I’m not big on traveling—and for me, the worst part has always been leaving my pets behind! Many of us worry about our furry friends while we’re away from home.
You might want to bring your cat on your next road trip for this reason. But, can cats travel in the car?
In this article, we’ll go over 11 tips for traveling safely and happily with cats.
Table of Contents:
11 Tips for Car Travel with Cats
1. Secure Your Cat in a Carrier
A secure carrier can be the difference between life and death for a cat in a car accident. It can also save human lives!
At just 30 miles per hour, a 10-pound cat flying across the car turns into a 300-pound force. This can severely injure the humans in the vehicle!
Not as many studies are done on cats in cars, but Volvo did a study on unrestrained dogs in 2019. It showed that people were more than twice as likely to engage in unsafe driving behaviors and their time spent distracted also increased by more than double when driving with an unrestrained dog.
It also showed that the dog and human felt more stress and had increased heart rates when the dog was unrestrained in the vehicle.
These numbers are likely similar in cats—and I’d wager that many cats would be even more stressed inside of a car unrestrained!
Pets are also likely to run away after a crash, and you’re unlikely to find your cat if you crash far from home.
I suggest not only putting your cat in a carrier (top opening carriers are great for cats) but also securing it inside the vehicle. Personally, I like to put the carrier in the back passenger seat and then adjust the front passenger seat as far back as it can go. This squishes the carrier between the two seats and gives it very little wiggle room.
You can also use a seatbelt around the carrier or anchor it down in the back of an SUV.
Never put your cat in the front seat of the car—if the airbags go off, they can be injured.
2. Introduce the Car Slowly
Begin training your cat to view the car in a positive light by bringing them into the car for five minutes. Let them climb around inside the car, sniff the seats, and rub against things. This is how cats become familiar with new things.
Scent marking is incredibly important because it tells your cat that this is their space, too. If your cat rubs their cheeks and tail against the seats, doors, and other objects inside the car, it’ll begin to smell like them in a way that’s imperceptible to you but key to your cat’s comfort.
Give your kitty pets, cuddles, and treats inside the car so they can associate “car time” with quality time and all the things they enjoy!
Repeat this process, keeping sessions in the car short and positive, until your cat is comfortable. You can then extend their time in the car and even feed them meals inside to give them even more positive associations.
Eventually, try putting your cat in the carrier and driving around the block. Short trips will get your cat used to the movement of the car before you take off on that long road trip.
3. Get them Used to the Carrier Before Your Trip
If you stuff your cat in a carrier for the first time during a long road trip, they’re likely to hate the experience.
Instead, slowly get them used to the carrier just like you did with the car itself! I suggest leaving the carrier open with some cozy blankets nestled inside. Try to choose something that smells like you or your cat.
You can also feed them meals in the carrier while it’s open.
I’ve let my cats use their carrier as a bed or open crate, and they love it! Often, you’ll see one on top and one inside. They’ll even play with one another through the fabric.
This makes it much easier to get them inside when we need to go for a drive because they don’t only associate it with the car or the vet’s office.
4. Have a Plan in Case Your Cat is Lost
It’s many people’s worst nightmare to have their pet run away from home—but your cat running away when you’re far from home is even more dangerous.
Prepare in advance so that, if your cat races off during your travels, you’re more likely to have them returned home safely.
I recommend the following:
- Microchip your cat. Your veterinarian can do this for a small fee. The microchip can’t fall off or get lost, and if anyone brings your cat to a vet or shelter, they’ll be able to scan it and call the number on file right away.
- Use a harness and ID tags. Your local pet stores likely sell ID tags engraved with your address and phone number. Not everyone will have a cat scanned for a chip, but the tags are readily visible to anyone who approaches your kitty.
A harness is preferable to a collar because your cat is less likely to escape it. Collars can also snag on sticks and other items and either break or choke your cat.
- Bring a clear photograph of your cat. If you need to ask around or print missing cat posters, you’ll already have a photo on hand! This can either be printed or on your phone.
If your cat isn’t harness trained, be sure to get them used to wearing it. This process is similar to introducing your cat to the car or their carrier.
You’ll want to put your cat in the harness indoors first. Do this for a few minutes at a time, offering plenty of praise and treats.
Extend this time until they’re used to wearing the harness around the house and no longer act like they can’t walk in it!
Then, attach a leash and practice walking inside. Your cat likely won’t walk perfectly in step with you like a dog, but just getting them used to the leash is great!
Next, you can try wearing the harness outdoors, in the carrier, and in the car.
5. Make a Veterinary Appointment
Scheduling a veterinary appointment before your trip ensures your cat is healthy before you go away and gives you a chance to address issues unique to your situation.
For instance, do you plan to take your indoor kitty outside during the trip? They’ll need pest prevention medication suited to the area you’re visiting.
Anxious cats might benefit from sedatives or other calming measures. VCA Animal Hospital recommends the following to address anxiety in the car:
- A Thundershirt
- Feliway pheromone wipes or spray
- A pheromone calming collar
- Veterinary-prescribed anxiety medication
6. Research Veterinary Clinics in the Area
Have a list of regular and emergency veterinary clinics in the area you’re traveling in case your cat becomes sick, injured, or has a medical emergency during your trip.
Don’t wait until you’re in the midst of a crisis to prepare for the worst—save the number of each clinic in your phone for easy access.
Call to ensure the regular veterinarians will take new patients. If something happens after-hours or they’re unable to see you, visit a local emergency clinic.
7. Keep Kitty’s Stomach Empty to Prevent Vomiting
If your cat has a history of vomiting in the car or you’re worried, skip feeding the last meal before the trip. Ideally, you’ll be able to feed your cat during driving breaks, such as when you stop at a pet-friendly hotel for the night (see also ‘Sharing A Hotel Room With Your Cat: Everything You Need To Know‘).
You can also ask your veterinarian if they recommend any car sickness medications.
8. Try to Stick to a Routine
Cats get used to their daily schedules, and even fun trips can be stressful for them. Try to stick to your regular routine as much as possible.
Feed and play with them at the same times each day as you would at home, for example. This will give them an idea about what to expect even as so many changes have been made to their routine.
9. Don’t Forget a Travel Litterbox!
When searching for a travel litterbox, look for the following:
- Large enough for your cat to stand completely inside
- Small enough to fit inside the carrier
- Easy to clean
Use the same litter you use at home, as a change might stop your cat from using the litterbox. Of course, you’ll also need to bring a litter scoop and bags to contain the waste.
Scoop the litterbox at rest stops so that you can throw the bag away immediately—no one wants to be the person stuck in the back seat next to the cat poop!
Alternatively, you can try walking your cat outside on their harness to go potty. In general, however, they’re not going to go on command like a dog. It might take some time before they pee or poop.
I recommend bringing a litterbox along as a backup plan if you’d like to try this. You wouldn’t want to be stuck without one and learn your cat won’t go outdoors!
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10. Never Leave Your Cat in a Hot Car
Remember that temperatures inside a car can rise very quickly, and even relatively cool outside temperatures can be dangerous.
If you have someone with you, take turns getting out of the car for bathroom breaks. Don’t plan activities that your cat can’t participate in, such as visiting a restaurant on the way to your location.
Consider bringing your cat into the bathroom with you if you’re traveling alone. Sometimes this is allowed so long as they stay in the carrier!
Otherwise, be sure to keep your trip brief (less than five minutes). Stop at a rest stop or gas station instead of a large store where it’ll take time to find a bathroom, park in a shaded spot, and run the air on high for a few minutes to cool it down as much as possible before you leave.
Related article: Cat Panting in Car
11. Research Pet-Friendly Hotels
You can’t stay just anywhere with a cat, so make sure you plan your trip, including any stops you’ll make along the way.
Look into cat-friendly hotels or, if you’re staying in someone’s home, make sure they’re okay with your cat visiting as well (see also ‘Are Cats Allowed In Hotels?‘)!
Road Trip with Cat Checklist
- Medical paperwork and vaccine certificates
- Harness, ID tags, and clear photo in case your cat is lost
- Cat carrier
- Any medications your cat takes regularly
- Your cat’s regular food and litter
- Food and water bowls
- Travel litter box, scoop, and bags
- Puppy pads and cleaning supplies in case of accidents
How Long Can a Cat Travel in the Car?
Cats can travel pretty far in the car, but they’ll need breaks just like humans! How often you take breaks depends on a few factors, including their health, age, and whether you have a travel litterbox in their carrier.
With a litterbox in the carrier, most cats need breaks every 4-6 hours to stretch their legs, eat, and drink water.
Without a litterbox in the carrier, they’ll need a potty break every 2-3 hours.
Factor in extra breaks for medications, if your cat suffers from anxiety in the car, and if they’re a kitten who needs more frequent potty breaks.
If your cat is sleeping in the carrier, let them sleep—there’s no need for a break if they’re relaxed!
Related article: Holiday Travel With Pets
Is Car Travel Stressful for Cats?
Car travel can be incredibly stressful for cats, but it doesn’t have to be. The key to a peaceful road trip without your cat screaming in the back seat is training.
As we discussed above, you can train your cat to become used to the carrier and the car. The more practice they get, the easier your trip is likely to be.
Last update on 2022-01-11 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API