Guest post by Vickie Fisher

You’ve probably already figured out that your cat is not going to happily jump into the car, stick its head out the window and “lap up” the scents and breezes in anticipation of traveling someplace “fun.”  That revelation aside, the biggest difference between traveling with a dog and traveling with a cat is that in the case of the cat, it often appears that neither party involved in the expedition will be happy!  However, sometimes, a temporary or permanent relocation makes travel a necessity.

Be prepared

You cat most likely won’t be any happier that the first step before traveling will be a trip to the veterinarian. Most states require a health certificate, and while requirements for traveling through a state will vary, most states are serious about rabies and will require a current rabies vaccination.

If you need to make a stopover along the way, make sure you’ve checked out the “pet friendly” hotels along the way.

Gather food, water, dishes, toys, treats and any other comfort items. Don’t forget litter, a litter box, plastic bags and paper towels.

Never leave your cat loose in the car

Ready to go? The very first and most important thing to remember about traveling with your cat is that it can be very dangerous to have a cat loose in the car.  Always travel with your cat in a secure carrier. Cats will feel much more secure if confined to a carrier, especially if you include a little absorbent padding and something that smells like home. A bigger carrier is not always better. The carrier should be large enough for the cat to be able to get up and turn around.

Take the shoulder strap for the seat belt, run it through the top handle of the carrier and latch the carrier into place. Use a seat in the car where there is good ventilation. I can’t stress the importance of using a secured carrier enough. While we never like to think about an accident or an unexpected event, they can happen. With an open window or door, your cat could escape and become lost or injured.  It’s not worth the chance.

Don’t fall for the pitiful meows and think that your cat will be happier out of the carrier. A loose cat in the car is a recipe for disaster. Loose cats can hide underneath a car seat, making it impossible to retrieve them safely at the final destination. Chances are, after some period of protest, your cat will curl up and sleep. You may want to consider a kitty harness and leash in case the cat must be taken from the carrier for some reason. Get your cat used to a harness and leash well before the trip.

Your cat’s needs during the drive: temperature, food and water, litter box

For  summer travels, don’t underestimate how rapidly the temperature inside a car rises.  While heat stroke is not as common in cats as it is in dogs, they can get it.  If you find your cat becoming overheated, make sure you have cool water that you can rub into its coat to cool it down. Never leave your cat in the car, not even with the windows slightly down.

Cat guardians often fret about the cat being able to eat, drink and use the litter box during the trip. It may help to not feed a large meal in the morning of the trip.  A full tummy makes your cat more likely to get car sick and/or have the need to eliminate.  Chances are, kitty will be perfectly happy not eating, drinking or using a litter box for 8-10 hours, but if not, that’s why you’ve packed the plastic bags and paper towels in a handy place.

Have you traveled with your cat? What has helped you make the trip more pleasant for everyone?

Vickie Fisher is the president of the International Cat Association. For more information about TICA, visit TICA University

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons

19 Comments on Summer Travel With Your Cat

  1. I am interested in hearing some ideas of how to keep a cat comfy when we stop to go into a restaurant. (summer travel) We do try to find shade, but not always possible. I can’t eat gluten, so fast food is out for me. I’m interested in any new ideas.

  2. Does anyone have any tips for airline travel with your cat, when you cat is allowed to fly in the cabin? My airline allows your cat to be in his soft sided carrier and go under the seat while flying. It is a short 25 minute flight. I am just wondering if there are any natural calming aids that anyone can recommend or if I should be concerned with him urinating his bag. I will have some treats for him and as far as I know he only has to be under the seat for take off and landing so I can have him in his carrier on my lap.
    Any advice is greatly appreciated! Thank you!

    • I would put pee pads inside his carrier and carry extras. That way, if he has an accident, you can easily pull out the pee pad and put a fresh one in (take him to the rest room to do this so he can’t bolt!). As far as calming aids go, Spirit Essences Stress Stopper works well, as does Rescue Remedy. I would also recommend that you take him on frequent car trips prior to the flight so he gets used to being in the carrier. You may also want to talk to your vet about using a mild sedative to keep him calm, but be sure to try it before the actual trip so you’ll know how he reacts.

      • Thank you so much, Ingrid. Excellent idea on the pee pads for the carrier, I will get some. Also, appreciated on the recommendations for stress relief.

  3. I use a double layer of puppy training pads in Rose’s soft carry bag. She inevitably pees as soon as we crank the engine on our rv…I reach in and grab the wet pad and she has a reserve under her for the trip.

  4. Hi there! I have a question. I need to travel abroad with my cat (from Chile to Germany) because I’m moving away for studying. Could you recommend me any pet-safe airline please? I’m so afraid something bad could happen to her…does anyone have travelled that many hours by plane with a cat? She is a big cat, therefore, she will not be allowed in cabin with me…
    Any tips?


  5. I often have to travel with my cats abroad. They do NOT like it at all. The vet gave me colmicalm for them, it was a BIG help!

    Thank you Debbie, for the information about time, that made it much easier for me, as my travels take 8-9 hours from door to door.

  6. Travelling with my cat is not a fun experience, bless her! I use a really close vet and try to make her as comfortable and relaxed as possible.

  7. We have traveled across the country many times with our cats. One thing I have found is that “pet friendly” hotels are sometimes just dog friendly (no cats allowed). We try to find places that have outside doors to the rooms so we can drive right up to the room. Also I always ask for a room on the first floor. We travel with a small hand vacuum so that we can easily pick up any litter that gets tracked on the carpet. When first arriving in a room it is a good idea to check for any places where cats might want to hide. Often a pillow can prevent them from getting into the hard to reach a cat places. Fortunately our cats are great travelers.

  8. I asked my vet about traveling with our kitties and she was all for it (we’ve done it twice this summer). One thing she said that stood out to me was that cats do not have a sense of time. So, while it worries and concerns us to have them in the car and lock in a carrier for hours at a time, there is no difference between 30 minutes or 3 hours to them.

    Hope that eases your mind – it did held me to relax a bit.

    • It’s definitely a good idea to get cats used to being in the car, even if you don’t travel with them. I’m not sure I buy that cats don’t have a sense of time, though. Then why is it that they know when it’s meal time, or when their humans get home from work?

  9. We only travel to vet’s office. But;we have to go further as my favorite vet went somewhere else and I have one kitty that sees her. So for me these tips are so helpful just for the 30 min drive as he hates it. I always use a carrier. I would be too afraid they would get away. Thanks for the post.

  10. Thank you for publishing Vickie Fisher’s article. It is so apropos, especially during summer when people are travelling back and forth to their vacation spots. How often have I seen pleas on Facebook, Kijiji and various other social media asking for help finding a lost pet who was frightened and jumped from someone’s arms while being transported from motel room to vehicle, etc. it is so sad and unnecessary with a little forethought and preparation.

    I suggest to people to leave carriers accessible at all times in the home to allow cats to associate them as places of rest, comfort and refuge. This ensures ease of use when they do become needed for vet visits and travel of any sort. Tiny reasonably priced cat bed cushions (available at many dollar stores) are soft and comfortable and easily changed out in the event of an accident. In addition, I use puppy training pads over the cushions for nervous kitties.

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