How to Travel with a Cat

Two Parts:Preparing Ahead of TimeTaking Your Cat on a Trip

Most people do not relish the thought of bringing their cats with them on a vacation or on a road trip. There are a few fearless felines that are not finicky about traveling, but for many cats, traveling and leaving their familiar surroundings can be sheer terror. However, it is possible to travel with a cat without a huge amount of problems. The key is to the prepare ahead of time by acclimating your cat to travel gradually and preparing supplies well before the departure date.

Part 1
Preparing Ahead of Time

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    Acclimate your cat to traveling. If your cat hasn’t travelled by car recently, several weeks prior to your trip, take it on several short car rides (30 minutes or less). Be sure to put the cat in the travel cage you will use on your trip to get the cat used to the noise and motion of the car and the smell of the cage.
    • Give your cat treats while it is in the car. This will give it better feelings about being there.
    • Look upon these as trial runs to work out any kinks before you have to take a long trip far from home.
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    Get prescription medication for motion sickness, if necessary. If your cat is prone to motion sickness, which your trial runs should determine, ask your vet to prescribe medication. Anti-nausea medication such as chlorpromazine can be used to help control motion sickness.[1]
    • The signs of a cat with motion sickness (while in the car of course) include: crying or vocalizing that doesn’t quit after a few minutes into the car ride, excessive drooling, immobility, or acting afraid to move, or excess activity or pacing, vomiting, or urinating or defecating.[2]
    • Ginger has also been used to treat nausea in humans and it is safe to use in cats; this can be found in liquid form or chews from on-line or brick and mortar pet stores or in the occasional veterinary clinic.
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    Give your cat the Bach Flower Essence "Rescue Remedy" to help it with the fear and stress of traveling or a fear of new places. Give a few drops in his water each day and a drop in the mouth before setting off each day if he is visibly distressed. You can test its effectiveness by giving an oral dose and then taking a short car ride 30 minutes later. This should be your preferred treatment, as sedatives only slow a cat whereas the flower essence will help them remain calm and confident.
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    Get prescription tranquilizers as a last resort. Try training with trial drives and non-medicated options first before resorting to medications. Your veterinarian can help you sort out which one will work best for your cat. Some options include over the counter antihistamines (Benadryl) and prescription medication, such as alprazolam (Xanax) to relieve anxiety.[3]
    • Discuss dosages with your veterinarian and follow their advice carefully for the best result.
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    Try any sedatives at home a few days before your trip. Observe the cat's behavior, and if there are any negative results, you still have time to call your vet and adjust dosages or try a different medicine. Just like people, different drugs have different effects on cats. Chances are, if your pet reacts with irritability or something else adverse, your vet will know an alternate treatment to try.
    • Most sedatives won't knock the cat out cold and should only take the edge off. If the drug is too sedating or not sedating enough, you should let your vet know before you leave. The cat should remain alert to its surroundings, even when on the sedative.
    • While on the medication trial, put the cat in the carrier and take it for a drive. This way, you'll know what behaviors to expect while you're traveling with a medicated cat. Make sure your vet gives you enough medication for the duration of your travel (to and from) and ask for an extra pill or two to try at home before you embark.
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    Get a towel or blanket and put it in your cat's bed, or wherever it likes to sleep, a few days before the trip. The goal is to get your cat's smells, and the smells of home, onto the towel. In addition, the cat will already be comfortable with the towel and find comfort from it.
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    Prepare the cage on the morning of the trip, or the night before. Put the towel your cat has been sleeping on at the bottom of the cage, and put an additional towel under the cage if the cage floor needs extra padding. Add a favorite toy to keep your cat company as well.
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    Spray the inside of the carrier and car with Feliway 20 minutes before you're ready to go. This mimics the pheromones that cats leave when they're comfortable and relaxed in their territory. It should soothe your cat on the ride.[4]
    • Be sure to test your cat's reaction to Feliway before spraying it in the carrier. A small minority of cats interpret the spray as another cat's markings and may have a negative or even aggressive reaction to it.

Part 2
Taking Your Cat on a Trip

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    Have your cat eat a few hours before traveling and allow it unrestricted access to its litter box. If there is room in the cage you can put a small litter box, but this is not vitally necessary. The same is true of food and water.
    • Never make your cat stay in its carrier for longer than eight hours without providing it with food, water and a chance to use the litter box.
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    Leave the door of the cage open to allow your cat a chance to explore the cage. You want the cat to voluntarily get comfortable going into it. Do not force your cat into the cage if it doesn’t go in at this stage.
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    Place the cat in the carrier, then carry it to the car. You may want to place a towel or blanket over the carrier when carrying it to the car to block its view of the “scary” outside.[5] Remove it when you place the carrier in the car.
    • The carrier should be placed in a secure spot in the car, preferably strapped in place with a seat belt. If the seat belt won’t work, you can use bungee cords or small lengths of rope to secure the carrier in the car in case of sudden stops or an accident.[6]
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    Place your cat in the carrier with the harness on. Car rides are stressful for cats regardless if they like them or not. Having a harness and a leash on the cat whenever it is out of the carrier (even in the car) gives you something to grab in case the cat decides to bolt from an open window or door.
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    Allow your cat to stretch its legs. Your cat won't want to go all day in its carrier. This is where the harness and leash come in. Snap the leash on and allow your cat to come out into the car for twenty or so minutes. Offering a chance in the litterbox isn't a bad idea, either, but don't be surprised if your cat turns its nose up at the idea.
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    Spray wherever you're staying with Feliway (or use the Feliway diffuser) before putting your cat in the room. If you go out, put your cat in its carrier and the 'Do Not Disturb' sign on your door, in case the maid should come by. If you're going to be out for the day, put the cat in the bathroom with its things and shut the door (if possible). Then leave a note on the door stating your cat is currently in there and to please be careful not to let it out.


  • Note that airlines will not accept a sedated animal because it is more difficult to know if it is experiencing any health problems, including heat stroke. If you are making a long drive to the airport with your cat do not give it a sedative as it will not be able to fly. Instead, Rescue Remedy is an acceptable calming alternative as the animal remains fully alert.
  • Don't forget to bring a scratching post or cardboard scratch pad! People have a tendency to forget this, and it may cause your cat to resort to scratching on unwanted surfaces, such as the hotel curtains or bedspreads. Cats need to scratch; not only is it instinctual, but it also allows them to get a good stretch and use muscles they wouldn't normally use.
  • On long trips with more than one cat, a large collapsible dog carrier that fits in the back seat is a great option. You can fit in a small covered litter box that doubles as a cat booster seat to look out the window, in addition to having room for a cat bed, food, water and toys. The zippered screened sides allow for easy access, as well as letting your cat see you and the scenery out the window. The larger carrier doubles as a safe place when visiting others with pets if you need to go out, as the cats can still use the litter box and have room to move around.


  • Make sure your cat is wearing the collar and ID tags at all times! You never know if your cat will somehow weasel its way away. A microchip with up to date information on record with the chip company is a never-loose ID tag. A rescuer will need to have a vet or shelter scan it to get the number.
  • Do not allow a cat unrestricted access to your car when you're driving. Even the smallest things can spook a cat, and the last thing you need is a cat hiding in the back of your car, under the seat where you can't reach it, or dashing under your feet to the pedals. If you're riding with passengers and your cat likes to look out the window, putting a harness and leash on and allowing the cat to sit that way may not be a bad idea. Be careful your cat does not become agitated about it, however.
  • Never leave your cat in the car alone, even with the windows cracked. It can take less than twenty minutes for your pet to overheat and die when left in a car.

Things You'll Need

  • Litterbox
  • Food and water dishes
  • Cat carrier
  • Small towel or blanket
  • Scratching post or pad
  • Food
  • Water
  • Cat toys, string
  • Cat harness and leash
  • Cat collar with ID tags
  • Feliway
  • Enzyme based cleaner in case your cat has an accident in the car or hotel.
  • Rescue Remedy spray
  • Medications

Article Info

Categories: Travel with Cats