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Motion Sickness in Cats: Symptoms and Ways to Help Relieve It

Cat in carrier in car


Does your cat start meowing nonstop when you need to bring them to the vet? Maybe your feline friend leaves behind some unpleasant “gifts” every time they ride in the car. Motion sickness in cats is a common issue many cats face, especially when they aren’t used to traveling. So how can you keep your furry friend from making your car their personal barf bag?

Does Your Cat Get Motion Sickness?

If you don’t bring your cat on many car rides, they likely stress out when the time finally comes. When your cat only experiences a car ride a couple of times a year, especially to visit the vet, it doesn’t seem like a very fun time.

Not only is your cat not used to riding in a vehicle, but they associate it with a stressful experience. This stress builds, and your precious kitty starts to get anxious about leaving the safety of home. Your cat might also dislike being enclosed in a crate during the car trip, adding to their stress level.

It becomes a cycle. Your cat doesn’t like riding in the car, starts to feel nervous, and gets sick. Then, your cat starts to associate the car with feeling sick, stresses out, and proceeds to vomit.

For some cats, an issue with the inner ear could be to blame. The inner ear connects to the part of the brain stem that triggers vomiting, and if it’s damaged, it sends altered signals to the brain. It also contains the vestibular system, which is responsible for coordination and balance. Depending on the message, your cat’s brain could interpret sensations differently, for example, spinning, leading to nausea.

Signs Your Cat Has Motion Sickness

If you’ve ever experienced motion sickness, you may recognize several of these signs cats experience when feeling icky in the car. (Except you probably don’t do much loud meowing.)

  • Restlessness, frequent pacing
  • Excessive lip licking
  • Increased drooling
  • Inactive, overly tired
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Urinating
  • Excessive meowing or yowling
Cat in pet carrier

Need-To-Know Tips for Relieving Motion Sickness in Cats

If you think your cat might be dealing with an ear issue, it’s important to have your vet check things out first. It’s always essential to rule out any potential health problems that could be to blame. It’s also wise to ask your vet where they recommend you begin when it comes to easing your cat’s car fears.

If your cat’s ears get the all-clear, your vet can offer suggestions on how you can handle your cat’s stress about car rides. We’ll dig into these in a bit. But it’s also worth noting that your cat’s ears might be perfectly healthy but super sensitive. 

Regardless, sometimes the mere fact that riding in the car makes your cat get sick could be enough to make them sick the next time. (Kind of like how people that hate to fly get sick before the plane even leaves the runway.)

Therefore, helping your pet keep calm and get used to the idea of car travel will go a long way to making the experience more pleasant for your feline pal (and you).

1. Give Your Cat Time to Get Used to Their Carrier

Cats aren’t always big fans of being in a pet carrier. So the first step is to take the necessary time to let your pet get used to being in one. Leave the carrier out and open at home with a few treats inside. Don’t just take it out right before a car trip.

Let your cat investigate at their own pace. Don’t close the crate’s door. Let your pet go in and out of the crate freely, offering them rewards and positive praise.

2. Desensitize Your Cat to Car Rides

Once your cat feels comfortable inside their carrier, simply place them in the car and give them a treat. Then sit in the car with them for a few minutes without going anywhere. 

As your cat adjusts to this experience positively, you can take a short trip around the block. Once your cat is okay with this step, you can increase the distance and so on until your cat can handle longer rides.

3. Use Calming Products to Help Ease Stress

Talk to your vet about various products that can ease your cat’s stress. Feliway® is one example of such a product that mimics a feline pheromone. You can mist the spray inside your cat’s carrier before a trip. There are also calming supplements for cats available. However, always discuss these options with your vet before giving anything to your pet.

Another option is to let your cat enjoy their favorite treat on the Neat-Lik Mat before getting in the car. The mat encourages licking, which helps stimulate the release of endorphins, helping your kitty stay calm. Enjoying their favorite yummy treat also makes them happy, which could lead to purring, which is another endorphin booster. (Your cat may also purr during the car ride because they use their purr to self-soothe.)

If your cat tends to experience gastrointestinal upset when riding in the car, you may want to wait and offer them the mat when you arrive at your destination. Sometimes, letting your pet travel on an empty stomach can help relieve potential upset. However, always provide fresh water. You can use a bottle that attaches to your cat’s carrier.

4. Stay Calm and Carry On

It’s no good trying to get your cat to stay calm if you start getting frustrated and lose your patience. Maintaining a calm and positive attitude is vital to helping your pet remain calm, cool, and collected.

5. Take a Potty Break Before the Trip

Whether you’re going on a quick ride or a long road trip with your cat, give them a potty break before the ride. If you’ll be traveling for over 6 hours, make sure to bring litter with you in a travel litter pan.

6. Play with Your Cat Before the Ride

Let your cat burn off some steam and release some energy before the ride with a rousing play session. Go through a few fun exercises with your cat before embarking on your journey. It also helps to offer your cat special toys that they only get when they go in their car carrier.

7. Create a Pleasant Experience in Your Car

Make sure to keep the air cool, play some classical music, and ensure your cat is comfortable. Adding one of your shirts or something else with your scent to your cat’s crate can also help them feel safe and secure.

8. Ask Your Vet About Medication

Sometimes, after trying everything, your cat might still get very anxious in the car. Your vet might be able to prescribe medication specifically for motion sickness if this is the case. Never give your cat medicine without first consulting with your vet. 

Your vet might also suggest anti-anxiety medication if the problem is more about your cat’s stress levels. Regardless of the prescription, understand the proper dosing instructions and review them with the vet. For example, you might need to start some medications several days before your trip for them to work properly.

Yes, Cat-Friendly Car Rides Are Possible

With some patience, a few simple tips, and a visit to your vet, enjoying a pleasant car ride with your cat is in your future. To make the trip as stress-free as possible, take the time to let your cat adjust to the idea. (And don’t forget the FurDozer to banish your feline’s fur from your ride’s interior.)

Looking for more helpful tips and creative ways to bond with your feline friend? Check out the rest of the Neater Pets blog, and make sure to let us know about your cat-friendly car tricks.


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