Traveling by car with your cat CAN be a fun and enjoyable experience. Here are some ideas on how you can minimize the stress if you have a kitty you are worried will not do well traveling a long distance in a car.
Try to get your cats acclimated to the cat carrier. Leave it open with bedding in it, in the room they are most comfortable in. Put some treats inside. Put them inside for a few minutes, then let them out. Short interludes where nothing happens will help alleviate the fear of the carrier. Don’t force them inside. If they show any reluctance, stand the carrier on end with the door open and scruff them gently and lower them inside. Close the door quickly; gently lower the carrier to a normal position keeping them inside for just a few moments, then release them.
Prior to your trip, take short trips with your kitties in the carrier around the block or to a local store.
The Trip Itself
The first thing is to make sure that your cat is comfortable, but yet safe at the same time. Put your cat in a large sturdy carrier that they can stand up in, stretch, and turn around easily. Cover the bottom of the carrier with some type of padding, preferably not something that will slide around, but that will stay covering the floor of the carrier. Put something in the carrier that smells like them to help make them comfortable. Secure the carrier with a seatbelt. If you are in a car accident, you want your cat to be as safe as possible.
For a trip of several days, you will want to let your cat out of the carrier periodically to get a drink of water and use the litter box. The first rule of letting your cat out of the carrier – make sure you are parked. If you let your cat wander around the car while you are driving, what do you think would happen if you were in a car accident, or if your cat suddenly startled and got in the area of the foot pedals or scratched or bit you while you were driving. That could even be enough for you to cause a car accident.
Once your cat is out of the carrier and wandering in the car, do not open or shut the car doors unless your cat is wearing a harness (not collar) and leash. If your cat were to suddenly dart out of the car, it is much easier to step on a trailing leash that to try and grab a scared freaked out cat.
Make sure that your cat is wearing ID of some kind – a collar or harness with your name, address, and phone number attached to it somewhere. A microchip is great, but that only works if someone finds your cat and takes them to a vet or animal shelter as a stray.
If you are traveling a long distance and think that your cat may need to use the litter box, the easiest way is to purchase some of the disposable litter boxes that come with litter already inside. You can place these on the floor of the car for your cat to use – once they have eliminated, you can dispose of it in a trash receptacle – no muss, no fuss.
Be sure to bring plenty of water with you, but only give it to your cat when you are parked. Do not leave a water bowl in your cat’s carrier while driving – it will only spill and make a mess, and you will end up with a wet unhappy cat. It may also help to bring a gallon jug of the water your cat drinks at home – whether it is tap water or filtered water. Cats won’t always drink water that tastes different.
Don’t feed your cat the morning of your trip, or while you are driving. They will be just fine only eating in the evening for a day or two, and it will minimize the risk of your cat vomiting in their carrier during the trip.
If you are traveling in the heat of the summer, bring several ice packs or frozen bottles of water with you and keep them in a cooler. If your air conditioning goes out, you may be too far from home to turn back, and your cat will overheat very quickly – they cannot sweat effectively like you can to counteract the heat. If this happens, you can line the inside of your cat’s carrier with the ice packs wrapped in a cloth of some kind to try to help keep your cat cool.
Be sure to bring paperwork with you from your veterinarian that shows your cat’s current vaccination status. If you are traveling over state lines, by law you also need to have a health certificate from your veterinarian. Unlikely that anyone will ask you to show it, but better safe than sorry.
If you will be staying at a hotel at some point, make sure that they allow pets. Get the name of the person that you are making the reservation with that tells you pets are allowed, or even better, get it in writing of some kind.
Don’t try to sneak your cat in, you might get away with it, but you might not, and do you really want to be wandering around a strange city at 10pm at night looking for a pet friendly hotel?
Once you are in the hotel room, crawl around on your hands and knees and inspect everything to make sure that there are no hazards for your cat, or holes large enough that your cat could get into a wall. Make sure you include the inside of bathroom cupboards when you do this. Wouldn’t you feel horrible if they had a mouse trap or poison out somewhere and your cat got into it? If you don’t feel that the room is cat safe, if the bathroom has a door and it is okay, you can shut your cat in the bathroom overnight. If your cat has a favorite bed from home, bring that with you for your cat to sleep in. If not, then bring bedding or something from home that smells like home to make things a little more familiar for your cat. You can pad the bathtub with them to make a cat bed for your cat.
If you are staying with a friend, it will be much less stressful for your cat to confine them to one room in the home while you are there, preferably the
room you will be sleeping in.
If your cat really stresses during car rides, but you have no other choice but to travel by car with your cat, you can obtain a sedative or tranquilizer from your veterinarian for your cat. This is controversial among veterinary behaviorists, but if your cat is that stressed, it may be better for both of you.
If your cat gets car sick, you can also obtain very effective anti-nausea medication from your vet for your cat.
Have Planned rest stops: Stopping not only gives the driver a break, but also
offers you the opportunity to check on your cats, and offer them the use of a litter box and a drink. Before you open up the carrier, be sure all doors and windows in the car are closed.
Time Your Trips: Plan to travel no longer than 7 or 8 hours (most cats can wait to relieve themselves for that period of time) and the box can be then offered in the safety of a hotel room. If you cat is prone to motion sickness, don’t offer her any food while she is in motion.
I am an advocate for indoor-only cats. But if your cat is going to be indoor-outdoor here are some tips:
Start them out in one room with the door closed and food, water, litter, and bedding and toys that smell like them and you.
Keep them there for a day or two or however long it takes them to start acting normal. Some cats may hide for weeks (I had a cat when I moved who hid under the bed for a month, so don’t panic if this occurs). When they start acting comfortable open the door and let them come out as they please to explore the rest of the house … leave the door open so they know they have a safe place to run back to.
Wait until they are acting totally comfortable until adding the outdoors in — for some cats it could be a week or two, for some longer. Ideally, wait until they are begging to go outside.
You want to be completely sure they understand this is their home now because you don’t want them to disappear or get scared and run off in a panic and not be able to find their way back. They need to know this is their home base.