. The hard material and opening top makes it easier for you take out or put your kitty inside. 

Which carrier size should I choose?

  • Obviously, the size of your carrier depends on which breed or type of cat you have and if they are a kitten or a full-grown adult. 
  • Soft carriers tend to be smaller and easier to carry—this can reduce both your cat’s travel stress and yours. However, be careful about getting a soft carrier that’s too small. It should be big enough for your fur friend to stand up and turn around in.
  • Hard carriers are bigger, but you should avoid purchasing one that is too large. Our fur friends feel safer in smaller spaces, so it’s important to find the right balance between a carrier that’s roomy enough without being uncomfortably large. 
swaddled cat

How to train my cat to like the cat carrier

Reducing your cat’s travel stress starts at home. Once you’ve decided which travel crate works best for Mr Whiskers, it’s time to acclimate your cat to their carrier. Here are a few tips to reduce your cat’s travel stress by helping them to get used to their carrier:

  • Don’t wait until the day of your journey to bring out the carrier. If you do this, your cat will automatically associate it with travel stress. It’s important to integrate the carrier into your living space several weeks before your trip. 
  • Felines feel safer in places that smell familiar. If your kitty climbs into their carrier regularly at home, they’re more likely to feel safe inside while traveling. Place items in the carrier that smell familiar to your kitty. Perhaps a favourite blanket, towel, or toy. Remember though, some toys are dangerous for cats and should only be played with while under your supervision. 
  • Creating a positive relationship with the carrier now will reduce your cat’s travel stress later. Keep treats on hand and reward your kitty when they climb into the carrier on their own. Another way to bolster positive reinforcement is by playing with your cat on or around their cat carrier. 
  • You won’t always know in advance when you’ll have to use the carrier. Your cat could become suddenly ill or injured and need an emergency vet visit. Take the carrier out and place it in a common area in the house periodically. The more Mr Whiskers gets used to seeing the carrier, the less travel stress your cat will experience when it’s necessary to use it. 

Cat sitters: It’s important to be prepared for any type of emergency while your furry client’s paw parents are away. It can be more difficult to get a kitty into their carrier when they aren’t as familiar with you as they are with their owners. Swaddling an anxious cat is a safe and effective way to get them into a carrier. Discuss beforehand with your clients whether this is the right approach for their feline. 

How to reduce my cat’s travel stress on the road

So, you’ve picked the best carrier for Mr. Whiskers and helped him get used to it. This doesn’t mean your kitty will be completely stress-free from now on! Here are a few ways to reduce your cat’s travel stress before and while on the road: 

  • On the day of your trip, tire your cat out by playing with them. Play and exercise will make your feline feel sleepy. A cat will experience less travel stress if they can sleep through the journey.
  • Before loading your cat, spray Feliway inside their crate. Feliway is a calming pheromone specifically engineered to reduce anxiety in cats. If you’re traveling by car, you can spray Feliway inside the car too. Note: NEVER spray Feliway directly on your cat or in the carrier while your furry friend is inside. 
  • Play classical music or music composed specifically for felines. This will help reduce your cat’s travel stress. 
  • A carrier and a car may feel unfamiliar to your cat, but one thing Mr. Whiskers does recognize is the sound of your voice. If possible, angle the carrier so your cat can see you, and talk to them throughout the journey. The sound of your voice can have a reassuring and soothing effect on your furry friend.  
  • Our fur friends are extremely sensitive to the moods of their owners. It’s important to stay calm when traveling with your kitty. If you’re nervous or anxious, your cat will pick up on it and become more stressed too. 

What if my cat still freaks out in the car? 

Keeping your fur friend calm isn’t always going to be easy. It’s very possible that your cat’s travel stress will always be a part of your lives. However, with these tips you’re sure to reduce and manage your cat’s travel stress more effectively. 

Remember that what works for one kitty might not work for another. If you live in a multi-cat household, it’s important to take some time to help each of your fur friends adjust to travel. There will be some trial-and-error involved, but that’s completely normal! Being patient and helping your kitty to stay calm while traveling is well worth it.

Looking for more tips on how to reduce your cat’s anxiety? Check out our blog posts on minimising your kitty’s stress levels when you’re away and how to identify common signs of stress in cats

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