Published by: Ingrid King. Last Updated on: July 22, 2023 by Crystal Uys


Written by Kim Salerno

When it comes to pets, dogs travel with their humans the most often. In fact, they account for over 85% of pet travelers. This makes sense; most dogs are happy to go on adventures. They love car rides and can’t wait to hop in and head out anywhere, whether it’s down the street to the park or halfway across the country on an extended road trip.

Cats, on the other hand, are not so keen on traveling by car. One reason is a difference in temperament – they’re just not as adaptable and adventurous as dogs. Another is the fact that the bulk of their travel experience tends to involve going back and forth to the vet.

There are times when cat parents do need to transport their furry felines by car, and the prospect can be stressful for everyone involved. Moving in particular poses a big quandary, especially if the move is long distance. Cat parents are understandably apprehensive at the thought of putting a terrified Fluffy in the car and then traveling for hours on end. There are also times when cat parents would simply like to include their cat in their daily travels, but aren’t sure about the best way to keep them comfortable and safe.

To help ease your mind and make traveling with your cat travel experience a better one for both of you, here are seven steps that can effectively prepare your pet for car travel.

The 7 Tips on How to Travel by Car With a Cat

1. Pet Carrier Training

You should always use a pet travel carrier when traveling by car. The carrier should offer enough space for your cat to stand up, turn around, and lie down in comfortably, and should have proper ventilation. To get your cat used to the cat carrier, place it inside your home with the door open, and put some enticing items like kibble, toys, or catnip inside. Allow him to go in and out of the carrier at his leisure until he feels comfortable being inside of it.

Mom and son releasing gray cat from pet carrier
Image Credit: Best smile studio, Shutterstock

2. Familiarity is Comfort

Cats are highly sensitive to the environment and very protective of their territory. Making the car part of the cat’s territory is a good way to help him adapt to car rides. Start by placing a towel or blanket with your cat’s scent on the seat of the car. Then take your cat into the car with you and close the doors. Let him explore, rub around, and spread his scent around the car. Repeat this for a few minutes each day, gradually increasing the time you spend in the car as you go along.

3. Positive Reinforcement

Once your cat feels calm and comfortable in the car, begin feeding him in the car every day for at least a week. If your cat isn’t particularly food-motivated, let him indulge in some play or catnip instead. Associating the car with good, happy things will help make your cat a better traveler.

cay playing with catnip toy
Image Credit: Ellie Burnett, Shutterstock

4. Introduce Carrier in Car

Once your cat sees the car as his territory and the source of good things, you can introduce him to the idea of being inside the travel carrier in the car. Place your cat in the carrier, and put the carrier in the back seat or cargo area of your vehicle, making sure that the carrier is secure and away from airbags. Then, turn on the engine. Don’t drive anywhere – just let your cat get used to the noise and vibration. Do this at least three times a day until your cat gets used to it. Make sure to reward your cat for his patience as soon as he is let out of his carrier.

5. Short Rides

Once your cat is used to the car and engine, it’s time to get moving. Start by driving up and down the length of your driveway a few times. When the ride is over, take your cat into the house and reward him with play time and treats. When you feel he’s ready, extend your trip and drive around the block. Continue taking drives with your cat, gradually increasing the length and duration of the ride each time, and taking care to reward him after each new step in the process. Be sure to take things slowly listen to your cat – he will let you know if he’s not comfortable with the speed of the “car training.”

6. Calm Energy

Your cat can sense your energy. If you are feeling hyped up and stressed, he will too. It’s very important for you to stay calm, relaxed and unhurried throughout the process.

Owner hugging her cat
Image Credit: Wanwajee Weeraphukdee, Shutterstock

7. Potty Breaks

If you’re traveling a long distance, you’ll need to consider the issue of potty breaks for your cat. Some cat parents have their cats harness trained, which allows them to walk their cats at rest areas along the way. If your cat is not harness trained, it is probably best to keep your drive time down to 8 hours at most. You know your cat best, so this time could vary.

Helping your cat become more comfortable traveling in a car definitely takes some time and a lot of patience, but if you go slowly and stick with it, you’ll be rewarded with a pleasant journey that you’ll both enjoy. Safe and happy travels with your cat!

Kim Salerno is the President & Founder of She founded the pet travel site in 2003 and is an expert in the field of pet travel. Her popular web site features pet friendly hotels & accommodations across the US and Canada, along with other helpful pet travel resources. Her mission is to ensure that pets are welcome, happy, and safe in their travels.

Featured Image Credit: Africa Studio, Shutterstock

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11 Comments on Cats and Road Trips: 7 Tips to Keep Your Cat Safe & Comfortable

  1. We only have to go to the vet. Really good tips on how to make car rides less stressful and safe.

  2. How do we know cats are smarter than dogs? You will never find 8 cats pulling a sled through snow!
    Maxximus, my first kitty who is gone for 2 years and in my heart every day, loved his carrier which was in the house for his napping pleasure. I called it his cave. It had wheels and a long strap to pull t along. He loved riding in the car but only if classical music was playing on the stereo. My other two hate everything connected with anything other than their sofa.
    Tip #8: always buckle the carriers in the seat belt in the back seat, away from airbags. I was told this would prevent the carrier from becoming a flying object in case of a crash or sudden stop.

  3. “One reason is a difference in temperament – they’re just not as adaptable and adventurous as dogs.” I don’t like this statement. Yes, later on, the author discusses that cats are highly territorial and cautious, but that first line isn’t accurate and it’s a put down to cats, imho.

    Also, having friends who’ve moved with cats, their cats never really needed potty breaks. They got into their carriers and stayed there for the duration of the trip. Forcing a cat onto a harness to walk around in unknow territory is probably additionally terrifying. Each pet owner knows their cat better than any expert…we need to embolden ourselves to find our own paths to follow with our feline friends.

    Just sayin’.

    • I took that statement to mean cats are smarter. 😉

      I agree that different things will work for different cats. Nobody knows your cats better than you. And I most definitely agree that the harness should only be used with cats who have already been harness trained and are used to being in new and different environments, otherwise, it’s much too risky.

      • I don’t like the idea of a cat being walked outside at all. Especially if he’s an indoor cat. How confusing this must be for the poor kitty. My friend has a giant cat cage she takes outside with her into the backyard. How confused are these cats?
        I like the iea of getting the cat used to the car. Maybe I’ll try that with Chelsea and Charlie. They are both petrified in the carrier and in a moving car. But then, they only do that to go to the vet. Thing is, the vet has never given them any pain or stress. They are perfectly relaxed on the examining table until we get them back in the carrier. It takes two people to stuff them in there. Live and learn.
        Can we discuss the pros and cons of a collar on a cat? Personally, I don’t like the idea of a collar. It’s demeaning to their nature, in my opinion. They don’t go outside and are microchipped. Plus they are 7 and 8 years old and it’s probably too late to get them used to a collar anyway but the Humane Society is advocating a coller and tags even on indoor cats in case of an emeregency or disaster. And we do live in earthquake country. What is your opinion?

        • Collars and tags can definitely be useful in an emergency or disaster situation, and of course, even indoor cats can slip out. Of course, cats can slip out of collars, so there’s no guarantee. A microchip, however, is, in my opinion, a must.

  4. I’ve done this for over 30 years with all my cats; started by putting them in their carriers [that’s when I had 2 & only 2] & then driving to the next block to do drive-thru banking, then home again, never having to get out of the car.

    Then for their non-emergency vet appts, both would go in the car, in their carriers [which were kept out in plain sight & access 24/7 at home — made good napping spots], so that whoever was not getting handled/treated that visit, got the experience — all positive, AND provided moral support for their buddy getting vet care that visit. Lather, rinse, repeat.

    My vet & his staff always appreciated that when my cats came to them, they were calm & easy to handle their entire lives.

    Plus, when an emergency eventually came, my part of getting them to urgent care was infinitely faster, easier, & much less stressful. Probably contributed overall to their survival to have practiced a bit of “disaster preparedness” or “fire drills”.

  5. I have to take my kitty on a 2 1/2 hr journey consisting of a car 2trains n then a car not sure how shes goin to cope in her carrier that long so im a little worried ryt now 🙁

    • Start taking her on short trips so she can get used to being in the car before you go on the long trip, Michelle.

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