How To Travel With A Cat
Whether you want Whiskers to have more quality time outdoors, you know your kitty has the photogenic potential to be an Instagram star, or you just want to take your beloved family member on trips with you, the reality of traveling with a cat is a bit more complicated than packing a leash.
It’s quite possible to have fun on vacation with your cats. But you have to prepare yourself and your kitty for the occasion.
What You Need to Know About Cat Travel
If you’ve researched traveling with a cat, you’ve likely noticed a trend: most sites recommend against it, including the American Humane Society.
If you’ve ever taken your cat in the car, you know why.
Why Most Cats Hate Car Rides
Cats are not known for their love of travel. This is self-evident when traveling by car: crying, yowling, scratching, the works.
It’s not that cats hate car rides. It’s that cats are taught to hate car rides, because they’re not as domesticated as dogs.
Cats are territorial animals by nature. In the wild, they establish a home base where they sleep and an area surrounding that home base where they hunt and mate. This is their territory, which is marked by a network of paths patrolled at fixed times throughout the day. Domestic cats use your house as their territory.
This territorial instinct means cats don’t like going somewhere new. Of course, if you have an adventurous outdoor cat, you can spot the difference: the more adventure opportunities your cat has, the more confident they’ll be in leaving their territory.
If you take your cat out of their territory of your volition, that usually means the car. Herein lies the difference between cats and dogs: dogs spend way more time riding in cars. We also train dogs to ride in cars by taking our time and training them gradually. We tend to bundle cats in a box and hope for the best. That’s a bad idea. Cats have better memories than dogs, and they’re more likely to associate the car with a bad experience at the tail end. The vet, for instance. Also, cats are more attuned to human emotion than we realize, so if you’re nervous, they will be too.
How to Prepare Your Cat to Travel
That said, there are plenty of cats who love traveling with their owners, or at least enjoy the destination if not the journey. The key is training: if you want to travel with your cat the same way you would travel with a dog, you have to train a cat to travel, just like you would a dog.
Assess Your Cat’s Personality
First, assess your cat’s personality.
Every cat is unique. Some cats thrive in the great outdoors, while others would sooner have a root canal than join you for a hike. If your cat falls in the latter category, they’re unlikely to enjoy travel.
The best approach is to see which of the three ASPCA personality colors your cat falls under: green, orange, or purple. Green cats are savvy and unflappable, orange cats are good company, and purple cats are affectionate but quiet and reserved.
There are exceptions to the rule, but generally, a purple cat’s cautious nature means that travel will be more stressful than fun. Green cats are the most adaptable to new situations and thus the best fit for the adventure cat lifestyle.
You should also look at your cat’s behavior. If your cat shows interest in the outdoors and tries to get out every time you open the door, they may like adventuring.
Instagram-famous adventure cats all have one feature in common: they’re rigorously leash trained.
Suki, a Bengal who adventures with her owners throughout Western Canada and beyond, was leash trained indoors for 10-minutes a day with treats as rewards starting as soon as she was adopted. She didn’t head outdoors until she was three months old. Once she went outside, her owners used similar small increments to help her get used to new scents and sounds.
Leash training is functionally stage two of your cat’s personality test. Even the most adventurous green cat may not take to a leash and harness. Leash walks are not for every cat, and if it’s not your cat, that’s okay. Give them a chance to try it, and if they like it, you can work your way up slowly.
Keep in mind that a kitten is much easier to leash train than an adult cat. That doesn’t mean that your lifelong indoor cat can’t adapt to being outside, but if you want an adventure buddy, it’s best to start young.
Take a Test Drive
If you want your road trip to be less stressful, then your cat has to get used to riding in the car.
The best way to approach this is to treat it like leash training. Start by taking your cat for short trips in the car—even if it’s just a spin around the block. Then, gradually work your cat up to longer trips.
This should go without saying, but don’t leave your cat in the car. When you acclimate your cat to longer trips, don’t leave them in the car at the grocery store. Instead, grab some fries at a drive-through, find a grassy spot, crate your cat, and eat your fries outside before heading home.
On a related note, your cat carrier is your cat’s best travel buddy. It should always travel with you anytime your cat is in the car, especially as you acclimate your cat. For short trips, keep your cat crated. For long road trips, you can keep the crate open and let your cat roam the backseat with a litter box and food, but set up a baby gate so they can’t clamber up front.
The Basics of Traveling with Your Cat
Ideally, you should invest time in leash training and car rides to make sure your cat is ready well before taking a trip. This will make a long trip way less stressful. At minimum, your cat should be well-acclimated to riding in the car.
That said, you can still travel with a cat that isn’t a huge fan of leashes or cars. You just need to make sure your prepare your cat for as little stress as possible.
Talk to Your Vet
Start by talking to your vet.
Your vet can give sound advice on whether your cat will adapt to travel. They can also give good advice for traveling with anxious pets, including medication for motion sickness and anxiety.
If you have to travel with a hyperactive or anxious cat, a prescription sedative will make the trip safer, easier, and way less stressful for you and your cat. Have your vet show you how to give your cat a pill if you’ve never done it before.
Even if your cat is a capable adventurer, you have to go to the vet anyway. Your cat should be up-to-date on their vaccinations, as well as any health requirements in your destination. For example, your cat may need a health certificate. If you’re traveling interstate, check the USDA to look up travel requirements for your destination state. If you’re flying international, check the State Department and local regulations.
Your Kitty Packing List
Whether you’re a minimalist packer or an every-little-detail packer, packing your cat has one rule: minimize stress.
Unfortunately, new and stress are often synonymous for cats. Your cat’s packing list should provide as many familiar comforts as possible.
For example, you should always travel with the same food and litter that you use at home. Food and water make it easier to drive long distances with your cat, but familiar litter also carries over a sense of home. Bring a blanket or bed they like to sleep in, along with their favorite toys that smell and feel like home.
If you’re flying, make sure that your cat can travel in the cabin under the seat in front of you. Avoid putting your cat in the cargo hold at all costs. To that end, get the precise dimensions of the airline seats and let that dictate your choice of cat carrier.
Your cat should always travel with a collar, ID tag, and microchip, regardless of whether they wear one at home. Get them used to wearing a collar in advance of the trip.
Book a Cat-Friendly Hotel
Last but not least, make sure to book cat-friendly accommodations.
Unfortunately, you’ll have to specifically ask. Cat owners quickly discover that pet-friendly usually means dog-friendly, and you can’t assume that means they’re also cat-friendly. Your best approach is to ask outright.
Train your cat before traveling with them. Get them accustomed to wearing a leash and harness (if they take to it). This will take several months, working up from 10 minutes at a time of indoor leash training.
Either way, get your cat used to riding in the car in a carrier, using the same gradual buildup you use during leash training. Always travel with the same food and litter you use at home, along with your cat’s bed and favorite toys. Cats should have a microchip, ID tag, and collar when traveling. Never put your cat in a plane’s cargo hold.