Road trips are one of those great traveling experiences—an opportunity to hit the open road and see the sites in a way that traveling via any other mode of transportation doesn’t allow.
Another added benefit of road tripping is the ease with which you can load up your pet and take her along for the ride. If you have a pup, the process is generally pretty simple (just grab your dog supplies, buckle up and hit the road), but have you considered a road trip with your cat? With a little extra planning, there’s no reason your feline companion can’t be with you on your joy ride.
“What matters most when traveling with a cat by car is that you’ve done proper, gradual training to help the cat get comfortable with car travel, and that you have the cat safely secured in a carrier or crate,” Pam Johnson-Bennett of Cat Behavior Associates said.
If you love the idea of a road trip with your cat but don’t know where to start, we’ve got you covered. Here’s everything you need to know to make sure both you and your cat arrive at your final destination safe and happy.
Prep Work for Traveling With Cats
While preparing for a road trip with your cat might take a little more effort than one with your dog, if you discover that your cat has a love of the road just like you do, it’ll be totally worth it in the end. The most important first step is to take some time in advance of your trip to gradually get your cat comfortable with the experience of riding in a car.
“Start by getting your kitty comfortable with being in a cat carrier ,” Johnson-Bennett said. “Carrier training involves leaving the carrier out in the open at home. Make it an inviting place to nap by placing a towel inside. Toss treats near the carrier so your cat starts to develop a more positive association with its presence.”
Eventually you can work up to tossing treats in the carrier or maybe even feeding your cat in the carrier to continue the positive association. Once your cat feels safe in her carrier, work up to closing the door briefly while she’s in it, picking it up with the cat inside and walking around the house, then placing it in the car with the engine off.
“Don’t start the engine yet because the cat needs time to get used to being in the vehicle,” Johnson-Bennett said. “The next step involves running the engine without going anywhere, and finally, you can take the cat on short car rides around the block to build up his tolerance for the experience.”
It’s best to keep trips short, if possible, especially for your first road trip experiences.
Gear Needed for Cat Car Travel
Besides a crate for your kitty, there are some other things you’ll need to bring on your road adventure with your cat:
- A cat litter box, litter, scoop and plastic trash bags: depending on the type of car you have, you can either keep your cat in a larger crate with a small litter box in the crate or you’ll have to let her out of the carrier to use the litter box.
- A cat leash and harness: it helps to have the added security of having your cat on a leash, especially for long trips where you may need to stop briefly and let your cat out of her carrier to stretch her legs and/or relieve herself. Try getting your cat used to the idea of walking around on a leash and harness before a road trip, since some cats need to warm up to the idea. Also never let your cat walk outside of the car, only have her on-leash and using the litter box inside your vehicle while it’s stopped.
- Water, cat food and treats: if you’ll be feeding your cat before or during a road trip, allow a minimum of three hours between feeding and hitting the road to avoid having your cat regurgitate her meal while you’re driving, said Dr. Shelby Neely, a veterinarian specializing in feline medicine.
- Extra towels: line your cat’s crate with extra towels for shock absorption from bumps in the road and added comfort.
Avoiding Common Cat Car Dangers
If you’re careful, there aren’t too many dangers that come with bringing your cat on a road trip, but there are some things to be aware of.
“A common danger I see is when cat parents allow their cats to roam freely in the car during travel,” Johnson-Bennett said. “This is a danger to everyone. The cat can easily get in the way of the driver and cause an accident, and, in the event of an accident, an unconfined cat has a greater risk of being injured or running away.”
Make sure your cat’s carrier is secured with a seatbelt in place in the vehicle and don’t depend on just a specialized pet seat or harness — your cat needs to be in a carrier.
Neely recommends that, when riding with your cat in the car, you never roll your windows down all the way, even through tollbooths.
“Just in case your cat is a Houdini who attempts to escape the carrier,” she said. “Also ensure that your kitty is properly identified with a collar and ID tag, just in case you were to somehow get separated or your cat escapes.”
Neely also suggests that cats always ride in the back seat to avoid any potential impact from airbags and never place your kitty in the back of an open pickup truck.
“It’s scary to your cat, and if an escape artist gets out of the carrier, your cat may be fatally injured or, even if he survives falling from the truck, you most likely will never see him again,” she said. “Also, debris and cold air flying into your cat’s eyes, nostrils and lungs can be a health hazard, so please keep your cat in a carrier, safely secured in the back seat of any vehicle.”
Finally, never leave your cat alone in the car. Doing so can invite pet and car thieves to and also puts your pet in serious physical danger due to heat, according to Neely. “On a day where it is 70 degrees Fahrenheit outside, your car can heat up to well over 110 degrees in less than an hour,” she said.
Making Road Trips Less Frightening for Cats
A car ride might be frightening for your cat at first because of sensory overload, not to mention the fact that your cat’s only previous car experience may have been to the vet. Signs that your cat isn’t handling your car trip well include meowing, howling, drooling, panting, pacing, vomiting or eliminating in her carrier.
“To make car trips less frightening, you can cover the carrier with a towel or a light cloth,” Johnson-Bennett said, adding that the towel should be thin enough for adequate ventilation. “Frightened cats feel more secure when they can hide. Additionally, I would recommend spraying a synthetic pheromone product on the towel 15-20 minutes before you put the cat in the carrier. The synthetic pheromones in the product are intended to help cats feel more familiar and comfortable with a particular environment.”
Additional over-the-counter calming aids like calming collars may help as well, but Neely suggests always talking with your vet about your options before using them.
Johnson-Bennett plays classical or new age music at a low volume in the car. “It may or may not help, but it can buffer some of the road noise, and if it relaxes the driver, the cat may pick up on that relaxation,” she said.
Though cruising along open roads may be an enjoyable experience for many cats, others are probably better left at home. If your cat really dislikes the car and does not respond positively to any of these travel tips, it’s best to find a reliable pet sitter and let your cat savor a stress-free staycation.
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