So you want to take your cat on a trip or you are moving. If it’s a one-way trip, you don’t really have many options; your cat has to come along. If you’re just going on vacation and you’re back, we recommend leaving your cat behind and just bringing in a friend, neighbor, or cat sitter to check on your cat.
Cats do not travel well; they tend to get very stressed. Cats like routine, you like the security of your home, and you don’t like change. If you don’t know anyone who can come to your home and take care of your cat, there are professional pet sitters who are licensed and bonded that you can pay for to watch your cat. If your cat has medical issues that require daily treatments, you can sometimes turn to local veterinary clinics. Often you will have a pre-veterinary student or veterinary assistant working for you who is comfortable administering treatments and could use a little more money. Be warned though, you are not bonded, so if something goes wrong, you have no legal culpability unlike a professional cat sitter who is bonded. Always get references. As a last resort, you can consider boarding your cat – just make sure it’s a cat-friendly boarding facility. Always ask to inspect the boarding area before leaving your cat there.
But if you absolutely must travel with your cat, either because you’re moving or because you just don’t want to leave your cat alone, we have a few travel tips for you to try and make it a little less stressful.
Travel by car
The first thing is to make sure your cat is comfortable, but safe at the same time. Place your cat in a large sturdy carrier where she can easily stand up, stretch and turn around. Cover the bottom of the carrier with some type of padding, preferably not something that slides around but that covers the bottom of the carrier.
Secure the carrier with a seat belt. If you are in a car accident, you want your cat to be as safe as possible. Don’t wear a seat belt? If you had a small child in the car, wouldn’t the car seat be secured with a seat belt?
If it’s a short trip, under 6 hours, then your cat will stay in the carrier the whole time. If it is a longer trip, especially if it is over a period of several days, you should let your cat out of the carrier periodically to drink some water and use the litter box.
First rule of letting your cat out of the carrier-make sure you are parked. If you let your cat roam around in the car while you are driving, what do you think would happen if you were in a car accident or if your cat suddenly became frightened and got into the area of the foot pedals or scratched or bit you while you were driving? This could even be enough to cause a car accident.
Once your cat is out of the carrier and wandering in the car, open or close the car doors only if your cat is wearing a harness (not a collar) and a leash. If your cat were to suddenly dart out of the car, it is much easier to step on a trailing leash that a scared freaked out cat might try and grab.
Make sure your cat is wearing ID – a collar or harness with your name, address and phone number. A microchip is great, but that only works if someone finds your cat and takes you to a vet or shelter as a stray.
If you are traveling a long distance and think your cat may need to use the litter box, the easiest way is to buy some of the disposable litter boxes that already come with litter inside. You can place these on the floor of the car for your cat to use-as soon as you are eliminated, you can dispose of them in a trash can-no muss, no fuss.
Be sure to bring plenty of water, but only give it to your cat when you are parked. Don’t leave a water dish in your cat’s carrier while you’re driving – it will only spill and make a mess, and you’ll end up with a wet unhappy cat. It can also be helpful to bring a gallon jug of water that your cat drinks at home – whether tap water or filtered water. Cats don’t always drink water that tastes different.
Do not feed your cat the morning of your trip or while you are driving. You will only eat well in the evening for a day or two, and it will minimize the risk of your cat vomiting in your carrier during the trip.
If you are traveling in the heat of the summer, bring several ice packs or frozen water bottles and store in a cooler. If your air conditioning goes out, you may be too far from home to turn around, and your cat will overheat very quickly – she can’t sweat effectively as you can to counteract the heat. In this case, you can line the inside of your cat’s carrier with ice packs wrapped in a towel to keep your cat cool.
If you are traveling in the middle of winter, be sure to bring extra blankets for your cat and yourself.
Be sure to bring documentation from your veterinarian indicating your cat’s current vaccination status. If you are traveling via state roads, by law you will also need a health certificate from your veterinarian. Unlikely anyone will ask you to show it, but better safe than sorry.
If you stay in a hotel at some point, make sure pets are allowed. Get the name of the person you are making the reservation with that tells you pets are allowed, or better yet, get it in writing. 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’re in the hotel room, crawl around on your hands and knees and inspect everything to make sure there are no hazards for your cat or holes big enough for your cat to get into a wall. Make sure you enclose the inside of bathroom cabinets when you do this. Wouldn’t you feel terrible if you had a mousetrap or poison somewhere and your cat got in? If you don’t feel the room is cat safe, if the bathroom has a door and it’s okay, you can close your cat in the bathroom overnight. If your cat has a favorite bed from home, bring that so your cat can sleep. If not, bring bedding or something from home that smells like home to make things a little more familiar for your cat. You can fill up the bathtub with you 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 you to one room in the house while you are there, preferably the room where you will be sleeping.
If your cat is really stressed during the car ride, but you have no choice but to travel by car with your cat, you can get a tranquilizer or sedative for your cat from your veterinarian. This is controversial among veterinary behaviorists, but if your cat is that stressed, it may be better for both of you. Benadryl has a mild sedative effect and a mild anti – motion sickness effect, but cats really really really hate the taste of Benadryl. They will foam at the mouth, gag, etc. Foaming. If you are determined to try this, you can give 1/4 of a human dose twice a day.
If your cat gets very sick, you can also get very effective anti-nausea medications from your vet for your cat. You can also use Pepcid AC (see first aid page for dosage), but again, we have more effective medications at the vet clinic.
When you arrive at your destination and move into a new home, try to minimize your cat’s stress as much as possible. Keep you confined to a room that is out of the way and quiet while you unpack and unload. Put things in the room that smell like your old home. Try to take some time periodically to go in and spend some time with you so you don’t feel abandoned.
Travel by plane
There are two ways for your cat to travel by plane – in the LOADER ROOM or in the cabin with you. Of course, it is ideal to keep your cat with you, but this adds significantly to the cost for most airlines, and some airlines do not allow pets in the cabin.
If you decide to let your cat travel with yours in the cabin, you must first take several steps company. When you make your reservation, if someone tells you cats are allowed in the cabin, get your name and contact information. Even better, get it in writing – have them fax, email, or mail it to you.
Get to the airport early. Most airlines have a limit on how many pets are allowed in the cabin, and if the airline books too many pets in the cabin, it will be a first come first serve basis. If you are number three and only two pets are allowed in the cabin, you will have to take another flight or send your feline cargo.
Make sure you have an airline approved flight. When in doubt, take it to the airport well in advance of the day of your flight and ask if it is an acceptable carrier for in the cabin. It needs to be able to fit under the seat in front of you, so it needs to be fairly small.
Have a fabric cover that covers the openings in the carrier so your cat can’t see what’s going on around you. The less you see, the less stress you will experience.
Keep your cat’s health certificate (required by most airlines – better safe than sorry) and vaccination information both on your person and somewhere with the airline.
If your cat tends to cry a lot when stressed, consider a sedative or tranquilizer from your veterinarian for the trip. Again, this is controversial, but you don’t want to be asked to leave the plane before takeoff because your cat makes too much noise or your cat has to check into cargo.