10 Important Tips For Car Traveling With Cats

We all know that dogs love to take rides in your car, especially if they can stick their head out the window to feel the wind in their fur. Cats, on the other hand, are not known for being good road trip companions.

Sometimes you need to drive with your feline friend in the car, though. A short trip to the vet or the pet sitter's can be bad enough. The idea of actually traveling with cats long distance? That's downright daunting.

It can be done. Read on for a step-by-step guide to traveling with cats, safely and sanely.

Cat Owner's Guide To Traveling With Cats

You'll want to start planning for your adventure well in advance of your actual travel date. It might help to make a checklist or schedule to keep your training efforts on track.

1. Visit the Vet

Before your scheduled travel date, visit your veterinary so you can be sure that Kitty is up-to-date on her vaccinations and generally in good health. If she isn't microchipped, now's a good time to get that taken care of, just in case.

While you're there, ask the veterinarian about getting a mild sedative for your cat. Of course, you don't want to knock her out totally, but something to keep her calm and take the edge off is good to have on hand.

If you have a cat who tends to vomit regularly, ask your vet about anti-nausea medication as well as that sedative.

2. Get the Car Checked Out

Get your car checked out before the big trip, too! It's never fun to have a breakdown or blow a tire while you're on the road. However, it would be even less fun for an automotive emergency to occur when you have a feline travel companion with you.

3. Plan Your Route

When you are traveling with cats, you won't be able to do a lot of sightseeing or stop for leisurely lunches every day.

Therefore, taking major thoroughfares is probably the way to go. These will offer lots of opportunities to grab a quick meal or coffee, either at rest stops or just off the highway.

They'll also get you where you're going that much faster, minimizing the time that you and kitty are cooped up in the car.

4. Find Pet-Friendly Accommodations

While you are mapping out your drive, you'll want to choose lodgings so that you can ensure they are pet-friendly and then book them in advance.

Many hotel and motel chains allow cats, but it's always good to confirm by calling the location where you want to stay.

Additionally, policies may vary from location to location. Some hotels will charge a refundable deposit, while others charge a flat fee for bringing your cat along. Some hotels may request your cat's records to verify if vaccinations are up to date.

Don't leave the bookings until the last minute, either. Hotels and motels may have a limited number of rooms earmarked for people who are traveling with cats or dogs, so lock one in early.

5. Pack a Kitty Travel Bag

There are many handy items you'll want to have within arm's reach when you embark on your road trip. Again, a checklist may be a smart move or simply pack the bag early to make sure you have everything before you set off.

  • Several pack of cat food and treats
  • A stash of disposable bowls for feeding and watering
  • Pet first-aid kit
  • Disposable cleaning materials such as tissue rolls
  • Extra towels to line the carrier
  • Small plastic bags for trash and poop
  • Disposable cat litter box

6. Start Carrier Training

Most cats associate the carrier with one thing, and one thing only, the dreaded vet trips. If your cat flees at the mere sight of her carrier, it's time to start getting her acclimated to it.

Remove the door and place the carrier in your living room, bedroom, or anyplace the cat tends to hang out. Line it with something cuddly, a sweatshirt or t-shirt that you've worn. Anything that's become infused with your scent is a smart idea. Let your cat sniff and explore.

You may want to toss a few treats near the carrier, to begin with, and then eventually inside the carrier. As your kitty becomes braver about approaching the carrier, continue the positive reinforcement by feeding some extra-special wet food at the threshold of the crate.

With time and patience, the cat will eventually venture inside. Keep those treats coming! At this point, replace the door to the carrier, and work up to letting kitty sit inside with the door closed.

For the first few times, you may want to close the carrier door only briefly before immediately reopening it. Slowly, move on to picking the carrier up and moving slowly around the room with it. If at any time she starts to get anxious or agitated, back off and go back to the previous stage of the training.

Your cat may not be able to talk, but you sure know when she's communicating with you!

7. Next Up Is Car Training

So your feline has made friends with the carrier! Give yourself a big pat on the back for having brokered this peace accord.

However, your work's not done yet, so take a deep breath. It's time to start car training.

This is essentially an extension of the carrier training, involving a much larger carrier that's capable of traveling 100 miles per hour! Take kitty, in her carrier, into the car and place her in the backseat.

Don't open the carrier or start the engine. Simply sit with her. You'll want to offer some treats and some comforting words.

Once you've done this a few times, start the engine, but don't drive anywhere yet. You'll work up to that after a few more sessions of stationary car time, and then maybe a couple of trips down the driveway and back.

Eventually, you can go around the block, then try short distances of a mile or two.

Just take car training nice and slow, increasing the time spent traveling with cats by increments and rewarding with treats.

8. Use the Carrier Inside the Car

Some people allow their cats to roam free inside the car, but pet behavior experts tend to discourage this. It seems inevitable that a frightened, freaked out feline will hide under the brake pedal.

Or she may retreat under the back seat, and you might have a tough time coaxing her out again.

Traveling with cats that are loose inside the car can be a distraction to the driver, as well. In the event of an accident, a cat who is secured inside a carrier will be much safer.

If you have done your job of acclimating the cat to her carrier, she should be relatively content to ride inside.

Remember, too, that cats tend to like small, cozy spaces. You might think she feels "caged in" by the carrier, but more likely it helps her feel secure.

9. Kitty Takes the Backseat

If you're the only human traveling with cats, it's understandable that you might want your cat to ride shotgun. You could keep each other company, after all!

However, for safety reasons, she really should be in the backseat. (It's the front seat airbag that poses a danger here.)

Strap the carrier in with the seat belt for extra security.

10. A Few Other Rules of the Road

  1. Cats are sensitive to loud noises and strong smells. Don't blast the radio, no matter how much you love to sing along to Willie Nelson or the White Stripes on your road trip.
  2. Refrain from using any air freshener which might be irritating to your cat, and for heaven's sake take that silly scented pine tree off your rearview mirror.
  3. Keep the air conditioning a few notches cooler than you like it, so your feline traveling buddy stays fresh and comfortable. After all, you can always put on a sweater, but she can't take off her fur!
  4. During summer, never leave your cat inside an idle car. It doesn't take long for a cat to overheat.

Final Considerations

As you can see, hopping into your car with a cat isn't nearly as easy as bringing your dog along for a ride, but it is doable! All you need is time, patience, and some basic supplies. You might be driving a long distance for a move or to visit faraway relatives. Maybe you just can't bear to board your cat while you're on vacation.

No matter what, the effort you put into getting your kitty car-ready is well worth it. Wouldn't you agree?

Have you ever embarked on a long road trip with a cat? Tell us about your experiences, or better yet share your favorite tips in the comments!

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