The majority of felines are seemingly indifferent to their surroundings. So why do cats hate car rides in particular?
There are a few different reasons. The big one being that cats are extremely territorial creatures and loathe change. Being creatures of habit, any sudden or foreign sights, smells or noises are extremely unsettling. Cats also have good long-term memories and will associate a car with any unsavory experiences that happened outside their comfort zone; perhaps getting a shot or undergoing surgery at the vet.
If you take a look at the ancestry of cats then it starts to make sense as to why they exhibit such behavior. Especially when compared to dogs, who mostly don’t mind the car and even get excited to go on trips.
The key difference between cats and dogs is simple: cats weren’t domesticated in the same way dogs were.
A study of ancient cat DNA has revealed that domestic cats are almost exactly identical to their wild counterparts-both physically and genetically. Additionally, cats such no signs of animal domestication; such as decreased tooth size, docility or infantilization of facial features.
On the other hand, dogs bodies and temperaments have radically transformed over the 30,000~ years that they’ve lived with humans. According to the Smithsonian, our bond is so close with dogs even our brains sync up. Ever lock eyes with a pup while you’re giving them pets? Well, according to this study, whens dogs and humans look into each other’s eyes, each of their brain releases oxytocin- the hormone linked to trust and maternal bonding.
The main takeaway is this: dogs were bred on purpose and cats were not. The reason cats hate car rides is because it’s their instinctual response to a change in their daily rituals.
Movement of the Car
Being in a car seems completely natural to humans. Getting into a 2 ton metal sled and racing away at speeds of 60 MPH is an every day occurrence. Your cat, who sleeps 15 hours per day on average, is not so desensitized.
Motion sickness in cats is common, and is primarily caused by anxiety and stress during long car rides. Diarrhea, hyperventilating, crying and panting are all symptoms of motion sickness. If you’re having problems read our post explaining how to calm down a cat in the car for the solution to motion sickness.
Potholes, speed bumps and uneven terrain are another reason why cats hate car rides. However, sometimes this cannot be helped. Especially if your city or town doesn’t prioritize the roads in their budget. Nevertheless, keep the ride as smooth as possible by driving slow and avoiding potholes when possible.
Cats take in a lot with just their nose. In fact, their sense of smell is up to 14x more sensitive than ours. That means smells we barely even notice can easily upset or stress a cat out.
Your furball is used to the normal smells that come from your everyday life. When forced into a box and then a bigger box with wheels, your cats nose is getting bombarded with hundreds of foreign- and possibly hostile- scents. Here’s a list of smells to keep far away from your kitty on travel day:
- Carpet fresheners,
- Disinfectants and cleaning agents
- Hair spray and perfumes
- Scented litter
- Air fresheners
They Aren’t Used to Traveling
Unlike dogs, cats don’t really like going to places like the park to run around and socialize. In fact, there’s often little reason for them to leave the house except to go to the vet. It’s natural- especially traveling with cats in a car long distance- that your furbaby gets upset. But the more you bring them along the easier it becomes.
Since felines can hear very high tones (about 1.6 octaves higher than humans), loud and excessive noises can lead to something called acoustic stress. This fact is something to keep in mind at all times, not just while traveling. Be conscious of the everyday noises you make around the house. Turn the TV down a notch or two. Mitigating noise pollution can really help your cat’s stress levels.
When traveling with your cat in the car, the odds your feline hears loud and sudden noises shoot up. Car horns, speeding vehicles or a backfiring automobile are the biggest culprits. Every fiber in your cat’s DNA is telling her to run away- which isn’t really possible while inside a cat carrier.
More often than not, traveling with your cat is going to include running into other people. Could be passengers on an airplane, people and their pets in the waiting room or just the vet. It doesn’t really matter because all strangers are the same to your cat. This, on top of everything else, is sure to lead to an anxious cat.
How to Calm Down a Cat in The Car
I wrote an entire post on this topic, but I’ll briefly talk about it here since it’s relevant. Now that you know WHY cats hate riding in the car, what can you do to keep your cat calm during the trip?
The first step is to choose the right carrier. If you have a particularly aggressive or anxious feline, you should look for the best cat carrier for difficult cats. Not all carriers are made equal and it’s important to get the one best suited for your cat.
The next step is stinking up your carrier and car. Toys, blankets, beds– throw anything inside the carrier that your cat interacts with. These familiar objects with familiar smells will have a soothing effect. Same goes for your car. You can even rub a blanket or towel all over your cat and wipe down your car seats with it. It may not be your favorite smell, but you won’t have to deal with it for long. At least it won’t smell as bad as the litter box.
Medicine to Calm Cats for Travel
If your cat is still crying or panting in the car at this point you may be considering cat sedation for travel. There are plenty of over the counter cat sedatives that you can try before discussing a prescription option with your vet.
I like to try natural cat sedatives like pheromone spray first. These sprays are designed to mimic the pheromones a mother cat will release to calm down her kittens. Pheromones work great specifically for cats panting in the car. Cat parents have reported mixed results but it’s always worth a shot.
Here is a list of sedatives you can try:
- Bach Rescue Remedy
- Calming collars/ Pheromone sprays
- Prescription drugs