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Taking a Cat on a Car Trip

Picture of cat in a orange carrying case

Some of our furry companions are a pleasure to take along with us on vacation. Sadly, usually cats do not fall into this category. Anyone who has ever attempted to take a cat on a car trip with them can attest to the ordeal that this venture can become. There are ways that you can plan ahead to make sure that taking your cat on a trip with you is an enjoyable prospect, however. In order to take your cat on a successful trip with you, you must prepare some things ahead of time, make the necessary adjustments and, above all else, be flexible.

Making Preparations

Vehicle Acclimation

If you are going on a car trip, ask yourself this question: Has your cat traveled in your vehicle for “fun?” Or has it always involved some type of negative destination – the vet’s, the groomers, a boarder? If your cat only associates the car with negativity, this does not bode well for successfully taking her with you on a car trip. Experts suggest that you take your cat for a few pleasant short rides of 30 minutes or less in the weeks before your trip. Put her in the carrier that she will be in during the trip, and line it with her bed (if you can fit it in there) or a favorite towel or blanket she sleeps on. Also, use treats while she’s in the carrier in the car to give her a positive association with the combination of the carrier and the car.

Medication

Does your cat tend to have an upset tummy anytime she travels by car? If so, ask your vet to prescribe something to help calm her stomach and prevent vomiting during the trip.  If your cat is one who becomes stressed out at the prospect of travel, ask your vet about anti-anxiety medications to combat this. Some vets will prescribe a quarter of a tablet of Benadryl (depending upon the cat’s weight, of course) as an anti-anxiety remedy. If your doc does prescribe something, try it out at home before going on a trip just to make sure that she can tolerate it and doesn’t have any negative reactions to the medicine.

Feliway, an over the counter spray, is a great friend to many nervous kitties. Its smell is like cat pheromones and is supposed to calm cats during a ride. Before spraying it in your cat’s carrier, make sure to test out her reaction to it at home- again, if she has a negative reaction, you won’t want to use it.

On Vacation Day

Feeding and Littering

Once trip day arrives, make sure to feed your cat well before you plan to leave. This will hopefully prevent any vomiting in her carrier later due to being overfull. Also give your kitty plenty of time to use the litter box.

You should never plan to have your cat in its carrier for longer than eight hours, as she will definitely need food, water, and/or the litter box during this time. Staying inside a carrier longer than eight hours is just inhumane.

Carrier

Before you are getting ready to pack kitty in the car, while still in the house, open the door to her cat carrier and allow her to explore inside on her own. Don’t force her inside, just let her get used to the idea. Put a harness and/or leash on your cat before putting her into the carrier – this will help you catch her more easily in case she tries to escape later. Once it comes time to put kitty in her carrier, I’ve found that the ones that open from the top are the easiest to use. Cats can easily block the openings with their limbs, if you have a side-opening carrier. The top, however, enables you to just drop kitty into her warm, comfy carrier and close the door quickly.

When you’re carrying the carrier to the car, you might want to drape it with a towel to block any of the scarier sites or sounds of the outside world from your cat. Try to strap the carrier into your car with a seat belt, if possible. This will prevent your cat from flying through the air in the event of a sudden stop or accident.

Make stops as often as you can during your trip, and allow your cat to “stretch her legs” at rest stops, walking with you on her harness/leash. You can also carry a disposable litter box with you and encourage her to use it during stops, as well as collapsible food and water bowls if necessary.

At Your Destination

When you arrive at your destination, make sure to keep kitty in her carrier until you are inside your room/the home. Spray the area thoroughly with Feliway before letting your cat out and into the room in which she will be staying, to give her a calm feeling, almost like she’s home. If you are in a hotel, make sure to leave a note on the door so the maid won’t accidentally let your cat out.

Safety Concerns to Remember

  • Make sure your cat is either microchipped and/or wearing an id tag/collar at all times. This way, if your cat becomes lost during the trip, it will be easier to find her.
  • Don’t allow your cat to roam around the car freely while you’re driving. Not only is this a safety hazard to you, the driver, but it’s also not safe for the cat, who could become trapped under a seat or pedal.
  • Never leave your cat alone in the car for any length of time, even if you crack a window. Cats can become overheated and die after just 20 minutes in a car.
  • If your cat has an “accident” inside her carrier, whether she vomits, poops or pees (all of which are quite common fear and stress reactions in cats who travel), don’t let yourself become distracted while driving. Wait until you can safely pull over somewhere, ideally into a parking lot area, so that you can clean up kitty and her mess. You might want to carry some grooming wipes with you for a quick wipe down of your cat’s fur after a soiling incident. I also carry pet-safe disinfectant wipes with me that allow me to wipe out the carrier if I can’t immediately get to a sink or hose to properly clean it out.

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