Traveling With Your Cat in a Car
More kitties will travel by car than any other vehicle, unless you live in an area with excellent public transportation. The principles for traveling short distances with your cat – such as for a vet visit or to a nearby friend or relative’s home – are the same whether you and kitty travel by car, train or subway.*
You’ll need a travel cat crate or soft-sided carrier and the ability to give kitty some attention during the ride. Soft carriers typically have shoulder straps as well as handles, which can make them easier to carry. Travel crates are often larger so kitty has more room, but they tend to be bulkier and heavier. Which you choose is up to you, based on weight, space, and maneuverability.
For short distances, you don’t have to worry about planning potty breaks, setting up a litter box, or providing food and water. In fact, it’s best for kitty not to eat or drink before or during a car ride as the motion and anxiety can upset her stomach and lead to vomiting in the crate.
Always crate your kitty when you travel. It’s safer and keeps her from disturbing you while driving. It’s better for kitty’s well-being to put the cat carrier near you or a family member, and preferably where she can see you. Traveling can be stressful for kitty, and being near, seeing, and hearing the voice of her human are all reassuring.
Traveling With Your Cat by Plane
Check with your airline before you fly, but most times your cat can travel in the plane cabin with you and fit underneath the seat at your feet. You’ll need a carrier that fits within airline cabin baggage specifications; soft-sided ones are usually best. Your kitty counts as your carry-on item, so make sure you make arrangements to check your luggage.
You’ll also need to notify the airline ahead of time that you’re traveling with a cat and pay the additional fee. Flying with your cat can be easier than you think because kitty instinctively slows down while in the carrier. And with the white noise of the engines, they often take a nap on the plane – like many humans do, too.
Sometimes airlines require proof of vaccinations and a “fitness for travel” certificate from your veterinarian. Check with your airline and be sure to gather whatever documentation is necessary to board the plane.
If you have a snub-nosed or flat-face cat such as a Persian or Himalayan, airline restrictions may not allow your breed to fly. The changes in altitude and oxygen levels can be more dangerous for snub-nosed dogs and cats, especially if they are older. Make sure you contact your airline and disclose your cat’s breed to keep her safe.
How Do You Travel Long Distance or Across Country with a Cat?
If you’re traveling longer distances or cross-country with your cat, either for a vacation or for a move, there are some other factors to consider, including:
Kitty’s Toileting While Traveling
If you have space in your vehicle, you can get a large cat travel crate with a litter box or put a smaller litter box inside your existing larger, plastic crate. Be sure to choose an odor-absorbing litter such as ARM & HAMMER™ Clump & Seal™ Microguard™ cat litter to make the trip more pleasant for you, your kitty, and your fellow travelers.
If you can’t fit a larger crate with a litter pan, line the bottom of the crate with the disposable, absorbent “puppy training pads.” Bring a couple extra pads, some cleaning wipes, plastic bags, paper towels, and disposable gloves in case you need to clean up after kitty goes potty. This will be strange for kitty and they might prefer to hold it, but it’s a good backup for emergencies and accidents, including vomiting from motion sickness.
Kitty’s Identification and Certification
When traveling with your cat, you don’t want her to get lost. If he isn’t already microchipped, make an appointment to get that done before you take your trip. Kitty should also wear a collar with ID tag or a secure harness with ID information written or inserted. Put a luggage tag with your contact information on the carrier as well.
It’s best to travel with your cat’s medical information in case it’s needed. Make a copy or take a picture of your cat’s rabies and other vaccination certifications, as well as any recent lab work results. If your cat takes medication, of course you’ll need to bring that as well, preferably in the original containers.
Verify that your Hotel or Rental Allows Cats
Make sure you book your overnight stays in a place that accommodates cats. This time will be a welcome respite from the confines of the crate, car, or plane and give kitty a chance to roam, eat and drink, play, and use the litter box in peace. Of course, it’s also time for her to snuggle up to you for sleeping and affection. Have a plan for litter waste disposal and be sure to bring extra trash bags to hold the litter or pan between stops. Many hotel chains allow pets, but your choices will be slimmer. Booking ahead is a smarter option than finding a hotel spontaneously as you travel. You will also likely have to pay a pet deposit, so make sure your budget accounts for that cost.
Kitty’s Comfort Items to Make Hotels and New Places Feel More Like Home
Traveling can be strange for humans as well as cats. You miss your favorite blanket or pillow, or the water tastes weird and the food can upset your stomach. It’s the same for kitty. To help her feel more comfortable, do the following:
- Put her favorite blanket or cat bed in the carrier if possible, or bring it with you to use at your destination.
- Take some of her usual treats and wet and/or dry food for her to eat during the trip.
- Take some of her usual cat litter to fill the box at your destination. The fewer things that are different from home, the lower kitty’s stress level.
- Consider taking her food and water bowl if they are unbreakable.
Creating a Larger Space for Your Cat that Keeps You Both Safe
If you are traveling in a station wagon, hatchback, or SUV, you can consider setting up the back as a cat area. Doing so will allow her to be outside of the crate, which is more comfortable for longer distances. You can set up a litter box, a cat bed, and, if your cat is more used to traveling, some food and water. If you do this option, however, it is extremely important to set up a barrier such as netting, a baby gate, or a commercial car divider to keep kitty from roaming the entire vehicle or getting under your feet while you’re driving.
It’s generally safest for your cat to be in a crate while traveling, but keeping her confined in such a closed space may be rough if you’re doing an 8-hour day of driving. She will make her complaints known and serenade you with louder and more frequent meows if she is uncomfortable.
Acclimating Your Cat to Travel and Helping Him Like It
If you plan to travel with your cat more frequently, you’ll want to take steps to get him more used to it. It is possible to train a cat to actually like travel, but you’ll need to start before your trip.
The best time to start acclimating your cat to travel is when they are a kitten. However, it’s never too late to train your cat to like travel – or at least tolerate it better. Here are some steps to take:
- Put the cat carrier in your home with the door open. Allow kitty to go in and out, exploring it. Cats enjoy sleeping and sitting in boxes and enclosed spaces, so don’t be surprised if she heads inside for a look and tests it out. Keep the door open so kitty can go in and out at will.
- Make the cat carrier an appealing and happy place. Put a soft blanket or towel on the base to make it more comfy. Try adding a favorite toy or some treats to find inside the crate. Your goal is to associate positive feelings with the carrier.
- Once your cat has gotten used to the carrier, close the door with him inside. While reassuring him, pick up the cat carrier and take kitty for a walk around the house. You want him to get used to the feeling of being carried in the crate. Start with a short trip, then get longer and longer. Open the door when you’re finished and give kitty praise and a treat. She did a good job!
- After kitty is accustomed to being carried in the crate, you can introduce the automobile. Carry her to the car and put her on the front seat beside you. Turn the carrier so she can see you if possible. Start up the car and let it idle for about five minutes to get her used to the sound and rumble of the car before adding movement. Turn the car off, carry kitty back inside, and reward her with pets and treats.
- Now it’s time to take kitty for their first ride! Repeat the process in Step Four, except this time you can put the car in gear and take a short trip. Keep this first one short. If kitty starts to meow in distress or pant, talk reassuringly and pull over, if possible. Take several short trips, then gradually extend the length. Always give kitty praise, cuddles, playtime and a treat after each trip to let him know what a good boy or girl they are.
How to Calm a Cat for Travel
Before you travel, check in with your veterinarian. Your vet may recommend some medication to help calm your cat during travel, especially if you have a nervous or more anxious kitty. There are several strategies to help de-stress your cat for travel, such as:
- Pheromone sprays or wipes such as Feliway® that you can use on the cat carrier to make it a more welcoming place for kitty.
- A pheromone calming collar can help make kitty less anxious. If your cat is not used to a collar, introduce it before you travel to help her get accustomed to it. A collar can make some kitties more stressed, however, so test this plan before your trip.
- A swaddling shirt such as a Thundershirt® can help some kitties feel more secure.
- Calming cat food or treats. This dry food or chews can contain tryptophan to help make cats sleepy on actual anti-anxiety medication.
- Prescription medication. Your vet may recommend an anti-anxiety medicine to calm cats for travel. Yes, there is a kitty Xanax®. If you go this route, be sure to test the medication with your cat at home before you travel so you can see how he reacts.
Make a Plan to Travel with Cats
The bottom line is that it is possible to travel with cats and keep everyone’s stress to a minimum. If you’re traveling with more than one cat, you can consider a larger carrier where both will fit into the same crate. Kitties who get along will often feel more comfortable when they’re together. If your kitty prefers her own space or the logistics demand it, give each cat a separate carrier.
Most importantly, you’ll need to plan ahead to travel with your cat, whether by car, plane, boat, or spaceship. Gather the right food, documents, crate, and litter ahead of time to help make the trip more comfortable for kitty and help her be an excellent travel companion.
Enjoy the open road and the freedom of the skies with your purr-fect pal!
* Neither cats nor dogs, except for service animals, are allowed on most US buses, including Greyhound and Megabus. Cats are allowed on the subway in many US cities, including New York and San Francisco, but they must be in a carrier at all times. Cats and dogs under 20 lbs. and in a carrier that fits under the seat are allowed on Amtrak trains in the US. Check with your area’s public transportation before traveling with your cat.