Sammy the Cat is a 9 year old boy that gets very stressed while travelling in the car. He meows constantly, drools, and pants most of the trip whether it is 15 minutes or 2 hours. Although many cats do very well with travel, there are many cats as anxious as Sammy and need some help to make the travel more manageable for them and their worried kitty parents. Some people think actual sedation is the only option.
There are many things we can do other than "sedating" our cats during travel. It takes more time and patience, but overall will be better for them if we find ways to help them cope without altering their mentation, or mental state. First of all, make the carrier/kennel a Happy place! Leave the kennel out in your cats living space with a favorite blanket or heated bed for as long as it takes to make them comfortable. This may take 1 day or 1 month, who knows. Giving them special treats, catnip, or toys in or around the carrier is a great way to get them more familiar with it.
The next thing to think about is making the car a less scary place. Many cats like to be in small dark places when they are nervous or scared. It makes them feel like they are hiding and safe if no one can see them. So place a light weight, thin material over the top of their kennel during transport. When cats, or even people, are scared or nervous our respiratory rate increases, thus increasing the surrounding temperature of small spaces. Trembling also increases body temperature. This is why I recommend a thin material over a thick heavy blanket. I also recommend taking your cat for short practice rides in the carrier. Even a short drive around the block will be sufficient. Reward your cat with treats when you return. The idea is to get your cat to associate being in the carrier and in your car with something other than a trip to the vet’s.
Sometimes no matter how much time we spend trying to adjust our cats to the carrier and car, they will still be very anxious. There are many safe and effective natural supplements we can use to reduce stress and anxiety without effecting your cats personality and mentation. A few of these supplements are Feliway spray, composure treats by Vetriscience, rescue remedy, and zylkene. If you can predict and plan for a time of travel, these products are great because you can start using them at least 24 hours before to help increase efficacy. Once your cat is aready hyper excited and worked up, many supplements and medications will not work because their anxiety overrides their effect. If you start these prior to an event they have time to build up and cause an overall calming effect.
If none of this seems to be effective and/or you have to make a last minute decision to travel you may have to resort to medications that have sedative effects. In order for these to be prescribed for your cat they have to be current on their physical exam as there are higher risks associated with using them. Consult with your veterinarian to decide the best choice for your cat. At the Cat Hospital of Portland we have found gabapentin to be a relatively safe and effective choice for many of our patients. Our overall goal is to help our patients and our clients have safe and enjoyable travels.