Can a Cat Travel in the Car without a Carrier?

mountains through car windscreen

Whether a cat can travel in the car without a carrier depends on where you live or what you’re doing when the cat is loose inside the vehicle. 

And just because it may not be illegal where you live, it doesn’t necessarily make traveling without a carrier a good idea.

Why Should I Put My Cat in a Carrier?

There are three reasons why we’d always encourage owners to put cats inside carriers.

  • Loose cats can distract the driver.
  • Cats can get stuck in or under things and that’s dangerous inside a moving vehicle.  They’ve been cases where kittens and smaller cats have gotten stuck under brake pedals.
  • Braking suddenly can make the cat a projectile that could seriously injure someone else in the car.

Puppy Training School use the following example: in an accident a 10-pound dog becomes a 500-pound force.  Unrestrained that 500-pound projectile could hit a person or a child causing serious injury.

You can check on the Orvis website about whether your state has a law against traveling with an unrestrained animal.

Man driving in rain

Cats in the Car: What’s the Law?

In California, for example, if your cat was killed or injured in an accident because it wasn’t sufficiently restrained then you could be charged with animal cruelty. 

In the UK, for example, there’s no specific law about using a carrier during a journey but it clearly states in the Highway Code that pets should be restrained in case of sudden braking or an accident.  There is a specific law (as there is in most countries) about driving whilst distracted.  If you’re pulled over and a police officer doesn’t think you’re driving with due care and attention, then you could be fined.  A free-roaming cat inside your cat could warrant that.

Insurance companies can invalidate your policy if damage or injury was caused directly or indirectly by an unsecured cat.


Accidents Can Happen

There’s a wide scope for driver’s discretion.  Putting a cat into a box for a 5-minute journey might not seem worth the effort but remember that nobody intends to have an accident: that’s what makes them accidents in the first place and they can happen whether you’re 5-minutes or 5-hours from home.

It’s important to think, too, about how easy it could be for a loose pet to escape a car.  It only takes one door to open and the animal could be gone.  In an accident, if the window was down or smashed then the pet could escape into on-coming traffic.


Traveling with a Cat in the Car

Using a cat carrier

Cat carriers are the easiest and most common way to secure your pet in a vehicle.  Tie the seatbelt through the box’s top handle and there you go.  Remember to keep the carrier away from any seats with airbags.  You can buy either hard or soft carriers and which you choose will depend on the personality of your cat as much as your own personal preference.  The only cat carrier we know that has been crash-tested is the sleepy-pod which is available to buy on Amazon.

If you’re worried about your cat’s attitude to the carrier, then there are a number of ways of acclimatizing a pet to its box including the use of synthetic pheromone sprays like Feliway or other over-the-counter sedatives like Benadryl.  You can also allow them to wander around the interior of the car when the vehicle isn’t moving.

Buying a cat car barrier

These are popular with owners whose cats really hate their carriers.  Usually a mesh barrier separating the front of the car from the back, cat car barriers allow the cat to wander around without interfering with the driver.  Some owners have raised concerns about what happens in the event of an accident but it’s probably no less safe than allowing a cat to wander freely.

Buy a cat harness

Some people choose to tie the cat harness to the seatbelt loop so that the animal does have some range on the backseat to walk, sit and stretch.

Some owners have other ways of securing a cat.  We’ve seen suggestions for using sports bags, pillowcases or boxes.  We’re going to assume that these owners have their pet’s best interests at heart, but we’d be wary about recommending bags and cases not designed to transport animals.

Cat traveling in a car looking out of a wet window


Make sure whatever you’re using is robust enough to hold a cat’s weight (and claws) and that there’s ample ventilation and space.

Cat carriers are also useful to keep on hand in case of veterinarian visits or trips to the cattery and during emergencies when you need to leave your home quickly.  You can buy single-use cat carriers and Amazon has a wide range of carriers suitable for multiple use in the future.


Cat Carriers on Amazon

  • Sherpa Travel Original Deluxe Airline Approved Pet Carrier – This has a spring wire frame allowing it to be pushed down under seats.  If you have a particularly nervous cat, then this could be useful on long car journeys to keep the cat from seeing outside.
  • Sleepypod Mobile Pet Bed – a more expensive carrier but one that’s been crash-tested. It’s also one of the most attractive carriers on the market.

In most places, a cat can travel in the car without a carrier but that doesn’t always mean that they should.  It’s your call as the owner but consider the consequences of an accident if you don’t sufficiently secure your cat and not just for the animal itself but for your human passengers, too.  

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