Road Trips and Car Travel With Your Cat

We are taking a 2-day road trip to visit relatives.  They have invited us to bring our cat, as they are cat lovers, too, and we will be staying in our own bedroom suite within their home.   Can cats make a road trip?

road_tripping_with_your_cat_fiWe often think of cats as “place-oriented” beings who would rather stay in their own space than move out of their comfort zone.  In reality, cats can be very lively travel companions if we take the time to create a positive experience for them.  We do need to think through several important logistical issues in order to make travel as smooth and easy for them (and for us) as possible.

A successful road trip with a cat begins long before the day of travel.  The best time to teach a cat to travel easily is when he is still a kitten.  However, even for an adult cat, the sequence of learning to travel is essentially the same. 

Teach your cat that the carrier is a great everyday place to hang out.  Have the carrier open and available at all times in order to make it as unintimidating as possible.  Feeding your cat in the carrier can create a positive association.  Practice entry and exit from the carrier to make it as routine a process as possible – this will be important during travel.

Remember, we want the carrier to be a “happy” space.

Once the carrier is “ho-hum,” place the cat inside, close it up, and walk around the house with him.  Be sure to reward with a treat when he exits.  Remember, we want the carrier to be a “happy” space.  Once he is comfortable with an in-house walkabout, move to the travel vehicle.  Simply start it up, run the engine for a bit, then go back into the house. Once this sequence has occurred a few times, take a quick spin around a few blocks, then back home, into the house, out of the carrier, and a treat for his good behavior.  It is important for your cat to be appropriately restrained during travel.  It is safer for him and safer for you!

For a 2-day drive, confirm that your cat is welcome at the hotel/motel you have chosen for the night.  It is not worth “sneaking” him in!

Are there details I should consider when packing?

Gather together your cat’s medical documents – vaccination certificates, recent lab-work, his rabies vaccination tag – as well as any medicines he takes.  Take along his regular food.  You may want to package up meals in individual sandwich bags for ease of feeding.  His own food and water dishes will contribute to his comfort if they are unbreakable.  Also, take along some water from home.  Sometimes water in different parts of the country has a different mineral content and may contribute to stomach upset or loose stool.

Take along a small supply of the litter he’s used to.  You may want to use a plastic dish pan as your travel litter pan.  Don’t forget a litter scoop and some plastic bags for litter disposal both on the way and during your stay with relatives.

Be sure to have your cat wear
identification during travel.

Be sure to have your cat wear identification during travel, and please consider a microchip for permanent ID if he doesn’t already have one.  He should wear a well-fitted harness from which he cannot escape, and you may want to have a thin leash attached during the time you are in the vehicle.  Also, consider making a temporary ID tag with the address and phone number of the folks at your final destination - - just in case!

What else will help my cat be comfortable on this trip?

On the day of travel, withhold breakfast from your cat.  Traveling on an empty stomach minimizes the risk of nausea and vomiting.  Feed a small meal when you arrive at your evening destination.  Offer water at any rest stops you make during driving.  Line the carrier with an absorbent “puppy potty pad” in case your cat needs to urinate or defecate during travel.  Carry extra pads as well as a couple of zip-lock food bags, some paper towels, and a few latex or plastic gloves for any necessary cleanup and containment of a mess. 

If you have the space for a large dog kennel for travel, you can actually place a small litter pan right in the carrier with the cat for bathroom use during travel.  It is always safest to have the cat confined during driving.  The only limits to his accommodation are the space in the vehicle and your imagination.

Should I ask my veterinarian for a cat sedative for travel?

Most of the time, cats travel quite well with no need for any medication.  Some cats, on the other hand, do experience stress when traveling.  Consult your veterinarian to create the best travel plan for your cat if he doesn’t travel well.  Strategies to de-stress cat road trips include:

  • A Thundershirt® which swaddles the cats much like swaddling an infant and can reduce anxiety.
  • Feliway® pheromone wipes and spray to prepare the carrier and contribute to lowering     anxiety.
  • A pheromone calming collar to contribute to lowering anxiety.
  • Medication prescribed by your veterinarian: Buprenorphine, gabapentin, and alprazolam are examples of medications that are sometimes used to reduce the anxiety that some cats experience when traveling. Be sure to provide a dose at home as a “dry run” ahead of your trip in order to know how your cat will react to the medication.

With some advance planning, attention to detail, and consultation with your veterinarian, road-tripping with your cat can be as “smooth as silk!”

This client information sheet is based on material written by: Robin Downing, DVM, CVPP, CCRP, DAAPM

© Copyright 2014 LifeLearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license.