13 Car Travel Tips Cat Owners Need to Know

Cats and car travel can be a daunting combination, but there are ways to prepare for a road trip.

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Be prepared for road trips with your cat. By: Sharon Hahn Darlin

If your cat is anything like my first cat, car rides are screeching, howling, blood-curdling screams of agony until the destination is reached.

Longer trips across multiple states required sedation or she would become stressed and dehydrated from howling for hours. I limited the trips as much as I could, but here in the South a hurricane evacuation is sometimes unavoidable. Every single trip was stressful — probably more for me than my cat. My second cat loves his carrier and couldn’t care less about cruising in the car.

If you need to head out on the road and plan to bring Mister Floofikins, there are some car travel tips you can review.

The Carrier

The comfort and resources available within the carrier can make or break a trip when it comes to your cat’s comfort. Choose a carrier that allows your cat to stand up, turn around and lie down comfortably at a minimum.

Ensure proper ventilation is available on all sides of the crate with sufficient holes, mesh or a gate. Line the bottom of the carrier with an absorbent material in case of accidents. You can then cover it with a towel or your cat’s favorite blanket and toys.

Cats that are used to freely roaming and not used to being transported may throw a “Talk to the paw” up at the new carrier. Keeping the carrier inside with the door open will encourage your cat’s curiosity. Throw in a familiar material or some toys to entice Floofikins to check it out. Cats love boxes, and allowing them to enter and leave the carrier as they wish will (with any luck) not make them feel trapped when it is time to close the door and go for a ride.

If you have to make a stop to clean up an accident in the carrier, keep your cat in the carrier and try to look for a bathroom with a locking door and no escape routes (such as at a gas station). Once you are inside and are sure your cat can’t escape, feel free to open the carrier for cleaning.

It can be dangerous to let your cat roam free in the car while you drive. In addition to causing a distraction for you, your cat can get wedged in small spaces, find a way under the gas and brake pedals, or risk being jolted or thrown because of sharp turns or an accident.

Beat the Heat

Keep the carrier in an area of the car that will receive good air circulation. Avoid spots that will be in direct sunlight or cargo areas in the rear of the vehicle that might trap heat. Try to travel during months with milder temperatures when possible.

Do not leave your cat in the vehicle. If you stop, turn the engine off and take the carrier with you (or use a harness and leash if your cat is into that). Don’t leave your engine running either; it’s an easy target for thieves and you might lose your car and your cat.

The Supply Checklist

It is a good idea to determine what you need to bring before your trip so you’re prepared for any situation. Below is a checklist of items we suggest taking with you when traveling with one cat (increase quantities as needed for multiple cats).

  • Food and snacks/treats
  • Fresh water, preferably bottled or brought from home
  • Bowls (2)
  • Clean cat litter
  • Clean litter pan
  • Brush or grooming tools
  • Any medications
  • Pet first-aid kit
  • Extra collar and tag
  • Extra harness and leash
  • Extra blanket or towels to replace soiled materials
  • Poop bags
  • Copy of vet records (3 copies)
  • Picture of your cat (3 copies)
  • An additional carrier that meets flight safety requirements in case you have to fly home unexpectedly

Triple the Paperwork

In the event of an unforeseen accident or circumstance, it may be possible that the carrier or your cat becomes separated from you. Permanently mark the carrier with “Live Animals” so observers will know an animal is inside. You may also want to permanently mark your contact information on the carrier.

When making copies of your cat’s records, make three copies:

  • One copy stays in the vehicle.
  • Another copy stays with you.
  • A third copy should be placed in a weatherproof folder or plastic bag and secured to the carrier.

Keep a photograph of your cat with each copy. Also consider having your cat microchipped if not done already.

Here’s something exciting to know: You can get reimbursed for the cost of microchipping under Embrace Pet Insurance’s Wellness Rewards. Curious about the cost of pet health insurance? It’s more affordable than you probably think. Get your FREE, no-hassle quote here (affiliate link).

Accommodations

Don’t show up at a hotel or holiday home and expect them to welcome Floofikins with open arms. Many places do not allow pets, and ones that do may require advance notice, deposits or nonrefundable fees. Call ahead to check their policy or keep a list of pet-friendly hotels with you if you have to choose one while on the go.

Keep the litter box in the bathroom of your hotel room with a mat or towel underneath the pan to minimize mess. Make sure the food and water is separate from the litter pan as most cats will protest if they’re too close together.

Going Vertical

Some car trips will take you far from home, a state away or even across the country. If you are planning on being far from home, consider the possibility of having to fly home or to another destination in the event of an emergency. If you have a preferred airline, familiarize yourself with their pet policies before the trip.

If you’re not sure where to start, check out our Airline Pet Policies help guide to get started. Print it out and take it with you to have airline contact information, pet flight preparation tips and an idea of the costs you may have to pay to fly your cat with you.

Secure the Slider

An unsecured carrier can slide, turn over or go flying depending on the movements of the vehicle. After placing towels, blankets or waterproof seat covers over the seats (if desired), use the seatbelt to secure the carrier from sudden movements. In the event of an accident, the carrier can be thrown about the vehicle. Taking this extra step will help keep your pet safe from unnecessary injuries.

For cats with motion sickness or severe anxiety, talk with your veterinarian about the options available to help your cat travel. Sometimes keeping cats out of view of the windows may help, while other cats might need a mild sedative. Other alternatives such as Rescue Remedy (affiliate link) or Feliway may be recommended.

Practice Runs

Once your cat has had a chance to become accustomed to the carrier, consider taking a few practice runs. Short drives allow your cat to be exposed to the experience of riding in the car while in the carrier. Short trips, such as driving around the block or through the neighborhood, can be a starting point until you feel longer drives are possible and your cat is comfortable (plus this shows that not every car ride includes a vet trip).

If you aren’t able to fully prepare for a trip, try to keep your cat calm by remaining calm yourself. Check that you have the necessary supplies and safety recommendations prepared before departure.

Additional Tips

  • For long trips, you can use larger crates that might fit a litter box inside. A covered litter box will help contain the litter. If this isn’t a feasible option, plan to make stops throughout the trip.
  • Don’t feed or provide water to your cat just before a trip to avoid immediate potty breaks or an upset stomach. Removing food and water a few hours before the trip is generally okay, but check with your vet (especially if your cat has any medical problems).
  • Leaving your cat in a vehicle with cracked windows is dangerous. Heat can rise rapidly in the vehicle or dangerous cold can get in and risk freezing your pet. If you have to leave the vehicle, take the cat with you.
  • Use highly valued treats to reward your cat when training with a new carrier or after returning home from practice runs.
  • Remove all food and treats from the car when the trip is over. Do not keep cat food in the car for long periods of time just to have it on hand; it can spoil from the elements or expire.

Traveling with your cat can be stressful, but it can also be a pleasant experience with a little planning.

Kristine Lacoste

View posts by Kristine Lacoste
Kristine Lacoste, editor in chief of Petful, is an author, poet and pet lover from Louisiana. She is the author of an award-nominated book, One Unforgettable Journey, and was host of a weekly pet news segment on the National K-9 Academy Radio Show. She was the New Orleans coordinator for Dogs on Deployment, a nonprofit that helps military members and their pets, for 3 years. She is also employed as chief operating officer for a large mental health practice in Louisiana. Kristine has a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a bachelor’s degree in English and a Master of Business Administration degree.

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