Traveling with your cat
So, you want to take your cat on a trip with you, or you are moving. If it is a one way trip, you don't really have a lot of options; your cat needs to come with you. If you are just going some where on vacation, and you will be back, we recommend that you leave your cat behind and just get a friend, a neighbor, or a cat sitter to come in and check on your cat.
Cats do not travel well; they tend to get very stressed. Cats like routine, they like the safety of their home, and they don't like change. If you don't know of anyone that can come into your home and take care of your cat - there are professional pet sitters that are licensed and bonded that you can pay to watch your cat. If your cat has medical issues that require daily treatments, sometimes you can check with local veterinary clinics. Often they have a pre-veterinary student or a veterinary assistant that works for them that is comfortable administering treatments and could use a little extra cash. Be warned though, they are not bonded, so if something goes wrong, they have no legal culpability as opposed to a professional cat sitter who is bonded. Always get references. As a last resort, you might consider boarding your cat - just make sure it is a cat friendly boarding facility. Always ask to inspect the boarding area before you leave your cat there.
But, if you absolutely must travel with your cat, either because you are moving, or because you just really do not want to leave your cat alone with out you, we have a few travel tips for you to try and make it a little less stressful on all.
Traveling by car
- The first thing is to make sure that your cat is comfortable, but yet safe at the same time. Put your cat in a large sturdy carrier that they can stand up in, stretch, and turn around easily. Cover the bottom of the carrier with some type of padding, preferably not something that will slide around, but that will stay covering the floor of the carrier.
- Secure the carrier with a seatbelt. If you are in a car accident, you want your cat to be as safe as possible. After all, aren't you wearing a seatbelt? If you had a young child in the car, wouldn't their cars seat be secured with a seatbelt?
- If it is a short trip, under 6 hours, then your cat will be just fine staying in the carrier the entire time. If it is a longer trip, especially if it is over a several day period, you may want to let your cat out of the carrier periodically to get a drink of water and use the litter box.
- First rule of letting your cat out of the carrier - make sure you are parked. If you let your cat wander around the car while you are driving, what do you think would happen if you were in a car accident, or if your cat suddenly startled and got in the area of the foot pedals or scratched or bit you while you were driving. That could even be enough for you to cause a car accident.
- Once your cat is out of the carrier and wandering in the car, do not open or shut the car doors unless your cat is wearing a harness (not collar) and leash. If your cat were to suddenly dart out of the car, it is much easier to step on a trailing leash that to try and grab a scared freaked out cat.
- Make sure that your cat is wearing ID of some kind - a collar or harness with your name, address, and phone number attached to it somewhere. A microchip is great, but that only works if someone finds your cat and takes them to a vet or animal shelter as a stray.
- If you are traveling a long distance and think that your cat may need to use the litter box, the easiest way is to purchase some of the disposable litter boxes that come with litter already inside. You can place these on the floor of the car for your cat to use - once they have eliminated, you can dispose of it in a trash receptacle - no muss, no fuss.
- Be sure to bring plenty of water with you, but only give it to your cat when you are parked. Do not leave a water bowl in your cat's carrier while driving - it will only spill and make a mess, and you will end up with a wet unhappy cat. It may also help to bring a gallon jug of the water your cat drinks at home - whether it is tap water or filtered water. Cats won't always drink water that tastes different.
- Don't feed your cat the morning of your trip, or while you are driving. They will be just fine only eating in the evening for a day or two, and it will minimize the risk of your cat vomiting in their carrier during the trip.
- If you are traveling in the heat of the summer, bring several ice packs or frozen bottles of water with you and keep them in a cooler. If your air conditioning goes out, you may be too far from home to turn back, and your cat will overheat very quickly - they cannot sweat effectively like you can to counteract the heat. If this happens, you can line the inside of your cat's carrier with the ice packs wrapped in a cloth of some kind to try to help keep your cat cool.
- If you are traveling in the dead of winter, be sure to bring extra blankets for your cat as well as yourself.
- Be sure to bring paperwork with you from your veterinarian that shows your cat's current vaccination status. If you are traveling over state lines, by law you also need to have a health certificate from your veterinarian. Unlikely that anyone will ask you to show it, but better safe than sorry.
- If you will be staying at a hotel at some point, make sure that they allow pets. Get the name of the person that you are making the reservation with that tells you pets are allowed, or even better, get it in writing of some kind. Don't try to sneak your cat in, you might get away with it, but you might not, and do you really want to be wandering around a strange city at <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags"> 10pm at night looking for a pet friendly hotel?
- Once you are in the hotel room, crawl around on your hands and knees and inspect everything to make sure that there are no hazards for your cat, or holes large enough that your cat could get into a wall. Make sure you include the inside of bathroom cupboards when you do this. Wouldn't you feel horrible if they had a mouse trap or poison out somewhere and your cat got into it? If you don't feel that the room is cat safe, if the bathroom has a door and it is okay, you can shut your cat in the bathroom overnight. If your cat has a favorite bed from home, bring that with you for your cat to sleep in. If not, then bring bedding or something from home that smells like home to make things a little more familiar for your cat. You can pad the bathtub with them to make a cat bed for your cat.
- If you are staying with a friend, it will be much less stressful for your cat to confine them to one room in the home while you are there, preferably the room you will be sleeping in.
- If your cat really stresses during car rides, but you have no other choice but to travel by car with your cat, you can obtain a sedative or tranquilizer from your veterinarian for your cat. This is controversial among veterinary behaviorists, but if your cat is that stressed, it may be better for both of you. Benadryl does have a slight sedative effect, and a slight anti-motion sickness effect, but cats really really really hate the taste of Benadryl. They will foam at the mouth, gag, etc. If you are determined to try this, you can give 1/4th of a human dose twice daily.
- If your cat gets car sick, you can also obtain very effective anti-nausea medication from your vet for your cat. You can also use Pepcid AC (see the first aid page for dosing), but again, we have more effective medications at the veterinary clinic.
- Once you have arrived at your destination, if you are moving into a new home, try and minimize your cat's stress as much as possible. Keep them confined to one room that is out of the way and quiet while you unpack and unload. Put things in that room that smell like your old home. Try to take some time periodically to go in and spend some time with them so they don't feel abandoned.
Traveling by plane
- There are two ways for your cat to travel by plane - in the cargo hold or in the cabin with you. Of course, the ideal is to keep your cat with you, but that does add significantly to the cost on most airlines, and some airlines do not allow pets in the cabin.
- If you do decide to have your cat travel in the cabin with your, there are several step you need to take first. When you make your reservation, if someone tells you that cats are allowed in the cabin, get their name and contact info. Even better, get it in writing - have them fax, email, or mail it to you.
- Show up early to the airport. Most airlines have a limit as to how many animals are allowed in the cabin, and if the airline books too many pets in the cabin, it will be a first come first serve basis. If you are number three and they only allow two pets in the cabin, then you will be forced to take another flight or send your cat cargo.
- Be sure that you have an airline approved carrier. If in doubt, take it to the airport long before the day of your flight and ask them if it is an acceptable carrier for in the cabin. It will need to be able to fit under the seat in front of you, so it will have to be fairly small.
- Have a cloth cover that covers the openings in the carrier so your cat cannot see what is going on around them. The less they see, the less stress they will experience.
- Keep your cat's health certificate (required by most airlines - better safe than sorry) and vaccination information both on your person and taped to the carrier somewhere.
- If your cat tends to cry a lot when stressed, consider a sedative or tranquilizer from your vet for the trip. Again, this is controversial, but you don't want to be asked to leave the plane before it takes off because your cat is making too much noise, or have to check your cat into cargo.
- If you are checking your cat cargo, be sure that the inside of the carrier is well padded, and that the carrier is extremely secure and will not break open easily if dropped. Be sure the carrier is well labeled as to your name, phone number, where you are from, where you are going and alternative contacts if you cannot be reached. Wouldn't you feel horrible if your cat got lost like luggage can be prone to do?
- Regardless of whether your cat is traveling in the cabin or in the cargo hold, withhold food the night before and the morning of the trip. If your cat vomits in the carrier, you will not be able to take them out to clean it. They can still have water to drink the night before and morning of - most cats can hold their urine quite well for 24-48 hours and are unlikely to urinate in their carrier. If your cat does have a tendency to urinate in the carrier, put something absorbent and padded on the floor of the carrier, and consider putting something like 2 or 3 layers of a crocheted blanket on top. The urine will fall through the crocheted blanket into the absorbent material below so your cat will not necessarily be sitting in their own urine for several hours.
- Consider having your cat wear a harness with identification on it for the duration of the trip. Collars can come off too easily. Just make sure that the harness is snug so your cat can't get a let through and have it get stuck, and get your cat used to wearing the harness for several days or weeks before your trip.
- When you check into the airport, they will require you to take your cat out of the carrier so they can inspect it. If your cat is wearing a harness, snap a leash onto it before you take your cat out. Again, if your cat spooks and jumps out of your arms, it is much easier to step on a trailing leash than to catch a scared running cat. Do not leave the leash on in the carrier however; your cat could get tangled up in it and panic.
- Wait until you arrive at your final destination before you take your cat out of the carrier. Airline travel is extremely stressful for cats - give your cat a chance to de-stress first.