As a cat parent you already know how fond cats are of their routines, and how territorial they can be. But this doesn’t mean you can’t travel with your cat! With some extra research and preparation it’s possible to make traveling with your cat a relatively smooth experience. Of course, the first question to ask yourself is whether or not your unique cat is up for taking a trip. Keep reading to learn how to decide and how to plan for your cat’s comfort while you’re traveling.
Do Cats Travel Well?
Some cats travel well and enjoy the adventure, while others simply tolerate the experience. On the other hand, each cat is different, and it’s important to consider your cat’s age, temperament and overall health before making travel plans. Many cats would prefer to stay in their familiar environment, even if they miss you while you’re gone. If your cat is anxious while traveling it will create more headaches for you, and can even make your cat sick.
Your cat might be a good travel companion if:
- They enjoy meeting new people
- They’re comfortable in their carrier on car rides
- They’re leash trained and can safely take walks with you outside
- They’re adventurous and like to explore new terrain
- They have a strong bond with you and always want to be where you are
- They’re typically at ease and don’t often show signs of stress
You might be better off traveling without your cat if:
- They’re anxiety-prone
- They’re very territorial
- They run and hide when someone visits
- They generally don’t get along with other people or animals
- They have special needs due to a health condition
- They’re a senior cat (older cats usually need more time to adjust to new situations)
If you’re not sure whether your cat will be able to cope with traveling, try taking a short trip to a friend or family member’s place in town and see how they do.
If You Know Your Cat Doesn’t Travel Well
For cats that don’t enjoy travel, the best thing you can do is to arrange for a trusted pet sitter to take care of them while you’re away, or explore options for cat boarding. You can set up cat cams in your home to check in on your kitty, and many cat boarding facilities offer streaming video to put cat parent’s minds at ease – some of them even have 2-way cameras so you can interact!
Sometimes traveling with your cat can’t be avoided, in which case you should ask your vet about safe options for making them more comfortable while traveling. They may recommend a prescription sedative to ease anxiety.
How to Prevent Motion Sickness in Cats
Just like people, some cats are prone to motion sickness in vehicles. Signs your cat is carsick can include loud meowing and yowling, restlessness, drooling, vomiting or diarrhea.
Desensitizing your cat to riding in a car is one way to ease the symptoms or even prevent motion sickness. It will take time and consistent practice, but most cats can learn to become more comfortable in their carrier, and eventually to tolerate traveling in it.
When you’ve reached that point, there are additional tips for preventing cat motion sickness, including:
- Withholding food for a few hours before you depart (if possible)
- Hanging a travel water bottle on your cat’s carrier
- Creating a soothing environment with soft music and a shirt or blanket that smells like you
- Providing a new toy to help distract them
You can also talk to your vet about using pheromones, over-the-counter meds or prescription medications to reduce your cat’s anxiety and nausea while traveling.
Make the Cat Carrier a Happy Place
For successful traveling with cats, it’s imperative that they’re able to spend long stretches of time in a cat carrier. Training your cat to travel in a carrier will take longer if they hate being in it, so allow plenty of time for training before your departure date.
The first step is getting your cat to form positive associations with being in the carrier. Make sure you pick one that’s big enough for your cat to be able to stand up straight, turn around, and lie down comfortably. Leave the carrier out and open all the time, and try to make it a place your cat wants to be: add a soft blanket, their favorite toy, or maybe even a treat or some catnip to entice them to explore. As your cat gets used to the carrier, you can slowly begin to desensitize your cat to being inside the carrier with the door closed, and then while you slowly carry it around the room, eventually working your way up to a short drive.
With enough time and consistency, positive reinforcement techniques can help your cat feel more comfortable traveling in their carrier.
What to Pack for Your Cat
Before taking your cat on a trip, make sure they’ve got ID tags and/or a microchip just in case they make a break for it while you’re away from home. And don’t forget to bring these essentials:
- Cat carrier – you might also want to bring a backpack version to make carrying everything easier, or if you plan to bring your cat along on outings at your destination
- Litter box, litter, scoop & waste bags – your cat’s regular litterbox is best (if possible), and if you pack a travel litter box bring the same type of litter your cat is used to
- Paper towels & cleaner for the cat carrier & your car – if your cat tends to mark their territory when anxious you might want to bring some odor neutralizer as well
- Cat wipes & a brush in case your cat needs a quick cleanup
- Some of your cat’s favorite items such as their bed, hammock, blanket & toys
- Your cat’s regular food & water dishes (if possible) – or unbreakable travel versions
- The cat food they are used to eating (traveling is not the time to try out a new diet) plus extra in case of unexpected delays
- A travel water bottle that attaches to the carrier
- Treats or catnip
- Cat first aid kit
- Cat harness, leash & tether (if your cat is comfortable wearing one)
- Scratching post, if your cat regularly uses it
- If your cat takes prescription medication, bring enough for the trip plus extra in case of delays
- Your veterinarian’s contact information, as well as the nearest animal hospital or 24-hour veterinarian at your destination
If you’re crossing state lines or traveling internationally you may also need to bring a health certificate and documentation showing your cat is up to date with vaccinations.
Staying in a New Place with Your Cat
If you’ll be staying in a cat-friendly hotel, do your research when you book the room to find out if they offer any amenities. Some hotels offer cat beds, food and water bowls, and toys. There’s also usually a special door hanger to let housekeeping know there’s a cat in the room. Hotels that allow cats might have a limit on how many cats you can bring, charge an extra fee, or require a refundable deposit.
If you’ll be staying with family or friends, make sure they’re prepared to host both you and your cat. Find out if other animals or children will also be there, and plan accordingly. You might need to instruct your host on how to cat-proof their house if they’re not cat people. Ask to sleep in your own room if possible, to make sure your cat will have a quiet place to retreat to if they feel overwhelmed.
Wherever you stay while traveling, it’s likely your cat will need some time to adjust to their new environment, so be patient and allow extra time for them to explore and settle in – don’t drop your cat off and immediately leave. It’s also a good idea to trim your cat’s nails ahead of time so they don’t damage any furniture in the hotel or your host’s house.
Flying with a Cat
Most airlines allow you to bring your cat on a flight, but you’ll need to do some research around the specific rules for the airline you’re using because things like cat carrier dimensions and weight limits can vary. It’s likely your cat will count as a carry-on item so this might mean checking an extra bag, and you probably won’t be allowed to sit in an exit row with a cat carrier. Expect to pay a pet fee of at least $100 per flight.
Even for domestic flights, you’ll almost always need to bring a health certificate dated within 10 days of your departure date, which requires planning ahead. Whenever possible, book a nonstop flight to minimize how long your cat has to stay in their carrier.
Airport security screenings require putting a cat carrier through the X-ray scanner, so plan on holding your cat when you go through the metal detector (ideally your cat willingly reenters the cat carrier afterward). Line their carrier with absorbent pads or keep a travel litterbox inside, and make sure to choose products that help control odor. Keep extra litter in a clear zipper bag to make it easier to get through security.
If you’re flying internationally you’ll need to do even more research around airline regulations as well as vaccine requirements at your destination country. Some airlines require all animals to fly as cargo, which can be very traumatic for your cat and is best avoided.
Car Travel with a Cat
Before traveling with your cat in a car, you’ll need to make sure your cat is comfortable both being inside their carrier and being inside a moving vehicle. When your cat comes with you on a road trip, it’s best to make as few stops as possible along the way. You want your cat to settle down and relax, but pit stops introduce new smells and sounds that can get them worked up again.
Plan on keeping your cat in the carrier the whole time they’re in the car. Even a normally relaxed cat might get stressed or spooked while on the road, and the last thing you want is a dangerous distraction for the driver. Being inside the carrier is also much safer for your cat in the event of an accident or a sudden stop. If you’re traveling with multiple cats, each one should have its own carrier.
For long car rides it’s easiest to get a carrier that comfortably fits your cat and a travel litter box inside. When you need to stop for gas, food or a rest area, never leave your cat alone in the car. Take turns with your travel companion, and if it’s just you and your cat you’ll need to bring them with you inside their carrier.
Can Cats Travel on Trains?
The only long-distance train service in the U.S. is Amtrak (unless you’re in Alaska, which has the Alaska Railroad). Fortunately, Amtrak does allow cats to accompany you on train trips up to seven hours. Here’s what cat parents need to know about traveling with cats by train:
- One cat per passenger
- Maximum weight of 20 lbs (for the cat and carrier)
- There’s a fee up to $39 depending on your route
- Cat carriers must be leak proof, meet size restrictions, and will count as carry-on luggage
- Your cat has to stay in the carrier and in your presence in train stations and on the train
- Cats must be at least 8 weeks old, quiet, odorless, and not require attention while traveling
- You’ll need to check in early to sign a pet release and waiver
- Pets aren’t allowed in first-class seating or lounges, and on certain routes (see the Amtrak website for details)
Know that the seven-hour limit includes travel time and changing trains, and you’ll have to sign a new pet release form for each segment of your train trip.
Can You Take Your Cat on a Bus Trip?
Greyhound, the largest bus company in the U.S., doesn’t allow pets on any of their buses (only service animals for passengers that have a disability – not the same as an emotional support animal).
After finding a regional or interstate bus service that allows pets (Peter Pan Bus Lines is one example) you’ll need to do your homework and make sure you follow the guidelines in their pet policy. Similar to traveling by air or train with a cat, they’ll likely have to remain in their carrier for the entire trip, so plan accordingly.
Being Considerate of Fellow Travelers
Some people are allergic to cats, and you may find yourself sitting next to someone with a cat allergy while you travel. If this happens on a flight, ask a flight attendant to help arrange a seating solution that accommodates both of you. On a bus or train ride, it’s polite to ask the people nearby if they’re allergic before taking a seat with your cat in tow.
Being respectful of others is another reason why you should only travel with your cat if they can do so quietly and with minimal disruption. It’s not fair to your cat or to nearby passengers to expect them to put up with prolonged discomfort.
Traveling with a cat involves extra work before and during your trip, but if your cat’s personality is well suited to travel it can be a rewarding experience! Keep reading to learn about keeping pets safe during the holiday season, whether you’re spending them at home or away.
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