It's safe to say that most cats don't travel by car very often. The most common car trip is usually to the vet, and that event causes enough anxiety by itself. Getting stressed out by the car ride to the vet may make it difficult to tell what is "normal" and what is stress-related on the physical exam for some cats. Here are some tips to reduce travel stress to the vet's office and beyond.
For the safety of the driver and the cat, carriers should always be used for transporting cats (dogs too). Cats can startle easily, jump out of the smallest opening or basically interfere with the driver's duties when they are stressed. The carrier should be cleansed after each use with a non-toxic soap or cleanser.
Letting your cat explore the cat carrier at their own pace and without any pending trip is always a good idea. Offering a treat or small amount of food in this non-stressed situation may incite some curiosity and comfort, too.
Feliway for the carrier and home
The pheromone product called Feliway® is also a great "secret weapon" for calming down cats. This spray can be applied to the towel or bedding in the carrier to induce a state of calm and content in your cat, and hopefully, remove any old associations. A Feliway®-spritz towel may be used to cover the carrier so the cat feels safe and "hidden."
This product is also available as a room diffuser for regular usage. Be sure to read package recommendations for the size of area and number of diffusers needed for maximum effect.
While it may be considered a hassle to take your cat for a quick ride to the post office or bank, short trips of no consequence (i.e. a vet visit) may help reduce car anxiety and build confidence in your cat with each car ride. It is important to stress the need for short trips so your cat will not be left alone in warm weather, where heatstroke in hot cars poses a serious risk.
Weight Check at the Vet's Office
Most veterinary offices are happy to do a quick weigh-in. Be sure to call ahead to check office hours and avoid busy times. The receptionist should be able to recommend a best day and time for a weigh-in.
Your cat may be weighed alone on the scale or in the carrier on the scale (subtracting the weight of the carrier) to become familiar with the veterinary office. A one-pound gain or loss in an average 10-pound cat represents 10% of their body weight, so tracking weight is always a healthy idea.
Speak to your veterinarian about scheduling your cat's appointment during quieter times of the day. Some veterinarians have cat-only entrances and waiting rooms which also help to keep cats calm.
Feline Only Practices
Some veterinarians specialize in feline medicine and their practice is limited to cats only. This is a great option for cats who are OK with the car ride but get stressed out by the dogs and noise of a mixed practice.
House Call Veterinarian
If the thought of going to the vet stresses you and your cat out, consider utilizing a mobile veterinarian. Ask your vet if they do any house calls, and if not, if they can recommend a house call vet in your area. Friends, family, groomers and boarding kennels may also know of someone to recommend.
If your cat is one that will not be calmed in the car or at the veterinary office, please speak to your veterinarian about the possibility of giving a light sedation at home prior to the trip. This may maximize the veterinary exam effectiveness while reducing your cat's stress.