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Cats and Car Travel

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Going for a drive with your cat can be a fun experience for both of you with enough planning and the appropriate safety equipment.

If you’ve never taken your cat on a drive before, you might be put off by the horror stories others have told about car rides they’ve taken with their cats. In fact, if you’ve been a cat owner for a long time, you might have lived through some of these horror stories yourself.

There’s no question that cats tend to be dislike car rides. But if you make the necessary preparations, use appropriate equipment and take a cat’s perspective when planning your trip, both humans and cat can have a great time.

Make preparations early

There is no such thing as starting to make preparations too early when travelling with a cat. In fact, from the very day your pet first comes home with you, you can start preparing her for future trips.

This is because a big part of helping your cat enjoy car travel is to help it to get used to the experience. The easiest time to sensitize your cat to car travel is when it is a kitten and can more easily get used to new experiences. The ideal time to start doing so this is prior to 9 weeks of age.

Take your kitten on brief drives in the early weeks, and it will grow up not fearing car rides. While your cat may never become a huge fan of car rides, it will be better able to tolerate them.

On the other hand, if you try to take your cat for its first ride well into adulthood, be prepared for a tough journey, both for the cat and yourself.

Acclimatize your cat to a travel carrier

Get the carrier out well in advance of the trip and wipe it out with a wet cloth to remove dust and smells. Pop it in the living area and place a clean towel inside (or something that smells like yourself or your cat. If you leave it open and allow your cat to explore this new space, many cats will willingly go inside (even it it takes a week for it to start to smell more like the rest of the house). You can also use the pheromone Feliway, which can be sprayed inside carriers to make the area smell more cat-friendly. There are also carriers that convert into cat beds like the Sleepypod, with the added bonus of having an inbuilt seatbelt strap.

Checklist for travelling with a cat

When you’re travelling with a baby, you end up bringing a huge amount of equipment with you, from diaper bags and blankets to bottles and binkies. Travelling with your cat is no different, so be prepared to equip yourself with a whole list of items to keep your cat healthy and able to tolerate the ride. Here are some items you should take you leave before you leave.

  • Cat carrier – Don’t think you can let your cat ride in the passenger seat with you. Letting your cat loose in the car is dangerous and could result in him getting wedged underneath the brake pedal, or ripping your back to shreds. Use a carrier that’s tailored to cats and gives your pet enough space and ventilation to be comfortable. Fasten it to the car so it doesn’t slide around, and ensure it is never exposed to direct sunlight for extended stretches of time.
  • Water and food bowls – You should continue feeding your cat the food it usually eats, as well as the same water it usually drinks. If your cat usually drinks tap water, take some along with you in a bottle.
  • Bedding and toys – Help your cat feel more at home by bringing along some of its favorite toys, as well as the bedding it usually uses.
  • Litter and accessories – While it’s unlikely you will want to bring along your cat’s usual litter box, bring along the same type of litter you use at home as it is familiar to your cat. Take some disposable litter trays along with you. Alternatively, you can bring along a small litter tray that is not disposable, to be used with a scooper and bags that can be disposed of.

Take frequent breaks

You might be the sort who adores long drives and can concentrate on the road for more than 5 hours at a time, but for the sake of your cat, think about taking more frequent breaks. Stop for a break at least every few hours so your cat can relax a little.

If you’ve stopped somewhere safe, let your cat venture out of its carrier for a while, but be extremely vigilant, as a stressed out cat might try to escape at the first chance it gets. Make sure your cat’s ID tag is around its neck before taking it out of the house and the microchip details are up to date.

At each rest stop, ensure your car is not sitting under direct sunlight for any amount of time no matter how short, especially when the windows are closed. Also ensure you never expose your cat to direct sunlight when it’s hot out, whether it’s inside the car or outside.

Have a chat with your veterinarian

Before you and your cat’s road trip, have a discussion with your vet to see if there’s anything you can do to make the journey more pleasant. They might be able to recommend some medication that can make the journey less difficult for your cat. There are medications that can be taken to ease anxiety or motion sickness, for instance.

Even if your cat does not end up needing any medication, it’s a good idea to know what your options are, and decide whether you want to have some on standby just in case.

A road trip can be an enjoyable experience

Even if your cat doesn’t exactly love car rides, it can at least learn to tolerate a road trip if you make the necessary preparations. Make plans in advance, make sure you take with you all the items needed to make your cat’s time in the car more comfortable and take plenty of breaks so that the ride will be more enjoyable for you both.