Most owners dread traveling with their cats, for a number of reasons. Not all cats react calmly to new, unfamiliar places. Moreover, cats who are traumatized from visiting the vet might associate travel with this fearful experience.
While training your cat in the right behavior might be the best long-term solution, some quick and temporary solutions are also possible to curb his anxiety.
If your cat reacts negatively to traveling, it could be beneficial to shield him from external stimuli. Covering him also gives your cat a sense of security, in the same way as when he hides if he feels frightened.
Not all cat owners believe in this solution because they believe that covering might suffocate their cats inside the carrier. In most cases, however, covering the carrier, especially in emergency situations, might be more beneficial than not.
Covering your cat’s carrier – is it necessary?
Your cat’s ability to adapt to traveling depends on his personality, regardless of whether you are traveling for a vacation, a short trip to a nearby park, or a mandatory visit to the vet.
Some cats thrive on adventure and new experiences, while others might freak out meeting new people or animals. If your furry pal is a homebody, then he’ll likely hate car rides and unfamiliar surroundings, and the worst scenario would be a display of aggressive behavior that is difficult to tame. This can be very frustrating, especially if you are just taking a short trip to the vet. Cats associate objects with routines or habits, so the moment you put him into his carrier, he will likely react negatively since he knows he is going to the vet.
Since the carrier is restricted space, your anxious cat will not be able to run away and seek refuge. This can make him freak out as he attempts to find an opening to escape, and his frustration at not finding one can trigger further aggression.
Sometimes, the best way to handle an anxious cat is to cover the carrier. This provides a sense of privacy and security because cats instinctively hide from danger in dark, covered places. Remember how your furball runs toward his hideout if he hears fireworks or thunder? He will surprise you with how his entire body can fit inside a narrow space behind your furniture or under your bed. The smaller and darker the spot, the more secure he feels.
Covering the carrier somehow mimics this feeling of hiding. It is dark and completely hidden from the outside world, and will make it easier to calm him down, especially during your visits to the vet.
Benefits of covering a cat carrier when traveling
Most cats do not like traveling and would rather be left at home where they are happy and content. However, there are certain times when you simply cannot leave your cat behind.
As creatures whose survival depends on predictability and familiarity, it is only normal for cats to react poorly to any changes in their routine. For this reason, you want to give your pet a chance to adapt slowly by incorporating travel into his daily life, whether it is a short walk to a nearby shopping mall or a mandatory visit to the vet. Without this slow introduction, it will be very difficult to take your cat on any future trips.
Training your cat to get accustomed to traveling requires lots of patience and time. While you train him, there are some steps you can take to help him stay calm if the need arises. Simple actions, such as covering the carrier when you take him outside, should go a long way to managing any anxiety and aggression.
Here is a summary of the advantages of covering your cat’s carrier:
1. Ease anxiety
Cat anxiety is a real problem that some fur parents have to deal with. Not only does it trigger emotional distress; it can also cause our pets to engage in unwanted behaviors. A feline who used to be calm at home might suddenly freak out the moment you take him outdoors.
Anxiety is a natural response in cats that anticipate danger, even though, in reality, they may not be in danger at all. For a cat who is used to staying at home, trips to unfamiliar places can pose real or imagined threats. Even a loud noise or the presence of other people and animals can be enough to raise your cat’s anxiety level.
While you are training your cat to adjust to traveling, you can implement temporary solutions such as covering his carrier. As mentioned, your cat finds comfort and a sense of security in having a hideout, and covering the carrier somehow imitates his hiding spot. This way, it will be easier for him to disconnect from the unfamiliar surroundings that make him anxious.
2. Avoid unfamiliar sights
Exposure to unfamiliar places, people, and other animals often trigger fear in cats that are not well socialized. Felines are naturally solitary animals; in the wild, they rarely live with a pack and would rather hunt on their own. Without their owner’s early intervention through training and socialization, it is only normal for them to be defensive.
As much as possible, you want any trip to be pleasant and hassle-free. Covering your cat’s carrier to avoid unfamiliar sights should help prevent any negative responses triggered by stress or fear.
3. Protect from dust and smoke
Dust and smoke are not only dangerous to humans but to animals as well. Your pet can inhale dust or lick pollutants that cling to his fur. Exposure to these pollutants can cause coughing, irritation, and sneezing. Worse reactions, although rare, include seizures and other symptoms of poisoning.
One way to protect your furry companion from breathing and ingesting dust and smoke is by covering his carrier during your trip. The blanket that you use to cover him should be made of breathable fabric to allow airflow inside the carrier while protecting him from harmful particles.
4. Avoid direct sunlight
Most cats enjoy the warmth of sunlight, but only up to a point. Too much exposure to direct sunlight can cause sunburn or even heatstroke in cats. So, if you are taking your cat on a short trip during summer, it might be beneficial to cover the carrier with a breathable blanket. Also, when traveling, always make sure to place his carrier in a shaded spot away from the heat of the sun.
Should a cat carrier be covered in a car?
Whether your cat is a happy traveler or not, it is always a good idea to have a blanket in your car. Cats have unpredictable behavior – they might be calm sometimes but then suddenly become frightened. Having a blanket on hand to drape over his carrier will help during uncertain times, reducing his fear and anxiety as it makes him feel hidden and safe from external threats.
Is it safe to cover a cat carrier?
Some people might not agree with the idea of covering their pet’s carrier. Cat owners are concerned that their pets might not be able to breathe properly under the covering, or that a blanket might block the airflow and make the inside of the carrier too hot for the cat.
While some of these reasons are perfectly valid, you will need to consider whether the benefits of covering the carrier outweigh the cons in your individual situation. Moreover, there are safety precautions you can follow to ensure your cat’s well-being while he is in the carrier. If your cat is difficult to handle when taken outdoors, such as on a visit to the vet, then it might be more beneficial to cover the carrier.
Here are a few tips if you choose this route:
- Make sure that the fabric of the blanket is breathable. It should be made of rayon, cotton or linen.
- Do not use plastic materials to cover the carrier.
- Postpone any trips if the weather is bad.
- Monitor your cat. If he reacts negatively to the covering, then remove it.
- If your cat has respiratory disorders or breathing problems, it is best not to cover the carrier.
Other ways to calm your cat while traveling
Most cats find traveling stressful due to their territorial nature. At some point, however, a short trip outside their comfort zone will be necessary, whether it is a routine vet visit or moving to a new home. If your cat hates traveling and resorts to unwanted behaviors, there are other ways available to help curb his anxiety.
- Use a pheromone spray. A few minutes before the trip, spray the scent in your cat’s carrier. Pheromones are known to have a calming effect on anxious cats.
- Soothe your cat by calling or talking to him while on the road. Most cats find their owner’s voice comforting and reassuring.
- Drive carefully. As much as possible, avoid any bumps on the road.
- Keep your cat comfortable inside his carrier. You can place a soft blanket at the bottom to ensure that he is comfortable and happy.
- Soft carriers are more comfortable for traveling but are not ideal for aggressive cats. To avoid clawing and biting, use a hard, sturdy carrier instead. Add some toys and padding inside to ensure your cat’s comfort.
- Use Rescue Remedy if your cat has traveling issues and is difficult to handle. This homeopathic medication has been known to help calm fearful or aggressive cats.
The bottom line
Cats with travel anxiety can be challenging to handle, and temporary solutions such as covering the carrier can help a lot in handling their unwanted behaviors.
Not all cat owners agree with this idea, due to safety concerns. However, if your cat becomes really aggressive or frightened, then covering him might be more beneficial than not. Other options are also available to help calm your cat in stressful situations, such as pheromone products and Rescue Remedy. It is up to you, the fur parent, to decide which solution works best for you and your four-legged friend.
Image: istockphoto.com / Highwaystarz-Photography