Many cats do not like to travel in a vehicle of any kind. If their only trip in a car is to the veterinarian once or twice a year, they will learn to dislike the car even more. With a little bit of training, cats can learn to at least, tolerate a car ride.
The best way to train a cat to like riding in a car is to start when they are young. The younger they are the better, providing that they are weaned and have left the litter.
Start by finding a special treat that your cat likes. Have an open carrier in your house that the cat can freely go in and out of. Put the treat in the carrier. When the cat accepts the carrier, close it and let the cat sit in it for a few minutes. When the cat is OK with this step, gently pick the carrier up, hold it and then put it down and let the cat out.
Once the cat is comfortable being moved in the carrier, put the cat in the carrier and close it, then walk a short distance in your home. Return to the place where the carrier stays and then let the cat out giving the cat a treat.
When you get to the point where you can walk around your home with the cat in the carrier and the cat is comfortable, walk outside of your home with the cat. Stand briefly and then go back into your home letting the cat out of the carrier when you place the carried in its usual place.
Following the same routine, work your way to your car. When you put the carrier in the car, sit with your cat, giving the cat its treat right away. After about three minutes, bring the cat back into the house. Do this as many times a day as you can. As you increase the time in the car, you can play with the cat briefly so that they associate nice things with the car.
Once the cat is comfortable with this step, increase the time you sit in the car with the cat. You do not want your cat to think that they only have to be in the car for a short period of time. Fifteen minutes seems to be the magic number. So when your cat is comfortable for fifteen minutes you can go on to the next step, which is to start the car but do not move or drive the car.
When your cat is comfortable sitting in the car in its carrier with the car running, you can drive the car slowly for a few feet. Then park the car in its original space and then bring the cat back into the house following the same routine that you have established.
When the cat is comfortable feeling the car move, you can take short, one mile or less, drives, gradually increasing the distance as the cat adjusts to riding in a moving car. If your cat is especially nervous avoid high traffic areas, lots of stop and go and car honking if you can.
The last step, which will help your cat, is to drive to your veterinarian office and with approval of your veterinarian, walk into the office with your cat in the carrier, say “Hi” to the receptionist and give your cat a treat and leave. This way the cat will associate going to the veterinarian’s with treats and no stress.
Once you have accustomed your cat to driving, you must maintain the training by taking the cat for a ride. Cats are different and you will have to judge based on your cat if your cat needs a refresher course once a week or once a month. If you get your cat used to the car and then do nothing, the cat will have to go through the training all over again to get re-used to the car.
Keeping your cat comfortable riding in a car is pleasant for both you and the cat. No one likes to drive to the veterinarian with their cat crying in a carrier. It adds to the stress the cat feels and makes the veterinarian visit hard on you, the cat and the veterinarian.
An added benefit to training a cat to ride comfortably is that in situations where people have to move to a new home, the trip is less stressful for the cat.