How to deal with motion sickness in cats?

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Whether it’s to bring your cat to the vet or because you’re heading away on holiday, each time you have to take puss in the car, your heart sinks. From high-pitched meowing and howling as soon as you start the engine, to drooling, vomiting, urinating and even defecating in their transport cage, the experience is nothing short of catastrophic. Like many cats, your favourite ball of fur suffers from motion sickness. But don’t despair – a number of solutions exist!

Two main causes of travel sickness in cats

Just like us humans, cats may experience an upset stomach when travelling by car due to an inner ear problem. The inner ear is made up of organs that are essential for keeping our balance. When they aren’t functioning correctly, they cannot analyse the car’s movements properly, which can lead to nausea. As the structure of the inner ear slowly develops over time, motion sickness is more likely to affect young cats, gradually disappearing as they get older.

Unfortunately, this is not systematically the case. Motion sickness in cats can also be considerably aggravated by anxiety and stress. Indeed, these two factors alone can cause the various symptoms described above. In this case, each trip by car is likely to make the situation worse: your cat will remember the previous bad experience and become even more stressed, making them even sicker...

Use positive reinforcement techniques

There are several measures you can take to prevent your cat from feeling sick in the car. First of all, place their transport cage on the floor: this is the safest spot and is the least subject to vibrations. Drive smoothly and avoid braking suddenly. Avoid playing music too loud and remember to turn on the air conditioning or open the windows. These different measures can help your cat to relax, but they won’t solve matters completely if they are very stressed when travelling by car. The best solution is to gradually accustom your cat to travelling by car. This involves using positive reinforcement techniques which will gradually help your cat get used to travelling by car.

This method is carried out in several steps and can take quite some time. Start by getting your cat used to their transport cage. Then, put your cat in their cage in the car for 10 minutes each day over the course of a week. Don’t start the engine and make sure to pet your cat and play with them so that they feel safe. Then repeat the process – this time with the engine running. After carrying out this ritual each day for a week, start taking your cat on short journeys, starting with 10-minute trips and gradually increasing the length of the journey. This will help your cat to gradually get used to travelling by car. At the end of each “test drive”, remember to give puss a treat as a reward.

Some tips to help ease motion sickness

By gradually getting your cat used to traveling in the car, you will reduce their level of stress, which is an important factor when it comes to motion sickness. In order to reduce the risk of vomiting, you should also be careful to only feed your cat light meals over the days preceding the trip and avoid feeding them in the 2 hours prior to departure.

If you all else fails and your cat is still not keen on car travel, different types of treatment may be prescribed by your vet, either in the form of antihistamines (to prevent vomiting) or tranquilisers. However, these treatments can make your cat drowsy and have side effects. They should therefore only be used as a last resort. You can try some more “natural” remedies before going down this path, such diffusing soothing pheromones or homeopathic remedies.

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