how to travel with a cat without a carrier

Traveling with your pet cat presents a few unique challenges. As a general rule, cats do not enjoy riding in a car or other moving vehicle. Because of this, it is critical to follow some safety precautions to keep both you and your kitty safe.

For the purpose of this article, we are going to focus on transporting your cat with your own vehicles like a car, truck, or RV.

If you need to fly with your cat to a destination, the precautions will be different and will depend on the particular airline’s rules. Please consult with any airline before traveling by plane with your cat.

What’s the Best Way to Travel by Car with Your Cat?

If you plan to travel with your cat by car, some basic safety precautions need to be taken. Your cat should be safely restained somehow within the vehicle.

Cats are prone to darting and fleeing in unfamiliar situations. Keeping your cat safe while traveling means it needs to be secured somehow.

The most common way to restrain a cat while traveling is by a carrier. Cat carriers come in a wide variety of materials and styles but are generally some kind of box with a clasp. The most common are plastic or metal, but carriers also come in cardboard or fabric.

But what if you don’t have a carrier? Or your cat seems to really hate the carrier?

There are alternatives to carriers that can still help you and your feline friend arrive safely to your destination. You may have to get crafty or creative to find a solution, but a cat carrier isn’t the only way to travel with your cat.

How Can You Travel with a Cat without a Carrier?

If you find yourself needing to travel with your cat and you’re without a carrier — there are two main options:

1) You can build a carrier out of something else or 2) you can use a carrier alternative.

We are going to cover both options so you can be prepared in any scenario.

Here is How to Build Your Own Cat Carrier

Building your own cat carrier is a good alternative when you need to transport your cat, but you don’t have a carrier. There are a few materials that will work well in a pinch if you don’t have access to a pre-built cat carrier.

Use a Cardboard Box

A cardboard box can be an excellent alternative to a cat carrier next time you need to travel with your cat. It’s a common material you likely have somewhere in your home, it is easily manipulated, and it’s a great match for your feline’s sharp claws.

Almost any box that is big enough to house your cat will work. Make some holes or cuts for ventilation and find a way to close the box — that’s it. You have a cat carrier.

For more detailed instructions on how to turn a cardboard box into a cat carrier, watch this helpful video tutorial.

Modify a Plastic Tote

Perhaps the closest thing to a professionally made cat carrier is the plastic tote. We all have them in our homes and they can be easily converted to a safe transport for your cat in a pinch.

You can utilize nearly any plastic tote as long as:

1) It’s plenty big enough for your cat to fit
2) It has a lid

Before putting your cat into the plastic tote, poke holes or cut small windows into the tote and lid. This will ensure your cat is able to breathe properly while you travel.

You also might want to consider putting a blanket, towel, or some other kind of soft lining into the tote. This will be more comfortable for that cat while also providing some stability.

A cat may become stressed if they are sliding around on the slippery plastic tote bottom. A towel or piece of cardboard will make the trip a little more stable for your kitty.

Fasten Together Two Laundry Baskets

While not the best option, according to the celebrated Travel with Kitties blog — laundry baskets can be used to travel with cats when you don’t have a carrier.

First, be certain the laundry baskets have a solid bottom so the kitties legs can’t fall through the bottom. Also, be certain the openings in the side of each laundry basket is small enough that the cat can’t escape through the slits.

From there, you can attach two laundry baskets together with zip ties, ropes, or bungee cords. It’s not the ideal solution, but it will keep your cat secured enough to prevent escape.

Swaddle Your Cat in a Pillow Case

According to Dr. Kim, a well-respected feline behaviorist and veterinarian, one of the best methods of subduing your cat is with the pillowcase method. Dr. Kim advocates it for getting your cat into a carrier, but if you don’t have one — a pillowcase alone can work in a pinch.

Most cats will go dormant if they are in a dark, blind place. By putting a pillowcase around your kitty and securing the top, you can safely transport them — either into a carrier or straight to your destination.

It might seem a bit extreme or cruel, it is perfectly safe to transport cats this way. Even if they decide to thrash around, within the pillowcase they shouldn’t hurt themselves.

Also, don’t worry about them being able to breathe. The fabric of the pillowcase is quite breathable and safe for short periods of time.

Once you have the cat secured in the pillowcase by tying the top with a string or rubber band, you can store the cat in the footwell of the car or have a passenger hold the cat in their lap.

This won’t be as safe as a solid carrier in the case of an auto accident but will get the cat their safely in normal circumstances.

Dr. Kim also points out that cats are less likely to puke, pee, or poop when they are secured with the pillowcase method. Bonus!

What Are Some Cat Carrier Alternatives?

Besides the DIY options, there are cat carrier alternatives that offer a bit more structure and security. These are great if you have determined the traditional carriers are a source of anxiety in your pet during travel.

There is no reason to increase anxiety in your cat with the boxed in a carrier if you can avoid it. Instead, try one of these carrier alternatives that still offer safety and security.

Use a Cat-in-the-Bag

While this next option may seem silly, it really is one of the safer and more effective cat carrier alternatives. Cat-in-the-Bag has been producing this goofy-looking — but really genius — alternatives to cat carriers for over 18 years.

Similar to the pillowcase method, Cat-in-the-Bag swaddles the cat in a cloth bag which makes it feel secure and less likely to revolt.

The advantage of the Cat-in-the-Bag over a pillowcase is that the cat’s head is outside of the bag. The product has an adjustable neck hole that leaves the head free to move and the cat free o look around.

With an open headspace, the cat feels less restrained and trapped. This can lessen anxiety significantly and make your trip a lot smoother.

If you are traveling with your cat to the vet, the Cat-in-the-Bag is fantastic for veterinary care. Often times, the cat can stay in the bag and the doctor can administer shots or draw blood from the zippered opening in the back.

For specific directions on how to utilize the Cat-in-the-Bag, please see this tutorial video.

Train Your Cat with a Harness and Leash

It is not just dogs that can be handled with a harness and a leash. The make them for cats too!

The harness and leash method won’t be the best fit for every cat, so please consider if your feline friend is a good fit. Vet Babble suggests the following for consideration in leash training your cat:

If your cat has the following personality traits, they might be a good candidate for leash walking:

– Genuine interest in the outdoors. Do your cat enjoy bird watching out the window? Do they like sitting on your balcony

They might enjoy exploring the outdoors on a leash.

– Outgoing personality. If your cat doesn’t run and hide from new creatures or new places, they are more likely to be a good fit for leash training.

– Easy going. Is your cat rarely rattled? Likes meeting new people when they come over? Leash walking shouldn’t scare them too much.

– Active and energetic. A couch potato kitty isn’t going to want to go on walks — leash or no leash. If you have an active and energetic cat that is constantly moving, a walk outside could be just what they need to burn off that energy.

Cat personality traits that might not mix well with leash walking include: 

– Shyness. Is your cat more comfortable under the couch than at the front window? Does it hide whenever new people come over? Leash walking might be too scary and stimulating for your kitty.

– Aggression. Rather than running and hiding when meeting a new creature or person, does your cat go on the offense? Does your kitty bring out the claws whenever it faced with a new situation? There are likely way too many variables in leash walking.

– Jumpy or easily spooked. If your cat has clear apprehension about new things, a leash walk might overwhelm them.

If your cat meets all the above criteria, it’s time to start training! Please do not depend on just a leash and harness with your cat if they have had no training.

While the leash will keep the cat from running too far, it could still dart out of the car or roam furiously around the car’s cabin while you are in motion.

Start with finding a harness that fits the cat comfortably. A harness that is too big could allow your cat to escape. A harness that is too small will be uncomfortable at best and an injury hazard at worst.

You also may want to practice using the harness and leash in situations besides just walking. Get the cat used to walking to and from the car on the leash. When it comes time to travel, the cat won’t be as scared of the situation because they have done it before.

When in the car, secure the harness to a seatbelt to keep the cat from compromising your safety while driving. This will help to protect that cat in the unfortunate event of an accident and will keep kitty secured in one place to avoid distracting the driver.

Put on a Cat Backpack

Is the problem with cat carriers less about your cat and more about your preferences? Maybe you hate the bulky design or you would like to be able to carry your cat for longer distances — something traditional box carriers make difficult.

If this sounds like you, a cat backpack could be an alternative to traditional cat carriers.

The cat backpack is a sort of upgrade to the traditional carrier. Rather than just having one handle on the top and a boxy design, cat backpacks are sleek, easier to carry, and dare we say cool looking?

The cat backpack is a great alternative for cats and owners that like to go on adventures together. It’s certainly not the choice for every cat — like those that prefer to snooze in the sunny window than go outside. For cats that do enjoy being by their owner’s side at all times, the cat backpack could be a good fit.

If you are flying, the cat backpack could be a great way to board the cat on the plane too. A soft-sided backpack will travel easier than a stiff-sided crate.

Happy Travels with a Cat without a Carrier

We hope you have found some much-needed insight into traveling with your cat without a carrier. While most veterinarians recommend using a traditional cat carrier, you can transport your cat with other methods if you find yourself without a carrier or your cat just hates the crate.

Did we miss some options for traveling with your cat without a carrier? Have you tried some of the methods mentioned here and have some feedback? We would love to hear from you about your cat travel experiences.