Reader needs advice about cat with travel anxiety

Ask the RV Vet

 With Dr. Deanna Tolliver, M.S., DVM
 YourRVvet@gmail.com

Dear Dr. Deanna–I was wondering if you could point me in the best direction to help our cat. He has been an inside/outside cat for his whole life. He is adjusting well to the RV space, but gets terribly upset and has bad tummy issues when we get going in the truck. We have learned to recognize when he needs to get out based on his meows, but I don’t want him to have to get to that point. We have gotten him a calming shirt much like a swaddle for a baby and he is very happy once we put it on. That is until the truck starts to move. That is why we are believing his problem to be motion sickness. What can we do to help him with our on-the-road times? Thanks in advance for any help you can offer. —Cheryl

Hi Cheryl–I feel your pain about your cat. I tried traveling with a cat a few years ago. As a kitten he was fine riding in a crate in the truck. As he got older, he vocalized almost continuously when we were traveling. He was okay in the RV when we were stopped, but then, when he started maturing, he began darting out the door. I decided that was too dangerous for him so he became a clinic cat.

Your cat’s issue may be motion sickness but stress is likely his biggest issue, from being in the crate. For a lot of cats, being in a crate means going to the vet, as that is the only time they’re put in there. Or, they just don’t understand the crate and why they’re “imprisoned.” Treating the stress will help control his tummy issues.

It can be helpful to acclimate your cat to the crate before going on an extended trip. Try these steps:

• At first, just leave the crate open in the house. Put some catnip toys or treats inside the crate a few times a day. You could also add a T-shirt or blanket that he’s familiar with.

• After doing this for a week or so, put the cat inside the crate with the toys and treats. Pick up the crate, but just move it to a different part of the house. Leave him in the crate for a few minutes at a time, and gradually increase the amount of time, but not to exceed around 10-15 minutes.

• After another week, put the cat in the crate inside the vehicle or RV. Don’t start the engine; just spend some time with the cat in the same space. When you think the cat is comfortable with this, start the engine, but just idle the first few times.

• Finally, when you think the cat is comfortable, take a trip around the block. Then slowly take longer trips of 15-30 minutes. Hopefully by that time your cat will accept the crate and the movement. This behavioral modification can take several weeks.

Another option is to try one of the pheromone-based products that are advertised as having a calming effect on cats. Two name brands are Feliway and Calming Spray. You would spray the inside of the crate before putting the cat inside, and then spritz a few times — not directly on the cat — while on the road. 

I’m glad you mentioned the calming shirt. It may not help every cat (also available for dogs), but it’s another option to try. Thundershirt was one of the first products on the market; now there are several similar ones. The shirt is supposed to help calm the dog or cat by swaddling it, similar to what humans do with infants. It’s important to not leave it on the cat for long periods of time, when you’re not actually traveling, and when he might get too warm wearing it.


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I know at times it might be tempting to let him out of the crate while you’re moving, but that’s a bad idea. Cats can get under the driver’s feet and cause an accident, or get up under the dash, or any number of places that only cats could get to that you don’t want them to.

Ask your veterinarian about trying one of the anti-nausea (Meclizine is one) and/or anti-anxiety (Xanax; there are others) medications available for cats. ALWAYS follow your veterinarian’s instructions when using these medications. You may have to try different ones before you find one that really helps him. It can be helpful to withhold food for about 12 hours prior to travel, but do not withhold water.

Wish I had a magic potion to help you. Don’t give up until you’ve tried several of these things, or combinations of these things. I would love to have an update from you in the future….hopefully with good news!

Dr. Deanna

Dr. Deanna Tolliver has been a full-time RVer for over 3 years, although she has been an RVer for several more. She travels with a fifth wheel and a 1-ton dually truck. Her travel companions include 4 small dogs and a 36-year-old Yellow-Naped Amazon Parrot. She has a BS and MS in biology and zoology, respectively, and a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from the University of Missouri, Columbia. She owned a veterinary hospital for many years and recently handed over the reins to a new owner. 

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4 Thoughts to “Reader needs advice about cat with travel anxiety”

  1. Mitzi Agnew Giles

    The comment about cats only being in carriers to go to the vets, where they get “hurt” (shots, operations etc) is so true. Our second rescue (from our own adult niece) had those issues. She’s been re 6539e2educated for many years. Our oldest rescue (a bottle baby who came to us about 48 hrs old) was originally a good traveler, now he dislkes it intensely. I use the calming sprays.

  2. Mickey

    There is also a medicine called Cerenia which is prescribed for dogs who have motion sickness. We give our very old (19-1/2 years) 5 lb cat 1/4 tablet to combat nausea and vomiting. It needs a prescription and is expensive, but she tolerates it very well.

  3. Phil Justis

    Our now 9 yr. old cat came from shelter so we don’t know all his history. The first place he went when we brought him home was on to our bed. (we are full timers) When we tried traveling with limit was the same situation with constant crying both in or out of the cage. The second morning we decided to try letting him sleep on the rv bed. We went about ½ hour and checked on him and it was like why did you stop. He loves to just stay in the rv, he has is litter box and water and food and is perfectly happy. I realize that an accident could be very dangerous but in a cage in the truck would probably be almost a dangerous. You make your bed and then you sleep in it.

    1. Dr. Deanna

      Hi Phil,
      I assume you’ve seen photos of trailers that have been overturned, either in an accident or high winds. Many times all that is left resembles toothpicks. I can guarantee you, without a doubt, that if you were in an accident and your cat was in a carrier in your tow vehicle, he would not be among the toothpicks. Sadly, you made his bed, and now he has to sleep in it.

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