Cats Get Carsick, Too: Tips for Calming Kitty's Tummy
How I Realized My Cat Had Motion Sickness
After adopting my new cat, Lindemann, from the Boulder Animal Shelter, I watched helplessly out of the corner of my eye as he retched in the car on the way home. I was equally helpless in the face of the noisome odor that indicated he had defecated in his carrier. At the time, I blamed his illness on understandable anxiety related to being in a small car with a new human—one who had gotten lost in traffic and turned an hour's drive into one that became more than double that!
A couple of weeks later, when I was driving him down to meet my family in Southern Colorado, Lindemann had the physical reactions. I had to face the truth: my cat had motion sickness.
Tips for traveling with a pet
Which strategies have you tried?
Non-Drug Options for Feline Motion Sickness
Leave your cat at home whenever possible. Both you and your buddy will be happier. However, there are some non-drug techniques you can implement when you and the feline are traveling together.
- Restrict food the morning of. This is to avoid that malodorous result of his bowel movement in the carrier. I did not realize how much stench cat litter masked until getting a whiff of feces au natural. Even worse, Lindemann once sat in the feces, smearing it into his wispy fur. We will all remember the near-enema my own mother had to give him in order to remove the caked-in mess.
- If the trip is short enough, around two hours, it is fine to feed the cat a small amount of dry food. True, if he vomits, there will be a bigger mess to clean up. However, he will be less nauseated with a little something dry in his stomach to soak up the acid. This advice comes from personal experience with my own travel-leery stomach.
- Open a window on the cat's side. Cool, fresh air will relieve some of the nausea. Again, I am speaking from my own experience, and it does seem to help. Note, though, that if the highway is busy, the noise from outside, especially from large trucks, could unnerve the cat all over again.
- Take a break about halfway through the trip. Stop the car. Take the carrier out, and let the cat get some fresh air. Again, speaking from personal experience, getting some solid ground under your feet—or carrier—will allow the nausea to subside somewhat. The break should last at least 10 minutes.
- Get a hard-sided carrier. These plastic carriers are easier to clean up in the case of messes.
- Bring along supplies: water, baby wipes (my trip has been saved by these so many times!), trash bag. Line the carrier with something soft that you don't mind discarding, such as an old towel or ripped up sheet. Some messes I don't want to even bother trying to clean.
Always consult with your vet before administering any drugs or medications to your pet.
Drug Options for Feline Motion Sickness
Not all over-the-counter drugs are safe for pets. I am not a vet, but I did consult one about Lindemann's motion sickness. The vet told me that my 12-pound cat (he's not just fluffy—there's a lot of cat to him!) would be safe taking up to 20 mg of Dramamine. This is more than most relevant websites recommend, but my vet consulted the textbook for his recommendation. In any case, getting even the 10-12 mg suggested inside a cat is tricky; if you've ever let a Dramamine tablet sit on your tongue (for example while you unscrew a water bottle), you'll understand why: Dramamine is very bitter.
Unfortunately for this scenario, Lindemann is not a stupid cat, and he has caught on to each of the application methods I have tried after one successful dosing. There are some methods I've tried that were successful at least once.
How I've Administered Pills to My Cat
- Crushed inside his favorite canned food.
- Dissolved in milk and squirted in his mouth via syringe.
- Hidden inside a pill pocket (available at any pet food store).
- Hidden inside a pill pocket that was then rolled in the crumbs of his favorite treat.
- Dissolved in tuna fish oil that was then mixed in with his favorite canned food. (Obviously, I was desperate.)
- Hidden in a pill pocket that is lubricated with tuna fish oil and applied to a cat tenuously wrapped in a towel. (No one's favorite option, but what I've resorted to when the above didn't work.)
Lindemann often drools after I have given him the Dramamine. My vet stated this is because the taste is so bitter that he's trying to wash it off the tongue. Of course, Lindemann also drools when he's sick in the car, so it's hard to ascertain how effective the Dramamine has been. However, the couple times I have most successfully administered a dosage, he drooled but did not retch. He was also calm because I had given him the regular rather than non-drowsy formula. For best results, start attempting the dosing at least an hour before departure.
Important Note: Once again, I want to stress that before administering any drugs to your pet, it is important to consult with your vet. I consulted mine, and I am simply sharing the advice I received.
Traveling with a motion-sick pet can be miserable. However, there are ways to minimize his discomfort. If you have come up with any others—especially ways for administering a pill—please share!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.