Riding in Cars with Cats
Whether you (or them, for that matter) like it or not, someday it may be necessary to take your kitty for a car ride.
Maybe you need to take them to the vet, maybe you are taking a trip and have no cat-sitter, maybe you’re moving to another town or state, maybe you would just prefer to have a cat co-pilot rather than a human one.
Whatever your reasoning happens to be, traveling by car with your cat can be a much more difficult task than you might imagine.
But it’s certainly not at all impossible if you have planned ahead and made the proper arrangements for your cat’s trip.
See below for a list of tips and tricks for “Driving Miss (or Mr.) Kitty”.
Make Sure They Are Fit Enough to Handle Travel
Cats aren’t like dogs in that they enjoy the excitement of a car ride to a new place and love the air on their faces. You won’t open the car door and have your cat suddenly jump in.
More likely than not, a car ride will really put stress on them, so you will want to make sure that yours are healthy enough for this experience, especially if it’s not just a short trip somewhere.
Check with your vet well in advance to see if your cat’s health, age, or temperament even makes them a good candidate for car travel (if they aren’t, you’d be better off hiring a cat sitter or finding a place to board).
If they are cleared for car travel, you’ll want to make sure that their shots are up to date.
And if they take any prescriptions, make sure you have enough for your trip, or know where you can get refills.
If you know that your cat gets upset easily, talk to your vet about possible medicines that could help keep them calm during the trip.
Depending on how you (and your vet) feel about medication, sedatives are a good option, or some cats respond well to Benadryl.
Just don’t ever give your cat a prescription sedative that is intended for humans and not approved by your vet.
Get a Carrying Case
While it may be okay for many dogs to roam free in cars, cats need to go into a carrier that is secured to the car seat in order for them to stay safe and sound.
Not only could they get seriously injured in the event of an accident if they aren’t protected, but if something scares them, they may react sharply and really distract your driving by jumping, scratching, or biting.
Cats like being able to move around, so a carrier that will allow them to stand up, turn around, and stretch out is best.
Make sure that there is a soft bottom covering to the carrier, preferably one that can be removed to make cleaning easier so that they are comfortable.
If they do have an accident during the trip, that covering will also absorb the liquid, instead of your car seats.
You can get a carrier that is either made from mesh or cloth or one that is made with wire or plastic, your choice; just be sure that it is large enough and it has good ventilation.
Cats like the comfort and peace of being home, so try and make their temporary home feel the same.
USA Today Travel recommends putting something like a blanket or stuffed animal that smells like your home inside the carrier with them.
The best place for the carrier is in the backseat and you’ll want to keep the windows closest to the carrier closed at all times, as the noise and cold air may be bothersome.
If you can keep the carrier flat and also have it face you so that your kitty can see you are there, that will help to keep them at ease too.
Block off the side opens on the carrier if there are any; seeing the outside world pass by at the speed of a car can be traumatizing for a cat.pipp
No matter how tempting it might be or how well behaved your cat is, it’s always best to keep them in the carrying case while driving in the car as they can be a big distraction.
See this YouTube video for tips on carriers and why they are so important for cats.
Don’t Forget a Litter Box
Cats love routine, so don’t expect them to all of a sudden stop the way that they use the bathroom just for your road trip.
Unlike dogs, all of nature is not their bathroom and you can’t strap on a leash and take them to the nearest grassy spot; you’ll need to give them an environment that is similar to what they are used to at home or they won’t go.
While taking your litter box along might not be the optimal or most practical idea, there are some alternatives like disposable, smaller litter boxes. These come filled with litter already and can just be thrown away after use.
At each pit stop, you make, set up the litter box and let your kitty go into it if they need to.
Plan Meals Accordingly
If you’ll be traveling over a course of a few days, it’s okay to mess with your cat’s eating cycle. You can wait to feed them at night after you’ve gotten off the road; they will be okay with only that one meal for a little bit.
And the chance that they throw up whatever you feed them in the morning is pretty high.
If you do decide that you feel better feeding your cat at the same intervals that you would while you are at home, make sure that the car is stopped for their meals to avoid choking or discomfort. And be prepared for potential vomiting.
If your cat’s food is something special that may not be easily found in regular stores along your road route, be sure you stock up.
Plan Your Stops
Most cats are not used to being cooped up in a case where they don’t have free roam, let alone for a long period of time.
If you are going to be driving for more than just a couple hours, plan out where you will stop to let your kitty stretch out, get some water and food, and use their litter box.
You cat will certainly thank you for the little break and you’ll get to stretch out, get some water and food, and use the bathroom too!
Just be sure to take your cat with you if you will be out of the car for an extended amount of time. Overheating or freezing in a car can happen very quickly.
You will also want to check your route to see where the closest animal hospitals are, in case you need to stop off at one at any point during your trip.
Be Prepared with Supplies
Even cats with the strongest of stomachs and bladders can get sick during a car ride. They are not used to the jostling around, or the assault on their senses of sight, smell, and hearing.
In the very likely event that your kitty throws up or wets their carrying case during your trip, you’ll want to have a backup plan and some cleaning supplies readily on hand.
Get Your Cat Acclimated to the Car and Carrier
If applicable, do a few trials runs in the car with your cat. Make the first ride relatively short on empty, well-maintained roads, so that they get a feel for the car.
From there, add a little bit more time gradually. Up the travel time or take them on bumpier roads.
Whatever you can do to help your cat get used to the car will end up being a great help for your road trip. You can even start off without the car even moving.
Let your kitty get to know (spread their scent on) the car before you even start it up. They’ll be more apt to get inside the car the day you leave if they have already been there before and know what it entails.
Also, consider using Feliway inside the carrier and even in your car. This compound has pheromones in it that will help alleviate your cat’s anxiety and stress.
Getting your cat into the carrier may not be easy either. But there’s a good chance that your cat will try and explore their carrier if you leave it out and open near a place in your home that they spend time in.
They may get interested in it, step inside, find it suitable, and take a nap.
Get Your Cat Tagged
The last thing you want to think about is losing your cat while you’re on the road. But the reality is that something like this really could happen.
If you open the car door and they are not secured enough and feel scared or nervous, they could jump out. And in a strange place, they can easily become disoriented and get lost almost instantly.
Make sure your feline is wearing tags with up-to-date information on how to get in contact with you.
It’s a good idea to also attach a small leash and harness to your cat so that if they do somehow get out, you’ve got something trailing behind that you can grab hold of.
Collars can work too, but cats can slip out of them easily; if your cat is comfortable with it, opt for the harness.
Additionally, if you feel overly worried about losing your cat, Petfinder suggests thinking about getting your cat microchipped.
If your lost kitty is found and brought to a shelter or vet, the chip will link them to you.
While there is a cost involved with this, it’s usually only around $50 or so, and can really give you peace of mind.
Unless completely necessary, PETA advises avoiding sharp lane-changing, hard braking, going over potholes and bumps or honking your horn.
None of these maneuvers are commonplace for your cat and they will disrupt and stress them out.
Keep the stereo off or at least very low; the loud noise in an enclosed space might bother them. And stick to something calming, like classical or smooth jazz.
And remember that your cat feeds off your emotions, so try to stay as calm as possible when you are at the wheel with them in the car.
They’ll feel your road rage and it will make the trip even more dreadful for them.
Make a List and Check it Twice
This might seem like a lot of stuff to remember, and it sort of is, so make a list of everything you’ll need, and make sure that the day of, you have done everything on it and have everything you need with you in the car.
According to Pippa Elliot, MRCVS, you’ll want to have the following (or a variation of, depending on your cat’s particular needs):
- Anything your cat tends to sleep or play with
- Food, water, and bowls
- Litterbox, clean litter, and scooper
- Grooming supplies
- First-Aid kit for pets
- Health papers
The last thing you want to have to do is stop twenty minutes into your trip to pick up an item or turn around because you forgot something at home.
Once you have arrived at your intended destination, you and your kitty can take a nice, deep breath and relax. Maybe give your cat a treat or two or an extra rub and cuddle.
No matter what their demeanor or level of tolerance happens to be, almost every cat feels extremely tense during a car ride.
But if you are well prepared, patient, and aware of your actions, both you and your cat will make it through your road trip!