Most cats like to stay in familiar surroundings, though they can certainly become accustomed to travel if introduced at an early age. Whether it be a trip to the veterinarian, a move, or a vacation, there are times when we need to take our cats out of their home.
For car or air travel, using a cat carrier is safest. Make sure the carrier is large enough so your cat can turn around comfortably. There are hard carriers like the ‘pet taxi’ or soft duffle-style, even collapsible models. These can be purchased at local retailers such as pet stores, Target, Menards or online, ranging in price from $10 to $30 or more. A blanket inside the carrier and a towel over the side to block sight can help reduce stress.
Feliway, a calming scent hormone, is sold as a spray and can be applied to the carrier before departure. Spray the carrier for a few days ahead of the trip, and leave it out for your cat to explore.
Many people ask about medication to sedate their cat for travel. There is no great choice for this purpose. Here are some common medications and why they are not ideal for cats.
- Diphenhydramine (Benedryl)– This antihistamine does not work well in cats. It is used for rare allergic reactions, but generally does not help with travel.
- Acepromazine– This medication is only used in animals and can only be obtained from a licensed veterinarian. It is a tranquilizer and will subdue your cat, but does not decrease anxiety. It also lowers blood pressure and should not be used in elderly or sick pets. It can be used, for example, for a cabin airplane ride, to help decrease vocalization. It should never be used in an animal traveling in the cargo of an airplane, which should be avoided anyway. In small doses, it may help with motion sickness.
- Alprazolam (Xanax)– Recently this has become the medication of choice for anxiety in dogs related to storms or fireworks. It does decrease anxiety. However, the results vary in cats. A test dose should be given prior to the day of travel to see how your cat reacts. This medication must be prescribed by your veterinarian.
- Herbal supplements– Rescue Remedy is one example of a homeopathic drop used for stress in cats. Very few scientific studies have been conducted on using supplements in cats. It is unknown at this time which herbs and at what doses can be widely recommended to decrease traveling stress in cats.
Generally, it is best to avoid medications for travel if possible. Acclimate your cat to the carrier before the trip and bring along items that smell like home. Remember to never leave a pet in a car when it is warm outside.