The summer travel season is here! While we won’t all be taking our favorite cat(s) with us on road trips, we should all be taking our feline friends at least once a year for a check-up. And, that does usually involve a car.

For some, this is known as “the dreaded trip to the vet.” Most cats don’t like it; although, I have met a curious few that love riding in the car… but this typically ends in human frustration. While cats should always travel secured in a vehicle (and there are many wonderful travel carriers on the market), Step 1 is still getting your cat into the carrier.

So, why do cats hate the car/carrier so much? Let’s look at it from the cat’s perspective for a second: For most cats, a car trip is that one time a year when the dreaded “box” comes out; and they will be traveling in a loud, unpredictable thing to a place with unfamiliar smells and (probably) get poked with something. While there is the rare cat that has motion sickness, it’s just plain scary for most.

So, what can we do to make car trips more enjoyable all around? As with most anything else with cats, it takes time, patience, and positive reinforcement. In short, it amounts to training your cat to believe that carriers and vehicles are not really scary. After all, if zoos can train big, wild cats to stand still for injections and blood draws, we can certainly teach our cats to ride in a carrier without fear!

But, what steps are needed? Let’s find out!

Step 1: Use a suitable sized travel carrier. It should be large enough that the cat can stand up and turn around easily. It should also be secure. (I once had a cat that could open any carrier with a zipper). The carrier should also be able to be secured in your vehicle with a seatbelt or other restraint device.

Step 2: Introduce your cat to the carrier. Any interactions with the carrier should be positive, and the most positive things for cats are typically food and play. Training sessions only need to last 5 – 10 minutes per day. Your cat should be encouraged, never forced, to enter the carrier on their own. You can even let it sit with the door open for a few days to see if the cat will go in on their own. A laser pointer is a great way to “trick” cats into going into a carrier. Once the cat is in, turn off the laser pointer and give him/her a small treat. This can be repeated several times to get the cat used to going in and out of the carrier door. The next day try closing the carrier door briefly before offering a treat. Work up to carrying the carrier around the house and then out to the car.

Step 3: Introduce your cat to the car. The car will be completely different for your cat: it will have new odors, new (and probably) louder sounds than in the house and feel much different. Cats have far better hearing and senses than we do. Again, we want to try and make the car a positive experience, so work up slowly. Place the carrier in the car and offer a treat. Let the carrier sit for a few seconds and then go back inside and let the cat out and offer another treat. Work up to starting the car and eventually going for short rides around the block. We always encourage clients to just stop by anytime with their cat(s), just to make the trip with nothing happening. We will usually get a weight and then offer treats and petting, and then they get to go home again.

As with all travel, safety is key. Your pet’s carrier should be clearly marked with his/her name and emergency contact information. We also recommend ALL cats be microchipped for permanent identification. Accidents can and do happen, at home and on the road. If the carrier breaks and the cat gets out, the best way to get your cat back is with a permanent ID.

While it may seem daunting, your cat can be trained to go into a carrier and ride in the car. It just takes time, patience, and positive reinforcement. Remember, don’t move onto the next step if your cat seems unsure of something. Good luck and have fun! =^_^=