My 16-year-old cat used to love car rides and going to the vet, but a while ago, he had a bad reaction after a shot. Now, if he even gets into the car, he experiences stomach upset and freaks out. Can I get him back into car rides?
Despite the bad injection episode, it sounds like your pet is going strong for a cat of such advanced age. As you indicate, regular veterinarian visits, which usually require car rides, are essential.
The memory of the shot experience is locked in your cat's mind. Who says cats have a bad memory? As you can attest, they never seem to forget negative happenings, and they are incredible at associating objects, people and places with prior events. You now need to help your cat associate your car with good times.
Begin with your cat's carrier, advises certified cat behavior consultant Marilyn Krieger. Place it in the house in a visible place, and let the carrier become part of your pet's everyday environment. You can try placing a blanket on top, and toys, catnip, treats and other favorite things inside and around it. "This way, it's part of the cat's world," says Krieger.
Once your cat becomes accustomed to the carrier, take it with you on short car rides. Try to have someone else drive, so that you can stay with your cat to talk to him and distract him. It's good that he used to love car rides, as some cats just cannot stand the sound and motion of automobiles.
Consider using Feliway, a spray that mimics naturally occurring positive feline pheromones. These are chemicals that cats deposit on desired people and objects when they mark them. Some owners report that Feliway helped their cats to relax and feel more comfortable in tense situations. Try spraying it into the carrier before car trips.
Talk to your veterinarian about your cat's car phobia. While it sounds like the phobia was indeed caused by the bad shot incident, sometimes hormonal issues or other health problems can exacerbate fearful reactions. Your veterinarian could diagnose those or also recommend additional solutions for the problem.