How to Travel With a Cat in the Car

Cat traveling in a car looking out of a wet window

How do you travel with a cat in the car? It’s a good question.

Cats aren’t exactly known for their love of travel.  

And who can blame them?  When their carrier comes out of the cupboard so too do the memories or feelings associated with it: anxiety, fear and insecurity being three of the most common.  Traveling with a cat in the car can be stressful. But it doesn’t have to be. 

Think about it.  

Have you ever taken your cat on a day trip to the Museum of Catnip?  

Exactly.

Cats may not be able to remember their last veterinarian appointment specifically, but they’ll associate the car or the carrier with loud noises, strange smells, unfamiliar environments and possibly even motion sickness.  They can pick up on your anxiety, too, because why wouldn’t you be nervous?


How to Travel with a Cat in the Car: Before You Leave

Buy a Cat Carrier

When driving anywhere you should always make sure that your cat is secured inside a cat carrier.  It’s dangerous for them to be wandering around the interior of a moving vehicle not only for themselves but for the driver and other passengers, too.  If you’re convinced that a plastic or soft-sided carrier isn’t right for your pet then consider buying a cat car barrier.  

Most owners have a preference for either a hard or soft cat carrier.  The one you choose will depend on the personality of your cat, your own travel needs and budget.  It’s worth doing your research but there is a wide range of different ones to pick from and all in different price-ranges, too. 

We use this cat carrier that we bought from Argos in the UK.  The cat carrier that we’d love to have (but unfortunately it’s one that’s as pricey as much as it is pretty) is a Sleepypod that you can buy on Amazon. 

Introduce the Cat to its Carrier

Once you have a good pet carrier then it’s really important to introduce it to your cat as early as possible.  Ideally, this will be when the cat is a kitten but it can be done at any age. You’re essentially acclimatizing the pet to its box so that it isn’t frightened of it and so that it doesn’t associate the carrier with anything awful.  Start by putting it in a communal space in the house with the door open. You might like to add some treats and favourite toys as well as familiar scented bedding. Most cats will explore it eventually but even if they don’t it’s good for them to develop neutral feelings towards the box.  Encourage them to go inside.

Once they’ve done that a few times you can close the grate and then open it again. Repeat this a few times. You might then like to carry them a short distance through the house before letting them out and giving them a treat. If you have the space in your home, then leaving the carrier out permanently is ideal. If this isn’t possible, then bring it out for a day or two every few months.   

Make Sure Your Cat is Microchipped and the Information is Up to Date

Your cat should be microchipped and the information on the chip as well as on any collars should be up-to-date.  Take any veterinarian notes with you if your cat has a chronic illness or if you’re traveling somewhere for an extended or permanent stay. 

Check that any Hotels are Cat-Friendly

Stopping overnight is a great idea to break up a long journey but not all hotels are cat-friendly.  Check before you book. Days Inn has a pet-friendly policy in many of its hotels but not in all of them. 

A Light Meal and Lots of Exercise

Give your cat something small and light to eat no later than 4-hours before your trip.  This will help with any motion sickness as well as reducing the need for bathroom breaks.  Small snacks and treats may be offered regularly on the journey, but you might find that a cat won’t eat when the car is moving.  A sleeping cat is a perfect passenger so it’s a good idea to try and wear them out before you leave through play and exercise. 

Get Your Cat Used to the Car

If you’re able to, then introduce the cat to the car before you travel.  Do this when the car is safely parked and secure having made sure in advance that there are no hiding places or gaps that the cat can disappear down or behind.  You can always keep the cat on a harness but allow it to roam inside and have a good smell. Give them a treat inside and repeat until the cat seems either happy to be inside or completely apathetic.  You could start the engine, too, and get them used to its sounds and vibrations. Once they’re happy with this, secure them inside their carrier and take them on a short ride. You might do this multiple times increasing the length of the journey until you’re confident they’re happy inside the car.  This should build positive memories and associations for the cat and whilst it does take a little time and perseverance, it’ll be worth it for any longer trips you take. 

Prepare for Motion Sickness

Cats can suffer from motion sickness just like a human can.  If in the past your cat has been drooling, crying or vomiting during a car ride, then speak to your veterinarian as they can prescribe medication that can help.

Medicine to Calm Cats for Travel

If you’re concerned that your cat will become too distressed on the journey, then you can also speak to your veterinarian about sedating them. Another approach is to give them a small dose of Benadryl to encourage drowsiness but some owners don’t like either of these methods. You can buy herbal remedies, too, if you’d rather use something more natural.  You know what’s best for you cat. If in doubt, speak to a veterinarian. 


How to Travel with a Cat in the Car: Inside the Car

Make the Carrier Comfortable

Secure the carrier correctly to reduce any shaking or sliding when the car is in motion.  You’ll want to put bedding or blankets in the bottom of the box especially if it’s a hard carrier as otherwise, the cat might not have a grip and slip against any plastic.  Toys can help, too, anything that smells familiar to the animal will have a calming effect. Cats use pheromones to feel secure in their environment but if it’s a new carrier or if the car is unfamiliar to them, then you can buy a Feliway spray that uses synthetic pheromones to reduce anxiety in cats.  You might want to line the bottom of the carrier with puppy training pads, too, in case of any accidents. 

Litter Tray

Depending on how long the journey is and whether there’s anywhere appropriate to stop en route, you should take a disposable litterbox.  If the carrier is big enough, then it should fit inside. If not you may need to let your cat out of the carrier during a break. Don’t be surprised if they don’t use it but give them the option.  If you are staying in a hotel room overnight, then the litterbox should be the first thing that you take out and put on the ground before the cat comes out of the carrier. 

To Cover-Up (Or Not)

Some cats prefer not to see outside the carrier.  The fast-moving scenery can make them feel anxious or motion sick so in those cases, you should cover the carrier with a towel or blanket.  Other cats prefer to be able to see what’s going on. Try the carrier uncovered to start with and then be prepared to pull-over if necessary to cover over the box. 

Keep it Cool (or Warm)

The temperature inside the vehicle should be comfortable for the cat.  This means having the air conditioning on in the summer months and the heater on when it’s cold.  The cat might start panting in the car if it’s overheating so be mindful that what’s temperate for you might not be so pleasant for your pet. 

Plan Your Stops

You shouldn’t leave your cat alone in the car.  Temperatures can climb quickly and dangerously inside a locked vehicle.  Even a 10-minute bathroom break can be fatal on a hot day. If you absolutely have to leave them alone, then do it only for a few minutes.  Leave the air conditioning on if you can and lock the doors. If you can’t keep the AC on without the engine running, then jack it up for a few minutes before you leave and then return as soon as possible.  It’s illegal in some states to leave a pet in a car where conditions pose a threat to the animal’s health. 

Drive Carefully

Your cat is going to feel every bump in the road so drive steadily and within the speed limits.  What feels smooth to you might not be to them.

And remember, cats often tune into an owner’s mood so the more wound up and stressed you are, the more likely it is that they’ll start becoming anxious, too. 

How to Travel with a Cat in the Car: Recap

  1.  Buy a safe and durable cat carrier and then keep it somewhere in the house where they can be encouraged to explore it.

  2. Give them a few orientation sessions inside the car they’ll be travelling inside.

  3. Double-check any hotel bookings to make sure cats are allowed to stay.

  4. Put familiar bedding and toys inside the carrier and make it as comfortable as possible.  Spray Feliway inside so it smells familiar.

  5. Feed them only a light meal and tire them out before the journey.

  6. Secure the carrier correctly and drive carefully.

  7. Wherever possible don’t leave the cat in the car on its own. 

  8. Monitor the temperature in the vehicle throughout the journey.

  9. Make sure there’s access to water during the trip and offer a small meal or light snacks if you think they’ll need it.

  10. If you’re concerned about the welfare of your cat when traveling, then speak to a professional. 

Do you have more tips on how to travel with a cat in the Car? Drop us a message below to let us know 🙂

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