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Road trip! How to take my cat on a trip in the car

Road trip! How to take my cat on a trip in the car

cartoon cats on a road trip

There’s the Thelma & Louise fantasy of riding in the car with your cat: two carefree souls, out on the open road, looking for adventure.

 

And then there’s the reality of riding in the car with your cat: mile after mile of skull-rattling meowing, followed by a cat who refuses to remove herself from under the seat, or worse, tries to launch herself through the window when you open it at a drive-through.

 

There has to be a better way to ride with your cat in the car. And there is.

 

The safest place for a cat is in a carrier

cat roaming free in a carThe safest place for your cat during a car ride is in a carrier. A free-roaming cat in the car is a safety hazard. A loose cat could slip under the brake pedal, escape through a window, or bury herself beneath the seat.

 

Even well-behaved cats should be placed in a carrier. During an accident, a loose cat is a potential projectile. And a deployed airbag could crush a cat sitting in its path.

 

Not all carriers are created equal for this purpose, however. The ideal carrier will be:

 

Strong

A cardboard carrier may not stand up to the rigors of travel, and may begin to disintegrate if your cat has an accident inside.

 

Well-ventilated

You don’t want your cat to overheat during the trip. Be sure there’s enough air flow in your carrier.
 

Well-sized

Like Goldilocks, you don’t want the carrier to be too big or too small. Too small and your cat won’t be comfortable during the ride. Too big and your cat could slip, slide, and tumble when the car turns.
 

Comfortable

Place a towel on the bottom of the carrier to create a soft surface and give her something to grip.

 

Before you get into the car

 

cat collarBe sure that your cat is wearing a collar with tags that include your contact information and her rabies tag. Check that you’ve kept your microchip information up to date.

 

(Haven’t microchipped your cat yet? Read here to find out why a microchip is so important.)

 

If this is an overnight trip, check ahead to make sure the hotel or motel you’ve reserved allows cats. There are many accommodating accommodations these days – no need to risk sneaking your cat in.

 

Load the cat into the carrier in the house – not the car (we don’t want any last-minute escapes!)

 

Where to place the cat carrier in the car

 

putting a cat carrier in the carPlace the carrier in the back seat or on the floor so that the carrier won’t be in a path of an airbag in the unlikely event of an accident.

 

Note the location: be sure she’s not being subjected a stream of heated or air-conditioned air coming from one of the vents.

 

Secure the carrier, either with seatbelts, or by surrounding it with larger items, like suitcases, to keep it from jostling if you have to stop short.

 

What to do during a car ride with your cat

 

cat drinking from a cupIf this is a long ride, plan safe stops along the way, at least every 2-3 hours. Let your cat out of the carrier within the cabin of the car and give him a chance to use the litter box and have a drink of water.

 

What not to do when you are riding with a cat in your car

 

Humane Society flyer about leaving pets in a hot carNever, ever, ever leave your cat unattended in the car, even for a minute. Even with the windows open, on a warm day the temperature in a car can quickly rise above 120° causing brain damage or even death from heatstroke or suffocation.[1]

 

What to do if your cat hates car rides

 

The first time you take your cat in the car should not be the time you’re moving across the country. And you shouldn’t only take your cat in the car when you’re heading to the veterinarian or some other place the cat might object to if you ever want car riding with your cat to be a pleasurable experience.

 

Note that even if you’ve taken your cat for unhappy car rides in the past, you can start over. You may have to move from step to step below even more slowly than if you’d started from scratch, however, because your cat already has a negative opinion about riding in cars. It’s up to you to help change his mind, and make riding in a car pleasant for him.

 

 

 

Step 1

 
Long before you ever have to use the carrier for a road trip, acclimate your cat to his carrier. Leave the carrier open in the house and occasionally toss some treats, toys, or catnip inside. You can also feed your cat his meals inside the carrier.
 
Note that some cats are really hesitant to enter a carrier willingly, even for food. You can feed a tentative cat outside the carrier and gradually move the dish closer and closer to the carrier over time. Some timid cats prefer the kind of carriers that open from the top. If your cat simply has no interest in getting near your carrier, try another type.
 
Let your cat explore the carrier at his leisure and begin to feel at ease inside. Do not shut the door on the carrier. Your cat should feel comfortable going in, and not fear getting trapped.
 
Eventually, you can shut the door briefly. Be sure the cat has a fun, long-lasting treat to keep him distracted while you close the door, or keep feeding treats through one of the openings. Eventually you can leave the door shut a bit longer.
 

Step 2

 
cat in a carrier in the carWhen your cat becomes comfortable with his carrier, you can take the next step toward a car ride. Start by practicing in a parked car when the weather is temperate. Bring your cat in his carrier to the back seat. Shut the doors. Sit with him in the back seat, praise him. Open the carrier a bit and provide treats and pets if that’s what your cat likes. But don’t stay too long, especially at first.
 
Repeat this exercise as many times as it takes over as many days as you need until your cat appears comfortable and relaxed in the back seat of the car, in his carrier, with you by his side.
 

Step 3

 
Sit up front with your cat still in the back seat. Turn on the engine, but don’t travel anywhere (do I need to remind you not to do this in a closed garage?). See how your cat reacts to the sound of the motor. Over time, add the air conditioning and the radio. Again, keep these stationary car “trips” short and pleasant.
 

Step 4

 
car on a country roadAnd finally, once your cat has adjusted to being in the car, in his carrier, with the motor running, take him for a little ride. Around the block is fine and then come right home. Drive slowly, brake and accelerate softly. Each time you go out for a ride with your cat in the car, make the trip a tiny bit longer.

 

How will my cat use the litter box on a car ride?

 

If you’re going on a long trip, you may want to invest in some disposable litter boxes to make clean-up a breeze while you’re on the road. They’re not necessarily cost-efficient, but they are convenient. You can just toss them away when your cat has done her business. There are several types and brands, including ones made by Pet Safe and Nature’s Miracle that are readily available online and in pet stores.

 

siamese cat and litter boxThe first time your cat uses a new litter box should NOT be on your trip. If you’re taking disposables or even a smaller travel litter box, leave one out at home and let her get used to the look, feel, and size of the travel box. Some disposable boxes come complete with their own litter, too. Make sure your cat is willing to use this new product before you’re stuck on a highway somewhere with a “toilet” your cat refuses to use. Worst case, you can always bring the kind she knows and loves from home.

 

Be sure to bring some plastic trash bags along for the ride, too, to help with disposal.

 

What should I do if my cat gets carsick?

 

cat and veterinarianAnxiety around car travel is one cause of car sickness. If you have not slowly completed the steps above to desensitize your cat to riding in a car, you may need to start over, even more slowly this time. Remember that this is a worthwhile investment of time because a cat that can travel comfortably in a car will be able to accompany you on more trips.

 

If your cat’s car sickness is unrelated to anxiety, consult with your veterinarian. There are anti-nausea medications that may help, including meclizine and dimenhydrinate. If you need to take a long car trip very soon, and there isn’t time to desensitize, there are some prescription medications that can help extremely stressed pets relax, including Xanax and Neurontin. There are also some natural remedies and herbs that can relieve anxiety or nausea, but it’s best to administer these under the advice of a veterinarian.[2]

 

_______________

FOOTNOTES

 

[1] “Keep Pets Safe in the Heat.” The Humane Society of the United States, www.humanesociety.org/resources/keep-pets-safe-heat.

 

[2] Hunter, Contributors: Tammy. “Motion Sickness in Cats.” vca_corporate, vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/motion-sickness-in-cats.

 

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2 comments

  • Thanks you for your kind words. I’m so glad to have been of help!

    Dawn LaFontaine
  • Excellent advice and most helpful.
    Thank you for your expertise.
    CC

    C C

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