How to Travel With a Cat (As Painlessly as Possible)
When I was in elementary school, I entered my tomcat, Midnight, into my county fair’s cat competition. Instead of winning blue, I spent the morning of the fair trying to coax him into his brand-new, never-before-used cat carrier as he hissed, growled, screamed, and scratched.
Midnight eventually made a daring escape out of the house and into the surrounding woods. He was so indignant that he didn’t come home for almost a week.
I’ve learned since then. While travel isn’t high on the list of “things I like” for most cats I know, it really is possible to figure out how to travel long distances with a cat—or even just to the vet’s office—without mental scars for your pet or physical scars for your arms.
So how can you travel with your cat and keep both of your sane along the way? We spoke with the experts to find the answer.
The Most Important Cat Travel Tip: Plan Ahead
“The best strategy is to plan ahead to make travel a better experience for a cat,” says Amanda McNabb, DVM, a veterinarian from Lynnwood, Washington. That’s because, as any cat owner can attest to, most cats are very, very, very resistant to change.
When you are planning to travel with a cat, start the process of acclimating your kitty as soon as possible instead of waiting until the last minute and springing it on her like a very unwelcome surprise. You know, like I did with my coulda-been-a-contender cat.
Dr. McNabb recommends that you begin by making your cat’s carrier seem like a friendly space. “Leave the carrier out for the cat to choose it to explore or nap in,” she says. Try putting toys, treats, and bedding they like inside, and you can even utilise a few spritzes of a feline pheromone spray like Feliway to help make your cat as comfortable as possible.
Be Aware of Motion Sickness
One reason cats hate cars? They often get motion sickness, according to Dr. McNabb. A test run in the car can help you figure out if that’s a problem for your cat. According to PetMD, symptoms like drooling, distress cries, being too afraid to move, vomiting, urinating and defecating could be a sign that your cat gets motion sickness.
If motion sickness is a problem, make sure your cat’s carrier is securely fastened in the car, which can help reduce movement. You might also consider avoiding meals before travel (unless your cat has a medical condition that requires scheduled feedings).
The more you understand what your cat’s reactions might be, the better prepared you’ll be to help your cat through any anxiety or fears.
Is it OK to sedate my cat for travel?
Sedatives can cause very different reactions in cats depending on age, health, and tolerance, says Dr. McNabb. For example, certain sedatives can cause blood pressure changes. On the other hand, even over-the-counter medicines like Benadryl can cause an unpleasant amount of excitement.
But sedatives aren’t out of the question, and some seem to have positive results. “Work with your vet to make a plan for your cat’s specific needs,” she advises. “And maybe consider a test dose with your vet to gauge your cat’s response to the drug and dose.” Also—you’ll still need to plan ahead. Medications should be given an hour before your cat sets out on a stressful journey.
Finally, Dr. McNabb stresses that owners avoid sedation for any cat flying in cargo on a plane since the cat will be unsupervised and nobody can monitor it for any problems.
How to travel with a cat by car
Unless you live in a big city with a great public transport situation (more on that below), most people will have to travel with a cat by car—at least occasionally—for trips to the vet. So, how can you make it a bit less painful?
First, make certain that the car environment is as inviting as possible. Keep a moderate temperature in the car, not too hot or too cold, and limit external noises like the radio if your cat is easily spooked.
If you’re planning on running more than a quick errand with your cat in the car, you’ll want to bring along a small litter pan. Even a pie tin with some litter in it will suffice.
Finally, Dr. McNabb maintains that it is imperative to keep your cat in a carrier or on a harness or leash at all times. “A distressed cat will have a tendency to bolt and hide,” she says. The cosy confines of a dedicated pet carrier for the car can make a difference in helping a cat stay calm.
Best Cat Carrier for Car Travel: Morpilot pet carrier
This carrier is easy to secure with the seatbelt, which will help keep your cat safe and reduce motion sickness in the car. The styling of this carrier is also similar to many cat beds, which can help keep your cat cosy and composed.Buy Now on Amazon
How To Fly With a Cat
Before you book your flight, you’ll want to check the airline’s pet policies. Only a select number of UK carriers allow pets on board—but, unless they’re assistance dogs, they have to travel in the hold, which can be very stressful for you both. Different rules apply in other countries.
Keeping your pet nearby under your seat so that you can check for any signs of distress is the best option. But, if your cat must fly cargo, try to plan a direct flight to minimise the amount of time your pet is travelling. Also, ask about your airline’s animal incident reports to see if they have a good track record with pet safety.
Many countries, airlines and airports require health certificates for travel, which requires a trip to your vet. It’s a good opportunity to help put your own mind at rest, too, about whether or not your cat is healthy enough to travel.
Finally, airlines have very specific requirements concerning what travel carriers are allowed and what size will fit. Be sure that your carrier fits those requirements.
How to Travel With a Cat by Bus or Train
Many cities allow pets to travel with their owners on public transport, but you’ll obviously want to check with your operator before showing up for a bus or train with a cat. If cats are allowed on board with you, they will need to be contained in an appropriate carrier. Sometimes, harnesses will suffice.
National Rail routes in the UK are pet-friendly, as is London Underground, but long-distance coach operators, such as National Express and Mega Bus, do not allow pets on board unless they’re assistance animals.
Best Carrier for Public Transport: The Pecute Cat Carrier
This backpack pet carrier is easy to use, extremely comfortable to wear, and roomy and secure enough for the biggest of kitties—up to 10kg—to enjoy. It’s expandable, too, should they want to stretch their legs in between stops.Buy Now on Amazon
How do I find a cat-friendly hotel?
There are certain hotel chains that allow pets in some or all of their properties—like Travelodge—but they’re not always where you need them to be. So, how can you be sure you’ll have a place to stay that allows cats? These days, many of the big travel-booking sites, such as Expedia and Airbnb, offer the ability to filter for lodging that is happy to welcome your cat.
Regardless, it’s never a bad idea to double-check a hotel’s pet policies with a phone call before you arrive just to make sure there aren’t any overly tenuous rules or hidden fees that you didn’t know about.
Keep in mind that some hotels don’t allow you to leave your pets alone in a room. And if you let your cat roam free, you’ll need to be careful to make sure they use their litter box and don’t scratch furniture, lest you end up with a hefty repair bill.
Travelling internationally with your cat
Travel gets significantly more complicated if you’re trying to go abroad with your cat. It differs from country to country, but at minimum, your cat will need to:
- be microchipped
- be vaccinated against rabies
- have a health certificate and/or a pet passport
Without this, your cat may face quarantine periods at both ends of their trip. The UK Government has further advice on travelling abroad with pets.
Get more information on travelling with your cat to the following popular destinations:
Anything else to consider when travelling with a cat?
Dr. McNabb cautions cat owners to be aware of external factors, like vehicle temperature, access to a litter box, and regular breaks for water. “Take it at your cat’s pace as much as possible,” she says.
Even if you’re not flying, it’s worth having your pet’s medical records with you in the event that you have to make an emergency trip to the vet.
Mostly, try to keep your own stress levels as low as possible. Cats are often intuitive. If you’re relaxed, it can help your cat stay that way, too.
Need Cat Sitting?
Cats seem more independent than dogs, sure, but they need attention, play, and treats when you’re gone, too. Your great cat deserves great cat care. It’s time to find them the perfect cat sitter with Rover.
Find your cat’s perfect match, right from your phone—and then hit the road happy.