Tips for smooth traveling with your cat

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Woman with pet carrier
Woman With Pet Carrier

Going on a trip with a cat is a daunting thought for many people, especially since most car rides with cats aren't to fun places such as the park or pet superstore. No, most cat car rides end up at the vet, which is what cats remember. Compared to a relatively short trip to the vet, a move, or vacation trip of several hours' duration might seem impossible.

Short Necessary Trips

But first, trips to the vet are important. Cats do not make as many vet visits as their canine counterparts for general health checkups, so practicing and reducing stress at the vet's office is important for the health and longevity of your cat.

Longer Trips With Cats

You might have hired pet sitters to come to your house, boarded your cats at kennels, or traveled with you. If you take them in the car, use these tips to make the experience as smooth as possible for you and your cat.

brown tabby cat on white textile
brown tabby cat on white textile

Pre-Trip Preparation

  • Crate or carrier. Get the crate out a day or two before traveling. If your cat is afraid of the crate, try placing a favorite blanket or toy inside and leaving the door open. You can also place treats or food in the crate to make it less scary.
  • Feliway is a cat-specific pheromone that produces a sense of calm and well-being in many cats. This product, available at pet supply stores, online, and at some veterinary offices, is non-toxic and works only on cats; no effect on dogs or people. (Related product is DAP for dogs.)
  • Feliway is available as a room diffuser (good to use for the pre-travel days) and as a spray. Use the spray five to 10 minutes before placing your cat in the crate, on blankets, or inside the crate. Do not use it on your cat.
  • Catnip is something many cats love and it is a good distraction as you're getting ready to travel. Each cat reacts differently; some become more mellow, some become more loving, and some cats may become more feisty. It is important to note that, for about 30 percent of the cats out there, catnip does not affect at all. So this would be good to try beforehand.
  • Pet identification is a necessity at all times, especially when traveling to new places. Collars and tags are great for quick identification, and a microchip provides essential information if collar or tags are lost. Keeping the microchip registration up to date with your contact information is sometimes forgotten about, but very important if your pet is lost.
  • Food and medications. Consistency is key when traveling. Keeping your pet's diet the same will reduce stress and gastrointestinal upset. Stock up before the trip. If your pet takes medications, speak to your veterinarian about refilling to last the duration of your trip.
  • Veterinary care. Check with your vet or local resources to learn about veterinary care, including emergency/after-hours availability in the area you will be traveling to, just in case.
  • Packing for your cat. Minimum items to bring include food, litter/scoop/litter pan, crate, blanket or bed, first-aid kit, and medications.

Day of Travel

  • Keep calm. Try to place the cats in the bathroom with litter, food, water, and crate (open) as you pack the car and get the house ready. This removes them from the commotion and prevents a last-minute escape.
  • Get the crate ready. Now is the time for catnip, Feliway, and/or treats in the crate.
  • In the car. The cats, in their crate, move out to the car just before departure, taking care that they aren't too cold/hot depending on the season.
  • While traveling. The cats do not roam freely. Tempting as it may be, they stay in the crate for their safety and yours. Once stopped, after everyone is out of the vehicle and doors are securely closed, get the litter pan out and let the cats out to stretch and use the litter box if necessary.

Upon Arrival

The cats' trip begins and ends in a bathroom. The smaller room allows them to get used to sights, sounds, and smells in a small/safe environment. You can open the crate door, but it is up to them to come out when ready. Set up food, litter, and water nearby and give them an hour or more (depending on where you are staying) to get used to things and ensure that they have visited the litter box.

gray and black cat in shallow photography
gray and black cat in shallow photography
gray tabby cat
gray tabby cat

If your cats are more sensitive to new surroundings, keep their environment small and quiet until they feel more comfortable, using catnip, Feliway, and treats if needed.

Cats Who Do Not Tolerate Stress Well

Some cats, despite the best planning and preparation, are not happy travelers. If this is the case with your cat (or you suspect it may be), speak to your veterinarian before the trip about anti-anxiety medications that would be appropriate for your cat.