Cats and Car Travel

With careful planning and the right safety equipment hitting the road with your feline friend can be a positive and rewarding experience.

If you’re a first-time cat owner, you may have heard some horrendous horror stories about traveling with a cat. If you’re a long-time cat owner, you might have experienced some of those horrendous horror stories.

It’s certainly true that cats tend to be somewhat unenthusiastic travelers. But if you’re prepared, have the proper equipment, and plan your road trip with a cat’s eye view, all will go well.

START PREPARING EARLY

Here’s a hypothetical for you: Let’s say that your cat is about 5 years old. Let’s say that you’re planning a road trip with your cat. When should you start preparing for the trip?

About 5 years ago!

That’s because the single most important thing you can do to prepare your cat for car travel is to sensitize it to the experience. For a brief time period, a kitten is very open to experiencing and becoming accustomed to new experiences. That prime time occurs from about 2 to 7 weeks of age.

If you’ll take a kitten on some short car trips during that time period, the kitten will become accustomed to car travel. It may never particularly like it, but it will tolerate it.

But if you take that 5-year-old cat on a trip when it’s never even been in a car before… well, let’s just say the experience might be rather traumatic – for all involved!

CAR TRAVEL CHECKLIST

If you’ve ever traveled with a baby before, you know that 1 baby on the trip equals lots of extra stuff: diaper bags, bottles, blankets, binkies, and so on.

Traveling with your cat will be similar. You’ll need lots of stuff to keep kitty healthy and happy (or at least contented!). Here’s a checklist of must-have items that you’ll not want to leave home without:

  • Cat carrier. A loose cat in a car is a recipe for disaster – REAL disaster. A loose cat could very well end up under your brake petal, or with a death-grip claw hold on the back of your neck. Choose a carrier that’s purpose-designed for cats, is roomy and well-ventilated, and secure it in your vehicle so that it can’t move. And make sure that it’s not positioned in direct sunlight for long periods.
  • Food, water and bowls. Be sure to bring along your cat’s regular food, and even the water that your cat is accustomed to drinking. If that’s tap water, bottle some and bring it along.
  • Toys and bedding. Bring along some comforts of home. Choose some favorite toys and familiar bedding that the cat already uses.
  • Litter and accessories. You probably won’t bring your cat’s regular litter box. But DO bring the brand of litter that you use at home, and that’s already familiar to your cat. Also bring along disposable litter trays, OR a small non-disposable litter tray, a scooper, and disposable bags.

STOP, REVIVE, SURVIVE

If you’re the type that likes to hit the road hard and drive 5, 6, 7 hours at a stretch, you’ll need to change to accommodate kitty. Plan to stop every couple of hours to give your cat a break.

If you’re in a safe location, you can let your cat out of the carrier for a few minutes – but BE CAREFUL. If the cat is stressed it might be inclined to bolt at the first opportunity. Be sure your cat is wearing its ID tag.

When you do stop, be sure not to leave your car parked in direct sunlight with the windows rolled up – not even for a couple of minutes. And don’t leave your cat in direct sunlight on a warm day inside or outside of the car.

TALK TO YOUR VET

Before you take that first trip with your cat, have a chat with your vet. There are medications available that can help to make the trip a more pleasant experience for both you and kitty: Medications for motion sickness, for example, or for anxiety.

Your cat may not need them, but it would be good to know what’s available. You might even choose to have some medications on hand – just in case.

ROAD TRIPPING WITH YOUR CAT CAN BE FUN

And at least be tolerated by your cat. Plan ahead, bring along some of the cat’s comforts of home, take things easy with plenty of rest stops, and all is likely to go well.

Let it be someone else who has those horrendous horror stories to tell!