Any pet owner knows that dogs and cats are radically different, which is never more obvious than when faced with the prospect of a car trip. While dogs are often overjoyed at the mere idea of getting in the car, even the sweetest, cuddliest cat can turn into a ferocious, frantic feline when confronted with a car ride. Fortunately, there are easy ways to acclimate your cat to car travel and make a road trip for cats much more pleasant.
Why Take a Road Trip at All?
Many cat owners who aren't used to traveling with their feline friend may question why it is necessary to take a cat in the car at all. In addition to necessary trips to the veterinarian or groomer, there are many reasons why both short and long trips can be good for a cat.
- Exposure to different situations can help a cat develop confidence and feel comfortable with unusual sensations, sounds and smells, which will lower stress and anxiety and help with overall socialization.
- A cat can come along on a short vacation or day trip instead of being left alone all day or being subjected to an uncertain boarding or pet-sitting situation. This is particularly helpful if the cat has special needs that may make boarding or alternative care less feasible.
- Bringing your cat on road trips can help calm separation anxiety for both you and your pet, eliminating undesirable behavior when the cat is left alone. This is also critical if your cat serves as a support or therapy animal.
Introducing Your Cat to the Car
Before taking any sort of road trip, it is important to get your cat used to the car. At first, bring your cat into the car, without starting the vehicle, and let them sniff, climb and explore to become familiar with this new environment. Pet and talk to your cat at this time so they feel even more comfortable. After a few of these short introductory sessions, place your cat's carrier in the appropriate spot – it is always essential to have a pet safely restrained when riding in a vehicle – and let them get used to "their" space in the car. Eventually, start the car, and adjust the car's temperature, radio and even windshield wipers so your cat is introduced to all sorts of sensations they may encounter on a road trip.
The next step will be short trips with the car in motion. Start by just going around a block or two, gradually lengthening the drives as your cat grows more comfortable with riding along. Vary the routes to include new experiences, such as crossing over railroad tracks or traveling at different speeds. Keep these first trips short and simple, however, and carefully gauge how your cat responds so you are not overly stressing or upsetting your pet.
Pack Along the Proper Road Trip Supplies
When you're ready for a longer road trip, it is important to bring along all the comforts of home to keep your cat secure and reduce the risk of anxiety. When packing for a road trip, include…
- The litterbox, extra litter and trash bags to clean up along the way if necessary.
- Liners for the cat's carrier to make any unexpected messes easy to clean up.
- Food and water dishes, as well as appropriate food and treats.
- A kitty leash and harness (the cat should be used to these) for pit stops.
- Several small toys to distract your cat if they get upset in the car.
- An old t-shirt or blanket with the familiar smell of home to put in the carrier.
- Veterinary paperwork including vaccination records and any necessary medication.
All of these supplies may not be necessary for shorter trips, but if you develop the habit of always being prepared when you travel with your cat, you won't have difficulty with trips of any length.
When driving with your cat, your pet's safety should always come first. Cats should be carefully restrained, either in a car-safe carrier or by a pet-friendly harness and seatbelt arrangement. Minimize rapid starts or hard braking that can frighten your pet, and keep the radio's volume low so the cat's sensitive ears aren't hurt by excessive noise. Always drive defensively and safely, and both you and your cat will enjoy road trips in peace.
More Tips for a Cat-Friendly Road Trip
When you feel ready to hit the road with your feline companion, a few extra tips can make sure the trip is a safe, comfortable and memorable one for both you and your cat…
- Be sure your cat is microchipped and its registered information is up-to-date. At the same time, make sure your cat is always wearing an updated, easy-to-read license with your contact information.
- Stop every 2-3 hours during longer trips to give your cat a short break. This is a great time to have the litter box available, offer your cat a drink or a quick snack, or just let the cat stretch its legs.
- If your cat is prone to motion sickness, do not feed it for 6-8 hours before a car trip to minimize the risk of illness. Avoiding food or snacks for 2-3 hours before a trip for any cat is a safe precaution against unexpected sickness.
- Double check that hotels you may be staying at are pet-friendly, and be aware of any conditions they have for bringing a cat into your room. Do not risk sneaking your pet into accommodations or you can be subject to fines, eviction or other penalties.
- Never leave your pet in a hot car, even for a few minutes. Instead, leave all the windows open (if you're gassing up or at a rest area, for example), or take your cat out of the car with you to prevent heat-related tragedies.
- Consult with your veterinarian if your cat has health issues that may make car trips more complicated, including hyperactivity or extreme motion sickness sensitivity. Traveling with updated health records is always wise in case of emergencies.
Cats may not be known for their compatibility with vehicles, but with thoughtful preparation and attention to your pet's comfort, you can easily take a road trip both you and your cat will enjoy.