If you’ve got a feline friend and you’re also a regular traveler, the chances are that sometimes, you will need to take your cat along with you on a trip.
Usually, that will just be in a car, but sometimes you might need to take your kitty on a plane. Traveling with cats is hard, so we’re going to help!
There are many things you can do to make your cat happier while traveling. Ensuring your cat is comfortable in its carrier, taking some familiar toys or blankets, and doing some practice runs are key to reducing stress. A blanket over the carrier and plenty of treats may help too.
You can introduce your cat to the carrier and form positive associations in advance. You will also need to think about securing the carrier on a long journey.
How Do I Introduce My Cat To Its Carrier?
Getting your cat safe and comfortable in its carrier is key to a low-stress journey for both of you. Some cats are fussier about carriers than others, but there are a few things you can do to increase your cat’s tolerance for the carrier.
- Firstly, make sure you buy a carrier that is large enough for your cat. Plastic is the best material, and your cat should be able to turn around and lie down comfortably inside. Solid sides for privacy with slits for ventilation will help keep your cat secure and calm.
- You should introduce your cat to the carrier well in advance of the first trip. Leave the carrier lying around with the door off, and place a fleecy blanket in the bottom. Most cats will explore the carrier, or possibly even turn it into a bed or den.
- Place treats in the carrier occasionally, encouraging a positive association with it.
- From time to time, when your cat is inside, shut the door of the carrier for a brief interval so your cat gets used to the idea of being shut in it.
- Use a pheromone spray to help your cat relax while in the carrier. You may want to spray this about fifteen minutes before a journey.
How Do I Get My Cat In The Carrier To Travel?
It’s unlikely that your cat will obligingly hop into the carrier just in time for your trip. You might get lucky and it may be asleep inside, but you will probably have to put it in the carrier.
Here are some tricks you can try. Different things work for different cats, so try a few and see which are effective.
- Put treats at the back of the carrier. If your cat loves treats, it will probably go in to eat them, and you can shut the door.
- Scoop your cat up with your arms along the length of its body and your hands at the top of its front legs. This will make it hard for it to wriggle, and you may be able to put it in the carrier.
- Get your cat to face away from the carrier and gently shoo it backward. Many cats don’t think about what is behind them when backing away and will walk straight into the carrier.
- Wrap it in a towel to prevent scratching and wriggling, and place it gently in the carrier.
- If your carrier has a roof opening, try lowering your cat in through that. Some cats prefer this to the front opening.
- Cover the carrier with a sheet so that they feel more secure throughout the journey. This should be done as soon as they are in the carrier.
Never put more than one animal in a pet carrier. If you have multiple cats, they should travel separately, no matter how friendly with each other they are. In a high-stress situation, cats need their own space.
How Do I Start My Cat Off With Traveling?
Once your cat is used to the carrier, you can start getting it accustomed to the idea of traveling in it. Preferably, if you have your cat as a kitten, both of these things should be done when it is still young. Adult cats are less adaptable on the whole.
- If possible, plan some short trips without stressful results. If you can take your cat for a quick drive and then return home a few times, this will be better than if a drive culminates in a vet visit. Obviously, this won’t always be possible, e.g. if you have an emergency.
- Get rid of strong smells in your car and let it air out before you put your cat in it. Cats have a very sensitive sense of smell and will not like air fresheners or other strong scents.
- When moving the carrier, hold it in both arms so that the floor feels stable to your cat. Do not hold it by the handle; this will swing the cat around and it’s likely to fall over. Stability will make a cat feel safer, even if it’s a little less convenient to carry this way.
- Gradually increase trip lengths and get them used to the idea of being in the carrier for longer periods of time.
- Put some newspaper in the bottom of the carrier to help contain accidents and make cleanup easier. While this is not as soft for the cats, it will provide a surface for them to stand on and will help to wick water away if they have an accident in the box.
- If your cat dislikes the newspaper, use an easy-to-wash blanket that they are familiar with. You may also wish to carry a small plastic bag for any vomit or poop disposal, just in case.
- Use a safety belt to secure the carrier when in the car. In an accident, this will keep the carrier secure, and the carrier will protect your cat. The safety belt should be threaded through the handle of the cat carrier for security.
- Do not let your cat out of its carrier while the vehicle is moving. This is dangerous to the cat (in an accident) and dangerous to you and other road users. If the cat gets under your feet or scratches/bites you, you might crash.
How Do We Handle Long Journeys?
A long journey will require more preparation and care. You should never take an inexperienced cat on a long journey unless absolutely unavoidable.
There are a few things you’ll need to do, especially if the journey is going to take place over the course of a few days.
- Plan plenty of stops. If your cat is an experienced traveler, you can go for longer periods without stopping, but your cat will need a break every few hours, so make sure this is part of your itinerary.
- Make the seat level by placing a folded towel on the lower part. This will give your cat a more comfortable floor to stand on.
- Consider a cat playlist. This might sound silly, but there are songs specifically designed to soothe cats, and you may find that this makes the journey easier on your furry friend. It can help to drown out the engine noise.
- Chat to your cat as you travel. Use a friendly, relaxed voice; your cat will respond to the tone and realize that you are not stressed. This will help them to relax.
- Plan your route to avoid heavy traffic if possible. You might be able to time your rest stops so that you’re off the roads when they are particularly busy.
- Carry a few plastic bags to dispose of waste in, as well as a kitchen towel and some water and mild soap just in case you need to clean up accidents. A couple of old spare towels can also be useful.
- Carry extra newspaper, especially if you’re using this in the bottom of the cat’s carrier. You will want to replace this every so often.
- Think about the litter tray dilemma. You probably already know your cat’s preferences. If they like extreme privacy, consider putting them in the back with the tray and exit the car for a bit. Carry plastic bags so you can dispose of used litter easily.
- Don’t open the doors of the car unless your cat is in a secure carrier. A stressed cat might bolt and could easily get lost or hurt in a strange place.
- Take water for your cat. Water should only be given when the car is stationary so that it doesn’t spill on the cat, but they will need a drink, especially in hot weather.
- Take some food for your cat. Do not feed your cat large amounts because they may be sick, but allow them some small snacks throughout the day as this may make them feel more settled and comfortable. Make sure you have food for when you stop for the night.
- Take blankets or ice packs. If you are traveling in very cold or very hot weather, you should be prepared with extra gear. Cats can overheat easily because they can’t sweat as humans can, so make sure you have an ice pack you can place in the carrier if it’s needed.
- Ice packs can be transported in a cooler. If you do need to keep the carrier cool, wrap the ice pack in a towel before putting it in the carrier, as your cat will not like the extreme cold.
What About When We Stop?
Perhaps you’re staying somewhere overnight, or even different places for several nights. If so, there are a few things you should do to keep your kitty safe and happy.
These may apply even if you’ve reached your final destination if it’s an unfamiliar space for your cat.
- If staying with a friend who has pets, do not allow them into the same room as your cat. While stressed, your cat will not be interested in making friends, even if they are usually friendly with other animals.
- Minimize contact with strangers, too. While your friend might want to meet your cat, your cat will see any new creature as a potential threat and may become more stressed. Give them your company and reassurance, but don’t add other people to the mix.
- Stay with your cat where possible; they will take comfort in your familiarity and presence. This may not be practical at every moment but try and check in frequently if you do have to go out. This will reassure your cat that they have not been abandoned.
- Aim for a quiet environment as much as possible. Loud noises, loud music, shouting, bangs, etc., will stress your cat out. If they enjoy cat music, put this on to drown out other background noises and soothe them.
- Don’t forget that pheromone sprays can help your cat to relax and feel at ease, both in its carrier and in other environments.
- Make sure you provide comfortable, dark sleeping space. Your cat might want to stay in their carrier (that’s fine), but you should also offer a favorite bed, a cardboard box, or some other dark space for them to retreat to. Even a blanket over a chair may suffice. Put food and water nearby.
- If you’re staying in a hotel, make sure you have a written confirmation that they are pet-friendly.
- Leave your cat in its carrier until you have checked out the room. Look for any potential hazards such as wires they might bite, or holes that they might try to hide in.
- If you are staying at a friend’s house, choose only one room to let your cat explore in. This will reduce the stress as they will be able to quickly establish that it’s safe. They are also less likely to accidentally escape from the house. If possible, make this room the same as the one you sleep in.
How Do I Fly With A Cat?
Taking a cat on a plane is an even bigger challenge. You will need to be very prepared and do plenty of planning, especially if your cat is a nervous traveler. Do everything you can to minimize the stress, using some of the below tips.
- Put something absorbent in the bottom of the carrier, and then a loose-weave blanket on top. If your cat has an accident, the loose-weave will allow the urine to pass through to the absorbent layer, leaving your cat drier and more comfortable.
- Don’t give your cat a lot to eat. Cats can do fine without food for a day, and full cats may be sick.
- Ask the airline about their policy on pets in the cabin, and if possible, take your cat in the cabin with you. This may cost more, but it should be safer and less stressful for both you and the cat. You can ensure your cat is safe and minimize its stress, and also set your own mind at rest.
- Have a written confirmation that your cat will be allowed on the plane, and arrive early so you have time to deal with any issues before the flight. It can also be a good idea to have a backup plan, just in case (e.g. a friend who can take the cat temporarily).
- Get your cat used to a harness in advance, and put them in a harness with your contact information for the trip (no leash, as this could get tangled). This will help if they do somehow manage to escape from the carrier.
- Familiarize yourself with exactly what paperwork you will need, and make sure you have everything ready well in advance of the trip.
- Visit your vet at least 8 months before the flight and discuss your plans. Find out what vaccinations your cat will need and get them done early.
- Visit your vet again shortly before the flight to get a health certificate and check for any last-minute problems. Some countries require this certificate.
- Make sure you have up-to-date veterinary records for your cat. In an emergency, you might need these fast, so keep them with your important travel papers and ensure you understand them. Keep a second copy taped to the cat’s carrier, along with your contact information.
- Talk to the airline. Ask as many questions as possible. If your cat will have to travel in the cargo hold, you need to make sure you know what they will experience. Will they be on the same flight as you? What will happen during transfers? Who will handle them? How will they be kept safe?
Traveling with cats is not easy, even for short trips. If you’re going long-haul, by car or by plane, you will need to do lots of planning! Think about your cat’s unique temperament and do your best to make sure they are comfortable throughout the trip.
If you ever need to take your cat out of its carrier in an open space, use a harness and clip a leash on before you lift them out.
This will make it much easier to catch them if they escape. The harness should have your contact information on it.
Cats should also be microchipped before travel as a minimum precaution.