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Traveling with a Cat: What to Know Before You Go
By: Tori Ferrante | Published Sep 7, 2023
Cats are known for being homebodies, but that hasn’t stopped pet owners from taking their feline friends out on new adventures. Traveling with a cat is even necessary at times, especially when moving or going on an extended trip where pets can’t be left at home by themselves. Taking your cat somewhere soon or trying to figure out travel plans? There are some things you should know first.
Many cats can be easily stressed or face other issues when their environment changes, so precautions should be taken no matter how you’re traveling with your cat (we’ll cover both auto and plane travel here). Whether you’re hitting the road or taking to the sky, you can make the adventure a positive experience — or at least as painless as possible — with the right amount of preparation, practice, and patience.
8 tips for traveling with a cat
The key to a successful trip with your cat is preparing well before the day of travel. Here are some ways you can prep a few weeks or months in advance.
1. Make sure your cat’s information is up-to-date
First things first, make sure your cat’s ID tag and microchip are updated. If your pet is not currently microchipped, consider doing so. It’s a good idea to still use a collar and ID tag for fast visual identification, but a microchip can help reunite you with your pet if they get lost and their collar goes missing.
When traveling, you should also have your cat’s vet records readily available in case the airport, airline, accommodations or other places you’re visiting need to see them. Vet documentation includes:
- Vaccination records
- Rabies vaccination tag
- Recent lab work
2. Protect your cat with pet insurance
In case of an emergency, it’s a good idea to consider pet insurance. Accidents and surprise illnesses happen, even on the most well-planned trips. Cat insurance can provide an extra layer of protection and peace of mind when traveling.
In order to make sure you’re getting the most out of your coverage, look for a policy covers new illnesses, injuries, diagnostic tests, and more. This pet insurance comparison can help.
3. Get your cat used to a travel carrier
Your cat is going to spend a significant amount of their travel time in their pet carrier, so be sure to get one that fits well and makes them feel cozy and comfy. It should be large enough for your cat to stand in and reposition as needed.
If you’re wondering how to get your pet into the carrier, you need to first create positive associations. Start by leaving the carrier open and available at all times, allowing your cat to come and go as they please. Consider feeding them meals in the carrier, putting treats inside, and just generally making it part of their everyday routine.
Once the carrier becomes positively associated as your cat’s happy place, it’s time to practice traveling! Put your pet inside, zip it up, and walk around the house.
After they’re comfortable with your walks, gradually introduce them to your car by placing the carrier in the backseat and running the engine. Once you’re ready for the next step, take a drive around the corner. Then try going to the pet store, a friend’s house, or anywhere else that’ll help your pet become accustomed to new sights, smells, sounds, and situations.
Keep practicing until they’re relaxed and comfortable with it. And don’t forget to reward your kitty after a job well done!
Pro tip: Be prepared for your cat needing to go to the bathroom, especially on long trips! Portable “litter box” solutions like absorbent pads for cat carriers can help with any emergencies that may arise during travel, but be sure to bring extra and change them out often. Never allow your pet to sit in their own mess.
4. Use a cat harness and leash
Your cat’s natural instincts may tell them to run and hide when in a new environment. In addition to keeping track of them at all times during travel, it’s important to ensure they are secure and can’t roam freely.
On travel days, make sure your cat is wearing a harness and leash whenever they’re outside the carrier. In fact, it’s a good idea to keep their harness on even when they’re in the carrier. Some cat carriers even have clips that attach to a harness for extra security. That way, you can grab your pet more easily if they try to wander or bolt.
5. Pack travel essentials and comfort items
Make a separate list specifically for your pet when deciding what to pack. Be sure to include the litter, food, treats, blankets and a couple toys they know and love.
If you think your cat will be anxious during the trip, here are a few things that could help them:
- A Thundershirt® (also known as an anxiety jacket)
- Pheromone calming collar, wipes, or spray for the carrier
- Medication prescribed by your veterinarian
Don’t forget cleaning supplies! Bring rags, paper towels, odor-eliminators, and other cleaning products in case of accidents.
6. Don’t feed your cat right before the trip
Many vets recommend withholding food at least a couple of hours before your trip, so your cat’s tummy doesn’t get upset (this will also help with the likelihood of mid-travel accidents). The amount of time you should feed them before you leave varies depending on how you’re traveling.
That said, some treats and water are definitely recommended for keeping your cat happy and hydrated.
7. Talk to your pet's veterinarian
Certain medical conditions — like anxiety or motion sickness — could be agitated by travel.
Talk with your cat’s veterinarian beforehand for tips on how to keep your pet at ease in these cases. They may be able to recommend over-the-counter or prescription medications that help keep your cat calm or alleviate symptoms.
During your practice runs, look out for these signs of motion sickness in cats:
- Crying or vocalizing that doesn’t stop after a few minutes
- Excessive drooling or licking of lips
- Unable to move or acting afraid to move
- Lethargy or inactivity
- Excess energy or pacing
- Vomiting, urinating, or defecating
If your veterinarian for easing cat travel anxiety, make sure you have the right amount for your entire trip. In some cases, your vet might recommend a trial dose to try at home before you go. That way, you can figure out how your cat will react to the meds and how you can best help them on travel day. Never give your cat any medications not prescribed or approved by their veterinarian.
8. Stay calm and collected
When traveling with a cat — or any other pet — one of the most important things to remember is that the energy you put out is what they’re taking in. If you stay calm as a cucumber, it’ll help them pick up on that vibe and stay calm, too.
Taking a cat on a plane
Cats might like climbing to new heights, but the sky is a whole different ball game! It’s usually best to avoid flying with your cat altogether because it can be such a stressful experience, but if you’re moving or absolutely need to bring them with you, the first thing you’ll want to do is research.
Different airlines have different pet requirements, so always read the rules carefully before you fly. In addition to carrier policies, check what vet records will be required. You’ll also want to review security guidelines prior to getting to the airport.
When traveling with a cat, try to be at the airport about two hours before take-off. Even though the TSA process can be longer with pets, usually you won’t be able to check your pet in more than four hours before the flight.
Keep your cat in the cabin with you
If possible, take your cat in the cabin with you (in a TSA-approved carrier, of course). The cargo hold can be a really stressful place for your feline. To start, it involves a long check-in process that could take hours before take-off. It’s also really noisy. Temperatures can vary. And even though pet areas of cargo holds are pressurized, changes in altitude can still hurt your cat’s ears.
Most of the time, your cat will be under the seat right in front of your feet. Along with putting comfort items (like toys, blankets, and catnip) inside the carrier, drape a blanket over it to help reduce surrounding stimuli and help them rest.
As a courtesy to both other passengers and your kitty, make sure anyone sitting near you is aware of your cat. That way, they can try to avoid kicking or pushing against the carrier and be prepared for any sudden “meows” coming from below your feet.
Traveling with a cat by car
If you’re hitting the road, there are many ways to prepare your cat for a smooth ride. To work out any kinks beforehand, make sure you do trial runs — that is, trial drives.
Cats may climb under a driver’s feet if allowed to roam, so be sure to put your pet in their carrier to avoid any distractions or dangerous situations. You should also place their carrier in the backseat. If they’re in the passenger seat and your airbag deploys, it could hurt your pet, even if they’re in a carrier.
Just like you, your cat might want to get out and walk around for a bit. This is why it is a good idea to make sure your cat properly leash trained and comfortable in a harness before going on any road trip. When you hit a rest stop, snap on their leash, go for a walk, and see if they need to use the litter box (again, consider portable options here).
When getting out of the car, make sure your cat is fully secured before you open the door. If they bolt, you definitely don’t want to be chasing after them, especially in unfamiliar territory.
Don’t leave your cat in a hot car
Pets don’t sweat or process heat the same as humans do. No matter what the temperature is outside, never leave your cat in the car alone. Outside temps are often amplified inside a parked vehicle and can be harmful to animals stuck in the car, even on days that feel cooler.
If you have to use the restroom during your road trip, take turns with other passengers, so someone stays with your cat and can leave the air conditioning on.
Patience is key with cat travel
Every cat is different, and some may need more practice with outings and extra time to adjust to a carrier. It’s important to realize that some cats may never fully be comfortable with traveling, and so they should only be taken on trips that are absolutely essential. The last thing you want to do is put your pet through unnecessary stress.
In the meantime, following these tips for traveling with a cat help you and your kitty stay safe, comfortable, and happy. Don’t forget — practice makes purr-fect.
Check out more cat care advice to ensure you’re helping your pet live their best life possible!