Home Pet Care Info Travelling with Cats (especially to the vet!)


Travelling with Cats (especially to the vet!)

We want your cat’s visit to be as pleasant as possible. The following information is provided to help you and your cat to have a more comfortable and relaxed experience.

Getting the cat into the carrier

Why must you put your cat into a carrier? The simple answer is safety: cats who are correctly secured in carriers cannot become projectiles should the car stop suddenly; they cannot become panicked and entangled in the pedals or steering wheel; they are less of a distraction to the driver; they are protected from a panicky response that could cause them to run into traffic when the door opens; and they are able to be transported safely and quickly into the veterinary hospital. While in the veterinary hospital, carriers, or crates — if used appropriately — protect animals from each other and may provide for the concerned cat a familiar and comfortable place to hide.

If your cat has been raised to walk on a lead and a harness, and the cat has been taken on routine car trips since kitten-hood, you may not need a carrier. Cats raised to enjoy car travel and to walk on a lead and harness can be buckled into a seat belt using a harness for small dogs. For all other cats, carriers are safer and saner choices.

The first step in using carriers is to make the carrier a comfortable, secure place for the cat.

Keep the carrier open in the house. Leave the carrier out all the time, or at least for several days before the appointment. Leave a blanket or towel in the carrier, as well as toys and treats. If you regularly wipe your cat down with a towel, you can both wipe the crate with that towel and leave that towel in the crate.

Regularly throw treats or feed meals in the carrier. Praise your cat for entering the carrier. Start coupling this sequence—carrier, tossed treat, cat in carrier, praise—with a word or phrase that the cat will learn means he is to go into the carrier (eg, “box,” “get in the box,” or “travel time”). If your cat learns to like the carrier and to associate it with treats or meals, getting him to go in it on cue is a very easy next step.

Feliway Spray (a synthetic pheromone analogue) is available from us and may be helpful if you spray it in the carrier 5-10 minutes before you expect to have the cat use it. Consider using lavender or chamomile sachets in the carrier for your cat. There are data supporting the concept that these herbs induce changes in activity associated with a more relaxed state in dogs (Graham et al., 2005). We don’t know if the same is true for cats, but investigation is worthwhile. If the cat seems to find such scents calming, you can also attach scented tags to collars, or place bandanas treated with the scent on the cat or in the box.

Bring favourite toys, treats, or blankets to help comfort the cat in a strange environment. If your cat loves to be combed or brushed, you can bring the comb or brush to use during the examination to help comfort your cat.

Never yell at or chase the cat to get him or her into the carrier. If your cat does not go into the carrier on cue, get your cat to come into a bathroom or another small room with you where it cannot go under a bed or other piece of furniture to hide from you. Praise your cat. Then go to get the carrier and while speaking calmly and gently, but firmly, place your cat in the carrier while continuing to speak calmly to your cat. If you feel that you are struggling to get your cat through the door rather than placing the cat gently into the carrier, consider using a top-loading carrier.

Choices of carriers

Carriers that provide the option of loading from the top or loading from the front make it easier to get the cat into the carrier in a non-stressful manner.

Most front-loading carriers have top halves that are screwed on. The screws and top half can be removed, so that the cat can be gently placed in the bottom half and held in a towel while the top half is replaced and re-secured.

Soft-sided carriers ensure your cat will not get away from you during transport, and they are not as heavy as the hard-sided carriers.

In an emergency, a laundry basket can be used by clipping a thick blanket or fake fleece on the top for a lid, or by clipping two laundry baskets together (one upside down). Large document clips available at office supply stores work well for this purpose.

Cats can also be carried in a pillowslip, but again, this should only be sued in an emergency. A secure, safe cat cage or carrier is the best option, and even better if your cat has gotten used to it in advance.

The car trip

It’s best not to feed your cat before car rides. Fasting your cat overnight helps prevent nausea and car sickness, allows for more accurate laboratory tests (hence the request for a “fasting sample”), and may make your cat more interested in food treats given at the veterinary hospital. There are some cats who should not be fasted because of medical conditions.

If your cat gets carsick, it may learn to associate trips to the veterinary hospital with being ill. Cats prone to car sickness are not usually taken anywhere except to the vet’s because the experience is so miserable for the owner and the cat, so the association with feeling ill becomes even more tightly coupled to veterinary care. Although the cat’s stomach is empty, queasiness may also affect the outcome of laboratory evaluation, so it is important to understand that the behaviours your cat is exhibiting may directly and indirectly affect the type of information your veterinarians can obtain.

The best way to teach cats to travel well in the car is to travel early and often with them in the car. If cats were offered the opportunity as kittens to travel as often and to as many places as dogs are, they, too, would eagerly await trips. In places where many people leash-walk or take their cats in cars, vendors often provide cat treats, as well as dog biscuits.

The veterinary hospital

Food treats should be used at the veterinary hospital to reduce fear and to provide a more pleasant experience for the cat. Some cats need more encouragement than can be provided by food treats alone. If your cat has had previous negative experiences at our veterinary hospital or if you have had a number of negative experiences in another veterinary hospital, an anti-anxiety medication (alprazolam) can be prescribed to help make the cat less anxious. Please remember that the way you react to your cat can either upset your cat further or help to make the experience a good one. Please stay calm and praise your cat for good behaviour. Please learn which of your behavioral signals could trigger upset in your cat and consider substituting these signals with deep breaths, long, slow pats or massages, and quiet, calming whispers and words. Depending on how distressed your cat becomes at the hospital, we can offer additional alprazolam to help ease the experience or a series of more active behavioural protocols to help teach your cat to relax. If you think either of these things would be helpful or desirable, please ask.

Handling cats humanely in the veterinary hospital
Anseeuw E et al  2006, Journal of Veterinary Behaviour 1 (2) 84-88