For cats, the production of a carrier usually means a trip to the veterinarian so they are often not too keen to get into it! Take time to let the cat become accustomed to the carrier or travel crate well before the journey. Make it a pleasant place to be – feed the cat treats inside it and make a cozy bed of familiar smelling bedding which can be used on the journey. Leave the door open and encourage the cat to go in and out and to sleep in it. Then, when it comes to the actual journey, the cat is at least familiar with its immediate environment. If you have more than one cat it is better to give them separate carriers which allow better flow through of air, more room and less chance of overheating. Even the best of friends may become stressed during a journey and behave in an uncharacteristic way such as becoming agitated with each other; separate carriers will prevent any injury. If they can at least see and hear each other they may be comforted by that. Withhold food for about four to five hours before the journey in case the cat is sick while travelling. Offer water up to the time you leave and again during the journey if possible. You can buy bowls which attach to cages so they are not spilled by the cat during the journey and are easy to fill without opening the cage should there be a delay during the journey.
It can be very dangerous to have a cat lose in the car – not only could it cause an accident by becoming entangled with the driver, but if a window or door was opened or an accident occurred, the cat could escape and become lost. You will need to invest in a carrier which is strong and easy to clean should the cat urinate or defecate or become sick during the journey. It is best to avoid the cardboard or very cheap, light plastic boxes which are suitable for short journeys or very temporary confinement but would not be strong enough for longer periods, especially if they became wet.
If you have a large metal pen (such as those used for a dog when in the back of the car) then you may wish to put your cat in this, however, do bear in mind that larger is not necessarily better when it comes to the cat feeling safe and secure. Cats quite like to sit in a small space and are unlikely to move around a great deal anyway. If you are using a larger crate which fits in the back of the car you will still need a small carrier which can be carried to and from the car to keep the cat safe at either end of the journey. If you are using a large crate you may be able to provide the cat with a litter tray although it is unlikely that it will actually use it during the journey. It may be better to line the carrier well with newspaper and absorbent cloth in case an accident happens and take some spare familiar-smelling bedding if you need to replace it. Place the carrier where it will be secure if you have to brake suddenly but where it has a good air flow. Do not put the cat in the trunk and take care with the rear of hatchbacks – ventilation may be poor and the cat may overheat. You can secure the carrier behind one of the front seats or use the seat belt to make sure it is held securely on the seat. The cat may meow initially or even throughout the whole journey – speak calmly and reassuringly to it but resist letting it out of its carrier. The noise will probably drive you mad but the cat is unlikely to be suffering; just voicing its dislike of the situation! Eventually, the constant motion and noise of the car will probably induce it to sleep or at least to settle down.
The Indoor Pet Initiative website (learn more), created by Dr. Tony Buffington of The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine, suggests going one step further and identifying your cat’s prey preference. The site states that most cats prefer to hunt a specific type of animals, such as birds, mice or insects.
Feeding cats from interactive food-dispensing toys instead of from a bowl is another way to satisfy your cat’s need to hunt. It’s a good idea to purchase a variety of food toys and alternate them each day. Some great toys include the Pipolino (learn more), the Egg-Cersizer and the Fun Kitty line of toys (all available here and sold at the Shiloh Veterinary Hospital). Hiding food and treats in your house for cats to sniff out is also a fun game for many cats.
Have you ever considered training your cat to do tricks? Cats respond well to food treats and can learn even faster with clicker training. Training with positive reinforcement methods is a great way to stimulate your cat’s mind and increase your bond. Here are some great training tips.
If you want to give your cat a chance to be outside safely, you may consider purchasing a comfortable harness and taking your cat outside on a leash. To provide a little more freedom outside, there are fences made specifically to allow cats to enjoy the outdoors without a chance to escape. Check out these websites for options and these.
Learning more about normal cat behavior is a great way to understand their needs and provide a healthy, happy indoor home for them. For more ideas, I recommend you read about environmental enrichment on the following wonderful websites: here and here.