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Have Cat, Will Travel: How to Travel With Your Cat

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longhaired cat in a pink travel carrier

It can be daunting to think about traveling with your cat. But it is possible, and some smart prep work can help make it easier for both of you.

What to Do with Your Cat When You Travel

While some cats are lively travel companions who enjoy an adventure, others may be better off in their usual surroundings where they feel safe and comfortable. Here are some options if you decide it's best to leave your cat home:

  • Hire a cat sitter – You can find someone to watch your cat using an app like Rover, which can help match you to the right cat helper for hire. All cat sitters are approved by the Rover team. You can also use the app to pay your sitter and see photos of your cat doing their thing while you're away.
  • Have a friend or relative drop in – You may be lucky enough to have a friend or family member who doesn't mind dropping by a couple of times a day to check on your cat.
  • Pay a neighborhood kid – Ask around to see if you can find a responsible kid who'd like to make a few dollars. They may be able to stop in to visit your cat before and after school.

If you're into pet tech gadgets, you may want to purchase a two-way video device so you can check in on your cat at any time. Some even let you toss out treats or play laser games with your cat from an app on your phone.

You should also know that there are boarding options for cats if you ever need one. Some cater to cats only while others keep cats separated from their dog guests.

Cat Auto-Feeders

If you decide to leave your cat at home, you may be considering an auto-feeder that can freely dispense dry food for your kitty. While these auto-feeders are convenient for cat parents, they can put cats at risk for gaining weight and becoming obese. Obesity can lead to all sorts of health problems, from diabetes to joint disease.

Auto-feeders that portion out wet meals at set times may be a better choice to help avoid overfeeding your cat. But keep in mind these auto-feeders need to be filled and cleaned out regularly so that harmful bacteria doesn't build up.

If you decide to use an auto-feeder for your cat, you should still invest in a pet sitter or have someone stop in while you're away. That person can give your cat a little attention, make sure the auto-feeder is full and working properly, check your cat's water supply, and scoop out the litter box. They may also be able to help in other ways, like bringing in the mail and watering your plants.

tabby cat resting in a green suitcase

Getting Ready to Go

If you decide to go on a trip with your cat, you can make your life easier and help ensure your cat stays safe with some prep work.

Cat Carrier

You'll need to use a cat carrier to restrain your kitty in the car. This will help keep them safe during the ride especially if you hit an unexpected bump, make a sharp turn, or get in a fender bender. If they're in a carrier, they'll also be less likely to distract the driver, which could cause an accident.

If your cat is new to a carrier, you can leave it out in your house so they can get used to it gradually. Put a few treats or feed your cat a meal in the carrier to entice them to go inside and associate it with something good. You can also place a blanket or towel at the bottom to make them more comfortable.

Collar and ID Tag

Your cat should wear a collar and ID tag. A tag is the first thing someone will see if they come across your cat.

You should also microchip your cat since collars can slip off. A microchip can help ensure your cat gets returned to you quickly and safely. Be sure to keep your microchip registry updated with your current contact information.

Routine Check-up

If your cat hasn't been to the veterinarian in a while, it's smart to take them for a wellness visit before a big trip. Your veterinarian can help make sure your cat doesn't have any health conditions brewing. They can also give you advice on keeping your cat safe, healthy, and happy during your trip.

Driving Practice

If your cat hasn't had much experience driving around, it's a good idea to take a few short trips to help them get used to the sights, sounds, and smells of the car.

  • Start by putting them in their carrier and placing them in the car for a short time without going anywhere.
  • Once they seem comfortable, turn on the engine and let it idle a bit so your cat can get used to the sound.
  • Take a few quick trips with your cat. Maybe begin with a 10-minute drive then continue to add five or ten minutes as your cat acclimates.

These short trips can also help you identify problems, like motion sickness or hyperactivity, that you'll want to address before a long drive. Cats with motion sickness may drool excessively and throw up even if there's nothing in their stomach. Hyperactive cats tend to go bonkers in the car. They may pant, salivate, yowl, meow, and bounce around their carrier. If your cat has either of these issues, you should talk to your veterinarian for advice. They may recommend a safe anti-nausea medication or sedative for your cat.

You can also consider some other options instead of or in addition to medication. For instance, you can try spritzing the carrier with a product that contains synthetic pheromones, which can have a calming effect on cats. Or your cat may benefit from wearing a snug-fitting shirt in the car. Such a garment swaddles your cat tightly and may help relax them.

orange tabby cat lying on a bed and touching a human hand

How to Travel with Cats in a Car Long Distance

If you're traveling a long distance with your cat, be sure to take breaks. Cats need to stretch their legs too. When you stop, give your cat the opportunity to use the litter box and have a drink of water. Depending on the length of the ride, you may need to plan for a meal break as well.

How to Travel with Your Cat on a Plane

While you can take your cat on a plane, it can be a stressful experience for you both, so you might want to avoid it if possible. If you need to fly with your cat, these tips can help:

  • Book well in advance of your trip since some airlines restrict the number of pets that can be in the cabin during a flight or have flights that do not allow pets, which can limit your options.
  • Check with the airline before you buy your ticket and make sure you understand their policy on cats. You'll want to know things like what size cat carrier they allow and if you'll need to bring along vaccination records or a health certificate from your veterinarian.
  • Give yourself extra time at the airport since things can take longer with your cat. For instance, you'll need to take your cat out of the carrier when you go through the TSA checkpoint since it has to go into the X-ray machine.

Overnight Trips

If your trip will include an overnight stay, look for a cat-friendly hotel online using a site like Go Pet Friendly or Pets Welcome. You may still want to call ahead to make sure they haven't made any changes to their pet policy. You can also ask them if there any extra charges or restrictions for cat guests.

If you're staying with friends or family, don't assume they know you're bringing your cat along. Talk with them in advance and discuss any logistical issues, like family members with allergies or other pets in the home. It can be a nice gesture to offer some help vacuuming or bring along a cat lint roller.

How to Travel with Two Cats

If you're traveling with two cats, you'll need to pack extra supplies. You'll probably also need two cat carriers, unless your cats really love being close together, and the carrier is large enough to fit them comfortably. You should do the same prep work with each cat. For instance, take some short trips together to help them get used to the car and visit the veterinarian for a check-up before you go.

orange tabby sleeping in a hard plastic cat carrier

Cat Packing Checklist

This cat packing checklist has cat essentials, as well as some optional items that might help during your trip.

  • Food and water bowls (collapsible ones are easy to pack)
  • Cat food
  • Treats
  • Fresh water (in case your cat needs a drink, and there isn't any at hand)
  • Cat harness and leash
  • Pet clean-up product and paper towels (you may need them if your cat has an accident or gets sick)
  • Pet first aid kit
  • Blanket or towel
  • Favorite toys
  • Travel scratching post or cardboard scratch pad
  • Cat brush (to reduce shedding and hairballs)
  • Any medications your cat is currently taking

And of course, you'll need a litter box.

Wondering how to travel with a cat litter box? There are disposable, collapsible, and easy to carry plastic options. Keep litter handy, so you can put some in the box if your cat needs a pit stop. Poop bags can also be helpful in case your cat goes outside of the box.

Day of the Trip

On the day of the trip, you can leave food and water out for your cat as usual but take them away around 2 to 3 hours before the trip. This way, your cat won't have a full tummy when you leave, which can help reduce the chances they'll throw up during the ride.

Then if you've done all your prep work, you should be good to go. Take a deep breath and enjoy your adventure with your cat!

The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.

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