Traveling With Cats

How to Take Peaceable Road Trips with Your Kitties

If your cats are like most, they’re not too jazzed about car rides. Since felines prefer routine over change, long-distance trips are least appealing.

Still, with thoughtful prep and the right travel gear, your cats should warm up to lengthy drives.

With experience, your pets will be so agreeable that seeing your car gets them psyched! Here’s how to take peaceable road trips with your kitties.

1. Obtain vet medical clearance

About three weeks before your departure, bring your pals to the vet. Even if they appear healthy, the doctor can give you travel tips to ensure their welfare and comfort.

Vet clearance is vital if your cats have chronic health concerns or take medications. In that case, the doctor will explain the precautions you should follow while on the road.

If your kitties eat prescription food, buy enough to last your trip plus an extra week. With surplus rations, you’ll be ready for any unexpected trip delays.

Likewise, stock your cats’ medicines and supplements, including an additional week of doses.

If any of your kitties take insulin for diabetes, remember to bring an insulated cooler and ice packs, protecting the insulin from degradation.

For appliances powered by car cigarette lighters, check out these compact models — the Wagan 14 LiterWagan 24 Liter, and the Cooluli Mini.

2. Acquire cat medical records

Should your kitties need vet care while traveling, having their medical records will expedite treatment?

Before seeing your current vet for clearance, tell the receptionist you’ll need copies of these records. By requesting the files three weeks in advance, you’ll give the staff adequate time to prepare them for pick-up.

In particular, ask that the following information is included:

  • summaries of any diagnosed illnesses and treatments
  • recent chart notes and lab results
  • names and doses of any supplements and medications

Also, inquire whether the vet subscribes to an app that automatically updates pet medical records. If the doctor does and you own a smartphone, you’ll have digital access to your cats’ treatment histories.

Alternatively, store their records on a USB drive for quick reference by an attending veterinarian.

3. Microchip your kitties

When pets and their owners get separated, ID technology facilitates reunions. A microchip is a tiny radio-frequency implant, the size of a rice grain, storing a pet’s ID number issued by a registry.

When a lost, microchipped pet arrives at a shelter or vet practice, the staff can use a scanner to read the implant’s ID code. Staff then call the number into a microchip registry.

Next, from the pet recovery database, the agency retrieves the pet owner’s contact information linked to the ID number.

If your cats came from a shelter or breeder, they could be microchipped already. Your adoption or breeder paperwork will indicate whether this was done. Alternatively, ask your vet to scan for microchips.

Related: Should I Microchip My Cat? What you Need to Know to Decide if Your Cat Needs One

4. Update your microchip registry file

If scanning reveals no microchips, the doctor can implant one in each cat, averaging $45 per procedure. Although this fee is pricey for a multi-cat family, your peace of mind is worth the cost.

Implantation is simple and quick. Like giving a vaccine, the vet inserts the microchip with a needle, usually between a pet’s shoulder blades. Animals feel just a brief pinch.

Once your cats are microchipped, you must register their ID numbers with a pet recovery service. Be sure to update your registry file whenever you change phone numbers or move. 

Along with ID implants, have your cats wear collar tags, showing your phone number, home address, and destination address.

5. Map out emergency care clinics and hotels

Compile a list of animal hospitals coinciding with your route. For every large city, you intend to pass, identify a pet emergency room (ER), recording its address and phone number.

This way, should your cats require urgent care, you won’t lose time looking for a vet facility.

Another option is storing an Animal ER locator on your phone. For an accredited clinic, use this search tool by the AAHA, the American Animal Hospital Association.

If you plan on staying in hotels along your route, be sure to make reservations with pet-friendly lodges.

When booking, record the name of each reservation agent. Also, request emails confirming that your cats are welcome at each establishment.

6. Heed state laws on driving with cats

According to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), when driving with cats, they must be restrained.

A roaming cat is a travel hazard. Its movements can draw your attention, impairing your driving skill and judgment. Plus, an unrestrained feline can block floor pedals, gear consoles, and windshields.

If police spot a roaming cat, they can ticket the driver if the pet seems distracting. Since you’re traveling with more than one kitty, the likelihood of getting sidetracked is multiplied.

The DVM also stipulates that a feline may only ride in the front passenger seat if it lacks an airbag.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) states that crossing state or international borders may require a health certificate, signed by an accredited vet. For further information, see this AVMA FAQs page.

7. Obtain restraining gear

Furnish each cat with a harness and leash. Here how to acclimate cats to wearing them.

Inside your vehicle, you have three ways to secure a leash:

  • Tie it around the bottom of a seat.
  • Use the safety hooks for child car seats.
  • Anchor the leash to a headrest.

Along with a leash and harness system, reserve a kennel for each kitty to ensure safe transport from your car.

8. Choose comfy carriers

Both soft- and hard-sided kennels have distinct advantages. Soft-sided carriers are best for calm felines who don’t mind a little jostling. Soft satchels are also lightweight and easily stored.

Hard-sided crates help anxious cats feel secure, being more stable and protective than soft-sided bags. Additionally, rigid walls are durable and simple to clean.

When kennel shopping, choose a design with the following features. The interior is large enough for Kitty to stand, turn around, and recline with ease. Kennel walls must be well-ventilated.

Ideally, a carrier should have two doors. A top opening ensures quick access for you while a front door accommodates Kitty. Walls should allow Kitty to see outside through a wire or mesh window.

Related: Size Matters When It Comes to Cat Carriers

9. Consider these top-rated kennels

Petmate Two-Door Top-Load Kennel – Fitting cats weighing less than 16 lbs., this crate has heavy-duty plastic walls, with top and front doors made of steel wire.

The ergonomic handle provides a firm grasp, minimizing cat shifting. Walls and doors have ample ventilation and views.

Pets2Go Carrier – This soft-sided kennel expands horizontally, with the extra reclining room. Top and front openings allow dual access. Transport is easy with the carry handle, and when not in use, the bag collapses for storage.

Necoichi Portable Cat Cage – While more lounge than the carrier, this has the advantage of fitting two cats. Or, if you prefer, it can accommodate one cat and a litter box. The pop-up design makes assembly a cinch, and the wide mesh panels give broad visibility.

10. Help your cats befriend their carriers

If possible, start the adjustment process a month before your trip. First, place the carriers in areas frequented by your cats, doors propped open.

Daily visibility makes the kennels seem less threatening, especially if your kitties only equate them with vet visits.

Next, infuse the kennels with feline scents, helping the crates seem familiar. To achieve this, pet each cat with separate towels, followed by using them as carrier bedding.

Further, increase crate appeal with treats placed at the doors and inside. Also, entice your kitties to play nearby.

Once a cat starts resting inside, softly close the kennel door. After about five seconds, reopen it and give a treat. The brief enclosure helps a cat trust that they won’t be trapped long-term.

With subsequent kennel naps, gradually increase the time of enclosure.

11. Take your kitties on short drives

Coax your cats inside their kennels, and bring them to your car. With each carrier anchored by seatbelts, take a 15-minute ride. While driving, speak soothingly to your sweeties.

Best for your felines are driving in silence. For many kitties, feeling road vibration is grounding.

Taking your cats on brief rides lets you know whether they’re prone to carsickness. If so, your vet can prescribe medication to allay symptoms.

Upon arriving home, release your cats, offer them treats, and spend some time cuddling or playing together. Then, a few times per week, leading up to your trip, take your pals for a drive.

With each outing, gradually lengthen the time until you reach 30 minutes. Back home, reward feline cooperation with treats, praise, and petting.

12. Buy travel litter boxes

Two options are best for you, having a multi-cat family.

  • Disposable – This kind is made of biodegradable or recycled material. High-quality boxes last a month. One durable product is Kitty’s WonderBox.
  • Portable – With a collapsible design, this type is space-saving. Typically, portable litter boxes have fabric or nylon frames, lined with a waterproof pad. Most designs are small, with cats tending to overshoot their boundaries. However, this Petsfit model is very accommodating and comes in two sizes, large and extra-large.

Be sure to pack the litter brand you routinely buy. Your cats may resist using litter with a different scent and texture.

About a week before your trip, introduce your cats to their new lavatories. Using them beforehand will impart familiar smells, helping your cats accept the change.

Related: How To Find The Absolute Healthiest Litter For Your Feline Friend

13. Pack feline necessities

A few days before departing, organize your kitties’ gear. Be sure to include:

  • bowls, food, and treats
  • water your cats normally drink, either tap, filtered or bottled
  • feline medications and supplements
  • harnesses and leashes
  • kennels
  • soft blankets
  • brushes, combs, and nail clippers
  • toys
  • cat medical records
  • travel litter boxes and litter
  • plastic bags and waste scoop
  • feline first aid kit

Related: The Purr-fect Cat Packing List: Everything You Need to Travel With Your Cat

14. Embark on your trip

Four hours before leaving, feed your cats a small meal. If your vet has recommended sedating or carsickness medication, give it before departing.

Invite your cats to their carriers, and secure them in the car with seatbelts, out of direct sunlight. For feline comfort, keep the windows closed and only sound the car horn when safety mandates.

15. Take regular breaks

If your journey will exceed three hours, at that point, take a break for your cats to stretch and go potty. If possible, pull into a rest stop.

If the weather is agreeable, place the litter boxes outside the car in a concealed area. Or, use a few suitcases to create privacy.

Once parked, be sure your cats are restrained before opening the car doors. After attaching a harness and leash to each kitty, lead them outside to the litter boxes.

In unpleasant weather, park and place the litter boxes on your car floors. With all the car doors shut, release your cats, coaxing them to use the lavatories. When done, scoop any stools into plastic bags, discarding them in a trash bin.

Then, offer your cats food and water. Note that felines may refuse water from an unfamiliar source if it tastes different than normal. To prevent dehydration, offer a spoonful of wet food every three hours, followed by a potty break.

Avoid switching from kennels to harnesses until you’ve been on the road for several hours. Your kitties will adapt quicker to drives by starting with carriers, being sheltering.

16. Prevent feline casualties

Always park before feeding your cats. Otherwise, car movement can trigger choking and vomiting.

Before releasing your cats into a hotel room, scrutinize it for feline safety. Possible hazards are open balcony doors and windows.

Avoid leaving your cats alone in the car. Especially don’t leave them unattended in hot or frigid weather, both of which can be lethal.

17. Celebrate your safe arrival

Upon reaching your destination, lavish your kitties with praise and treats. Reward yourself, too. As your cats will agree, you rule!

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