Carsickness and Motion Sickness in Cats

Written by Small Door's medical experts

If you have experienced travel sickness or seasickness, you may be familiar with the nauseous feeling and upset stomach that motion sickness can cause. Motion sickness can also cause unpleasant symptoms for your cat when they are in a place with a lot of back-and-forth movements, like a car or a boat. Read on to learn about symptoms to watch for in your cat and how to manage them.

In this article:

What is motion sickness in cats? 

Cats may experience motion sickness when constant motion disrupts their balance and equilibrium. Luckily, motion sickness in cats is unlikely to cause serious harm, but it may lead to ailments such as vomiting or diarrhea. It is important to prevent or manage these symptoms because aside from physical discomfort to your cat, vomiting and diarrhea may lead to dehydration when left untreated.  

Signs & symptoms of motion sickness in cats

If your cat is experiencing motion sickness during a car ride, here are some symptoms that you may notice:

  • Excessive drooling

  • Lip licking 

  • Vomiting

  • Trembling or shaking

  • Restlessness

  • Frequent bowel movements or urination

  • Lethargy

  • Panting

  • Agitation

  • Excessive vocalization

  • Yawning

  • Whining

  • Diarrhea

What causes motion sickness in cats? 

Broadly, motion sickness is a maladaptive response to real or apparent motion. Though a common cause of motion sickness is a disruption of balance in the inner ear, stress and anxiety are also major contributors in cats. If your cat is not used to traveling by car or is uncomfortable in their surroundings, they are more likely to experience fear, anxiety, and discomfort.

In some cases, motion sickness can also develop without motion, such as with exposure to certain visual effects. 

How long does motion sickness last in cats?

Motion sickness symptoms usually go away when the motion stops.

How to treat motion sickness in cats

Your veterinarian will give your cat a physical exam in order to rule out any neurological or behavioral problems that could be causing symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea. Keep in mind that your cat may be experiencing nausea and other symptoms caused by a disease other than motion sickness. Your veterinarian can help you to clarify the cause of these symptoms.

Once you and your veterinarian have confirmed that your cat is experiencing motion sickness, you can consider the various methods of prevention and treatment that can help to relieve your cat of their symptoms. 

Medicine for motion sickness in cats 

There are certain medications that can potentially help your cat cope with carsickness and keep your cat feeling comfortable. Your veterinarian can advise you on the appropriate anti-nausea drugs to treat your cat. 

You should never use over-the-counter pills that are available to treat motion sickness in humans, as drugs for humans can have adverse effects on animals. In general, you should only give your cat medications that are prescribed specifically for them by your veterinarian.

Is there a cure for motion sickness in cats?

While motion sickness may never be completely cured, it can generally be successfully managed with medication prescribed by your veterinarian and lifestyle changes described below.

Is motion sickness in cats contagious for humans or other pets? 

Though motion sickness is not contagious, you may start feeling motion sickness yourself due to experiencing the same constant motion when riding in the car. But though you are feeling the same symptoms as your cat, the sickness was not transmitted from your cat.  

What is the cost of treating motion sickness in cats? 

The cost of treating motion sickness in cats may vary depending on whether or not your cat requires a prescription medication, and if there are any underlying causes that also require treatment.

How to prevent motion sickness in cats 

There are a few things that you can do to decrease the likelihood that your cat will experience motion sickness. You can avoid feeding your cat before traveling because your cat is more likely to feel nauseous if they have a full stomach. The orientation of your cat in the car can also affect how they feel. Orient your cat facing forward and turn on the air conditioning to cool the environment. 

Other home remedies that may increase your cat’s comfort include putting something that smells like home (such as a towel, piece of clothing, or toy) in their seat or carrier. You can also consider spraying this item with a calming pheromone such as Feliway. Keeping your cat’s carrier in their environment at all times and occasionally placing treats and toys inside of it can help decrease your cat’s fear of their carrier. These methods can decrease your cat’s stress level and keep them distracted from the uncomfortable car environment. Ginger supplements may also help calm your cat’s stomach, according to the National Animal Supplement Council

Motion sickness can sometimes be overcome by conditioning your cat to travel. The more often you take your cat on short car rides without a stressful destination, the more they may experience desensitization of the activity and reduce any psychological factors related to motion sickness. The overall goal is to increase your cat’s comfort and keep them from having severe motion sickness symptoms. 

Is there a vaccine for motion sickness in cats? 

There is no vaccine for motion sickness in cats.

Summary of motion sickness in cats

Disruption of balance within the inner ear is physically responsible for feelings of travel sickness. But cats may also experience motion sickness because of the stress and anxiety that come with traveling. This is especially the case when your cat is not used to car rides and associates them with stressful situations. The good news is that there are many ways to remedy the situation, reduce nausea, and calm your cat for long rides, both with and without medication. 

Related articles


Managing Anxiety in Cats

Anxiety is a very real problem that can not only cause our cats severe emotional distress, but can also exacerbate or cause a number of medical problems, including urinary tract issues. Cats suffering from anxiety may also engage in unwanted behaviors, including urinating outside of the litter box or vomiting. Read on to learn more about the causes and symptoms of anxiety, and the things you can do to help treat and manage your cat’s anxiety.


Cat Panting or Breathing Heavily (Dyspnea)

Cats can pant to regulate their body temperature, just like dogs do, although they do so much less frequently. Cats will also sometimes pant if they are undergoing a particularly stressful event, such as a car or subway ride. However, excessive panting, rapid breathing (tachypnea), or difficulty breathing (dyspnea) can also be a sign of a severe condition.


Carsickness and Motion Sickness in Dogs

If you’ve ever noticed your dog excessively panting, drooling, or licking their lips while on a car ride, your dog may be experiencing travel or motion sickness. While it is a common occurrence, motion sickness can be stressful for your dog, as well as an inconvenience for pet parents. Thankfully, travel sickness can be easily treated and prevented. Read on to learn what steps to take so that you and your pup can travel together worry-free.

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