traveling with a cat

Road Tripping Fun with Your Cat By Holly Anne Dustin

Traveling with your cat doesn’t have to be something to dread. Road tripping together can strengthen the bond between you. New experiences broaden Kitty’s horizons and enrich his life. It might turn out that your cat will not be the next adventure cat, but every cat needs to travel safely enough to get to the vet or to evacuate in an emergency.

Teach Leash Skills First
Any cat that is going traveling needs to learn to wear a harness and walk on a leash. Teach leash skills before you hit the road.

Some cats will adapt easier to their harness and leash than others. There are many options for harnesses on the market. If one doesn’t work for your cat, try a different style. It’s normal for a cat to just flop over or refuse to move when your first put the harness on. She will get over it.

It helps if you have a food-motivated cat. Get her used to wearing it at dinnertime when her hunger will distract her. Encourage her to walk to you using her favorite treats. Train Kitty inside to make sure she can’t wiggle out of her harness before you head out on the road.

Train Kitty to Love Her Carrier
It is important for a traveling cat to see her carrier as a safe place and not a trap. Get a carrier that is large enough for your cat to sit up, lie down, and turn around.

Hard side carriers are safer in a crash, and best if you have a cat that tries to tear her way out of a soft carrier. Soft carriers are easier for you. Some cats feel less trapped in a mesh carrier because they can see more. Others are over stimulated by that. If you plan to fly with your cat, get a hard side carrier.

Leave the carrier open in the house so it becomes part of the furniture. Put Kitty’s favorite bed or blanket inside. Put treats and toys inside for her to find. Feed her dinner in there.

When she is comfortable with that, try shutting the door for a minute or two. Give her good treats when you’re done. Work up to walking around the house, and then short drives around town. Always reward her. If she panics, back up and go slower til she is calm.

On the Road We Go
Buckle in Kitty’s carrier and head out on your adventures. Kitty will be fine in her carrier if you aren’t traveling over 5-6 hours. Your cat probably won‘t use her litter box on the road but a pee pad in the bottom of the carrier will prevent any accidents. You can reduce the likelihood by not feeding her for 4-5 hours before the trip.

Offer her a litter box break when you stop for your own comfort. Save the water for those breaks as well or you’ll have a wet, angry and uncomfortable cat the first time you go over a bump. That won’t endear the road trip experience to her. Don’t let her out of her carrier without her leash and harness on.

If you’re planning on a longer day, set up Kitty in a large dog crate or pop-up shelter big enough to give her access to a litter box. I put my cat’s carrier with the door off right in the shelter. He feels secure in his carrier, but can come out if he needs the box, or gets too hot.

Keep the weather in mind. You can help keep her comfortable with hot hands packs wrapped up in her carrier in the winter. Ice packs or frozen water bottles can help in the summer. Cars can become dangerously hot and brutally cold quickly. Stick to drive through restaurants and take turns on bathroom breaks if you have a traveling companion.

Where Shall We Stay?

Pet friendly does not always mean feline friendly. Call ahead before you book a hotel room. Some chains allow the branch manager to decide if they allow cats or not. Be sure you understand the policies of the hotel, are there damage fees? Limits on pets? Can you leave your pet alone when you go to dinner?

When you get to your hotel check the room out before you let your cat out of her carrier. Make your inspection for two reasons: first, so you can document anything wrong with the room so you don’t get charged a damage fee; and second, so you discover any risk to your kitty.

Check for open windows, holes in walls or cabinets, anything broken, anything an active or curious cat might knock over or break. Check the bed. Platform beds are the worst! I’ve disassembled many beds to get a cat out. Try to stuff access points with pillows or your luggage. If you can’t find your cat, she’s probably in a box spring or under the bed.

Put the Do Not Disturb sign on the door and let Kitty out. Leave her carrier where she can access it. She is likely to see it as her safe space until she acclimates to the room.

Be a Good Ambassador for the Traveling Cat
Be nice to the staff. Bring pee pads or newspapers to put under the litter tray and keep it in the bathroom. Don’t expect them to deal with your cat’s litter mess. Bag the litter waste yourself and either take it out yourself or at least make it easy on the housekeeper.

Keep Kitty in the bathroom if you think she is likely to mark her territory or damage the space. My goal is for the staff to not know there was a pet in the room.

Have Fun
Traveling with your cat can be a great experience for you and your kitty if you take the steps to prepare him for it. Sharing the open road with your furbaby can deepen the bond you share and enrich his life. You will also open doors and creating a demand for more cat friendly accommodations, activities and events.

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