Domestic Travel Guide for Cat Lovers
Cats don’t like change. They usually prefer a set routine and the safety of your home. But sometimes travel with cats is unavoidable. Or maybe you want to turn your cat into an amazing travel buddy. Here are some tips and tricks to make traveling with your cat a positive experience for both of you.
This article was written by a FirstVet vet
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Your Cat’s Travel Carrier
Purchase a large sturdy carrier for your cat that he can easily stand up and turn around in. Make sure the carrier isn’t too big to fit on the seat of your car. If you’re traveling in an airplane, the carrier will need to fit under the seat in front of you. Each airline sets its own specifications and size guidelines, so make sure to check with them first.
Cover the bottom of the carrier with padding that won’t slide around. You can often purchase a pad specifically designed for your size carrier. If you can’t find a pad for your carrier, you can also purchase a dish drying mat and cut it to fit. Consider purchasing a few extra pads in case your cat has an accident inside the carrier while you’re traveling.
Long before you plan to travel, practice using the carrier at home. Teach your cat that his carrier is a positive place to spend time. Have the carrier open and available as much as possible. Give your cat extra attention or special treats if he chooses to get into the carrier on his own. You can even feed him in the carrier to create a positive association.
Once your cat is used to going in and out of his carrier, try closing the carrier with him in it, and carrying him around the house for a few minutes. This will get him used to the carrier moving. Make sure to reward him either while you’re carrying him around, or as soon as you set the carrier down and let him out. It’s important to make the carrier a happy place for him to be, so if the movement scares him, you’ll have to keep practicing this step until you’re sure he isn’t frightened.
If you’re certain that your cat is tolerating the carrier movement inside the house, the next step is to put the carrier in the vehicle that you’ll be using for travel. Place him in the backseat, or wherever he’ll be riding, and start the engine. Let the engine run for a few minutes while giving him treats. Then bring him back inside and give him a treat when he gets out of the carrier. Repeat this sequence several times before actually driving the car anywhere. This will ensure that he isn’t scared by the engine noise. If you’re traveling by plane, it’s still a good idea to go through this step because the plane engine noise will be similar, if not louder.
When you’re satisfied that your cat isn’t stressed out by the noise of the vehicle, take a quick drive with him and his carrier around the block. Make sure to secure the carrier with a seatbelt, because this will keep it in place in case of an accident. Also, because airbags are not calibrated for pet carriers, always make sure that your cat travels in the backseat. Give plenty of treats and encouragement to make this a positive experience.
Tips for Safe Travel with Your Cat
- Check with your vet to make sure that all of your cat’s vaccinations are up to date.
- Make sure you have a printed copy or photos on your phone of all important health information, including vaccines and any current medication your cat may be on.
- Make sure in advance that you have enough of your cat’s medication for the days that you will be traveling.
- If you don’t already have one, purchase an identification tag for your cat’s collar that has your cell phone number on it.
- Verify that your cat’s microchip information is up to date and accurate. If your cat is not microchipped, this is a great time to do it!
- Schedule a vet visit for a health certificate if you’re traveling on a plane because a signed health certificate is required for all air travel.
- Be prepared for an emergency by making sure you have the office phone number and emergency number for your regular vet. You may even want to scout out any veterinary emergency hospitals in the area that you’re traveling to.
Safe Car Travel Tips for Your Cat
If your trip is under 6 hours, your cat will be fine staying in the carrier the entire time. If you are planning a longer trip, you may want to let your cat out of the carrier periodically to get some water and use the litter box.
If you are going to let your cat out of the carrier, first make sure that you’re parked. Do not open or close the car doors while your cat is out of the carrier unless you’ve placed him on a leash with a harness. Attaching a leash to his collar is not sufficient, as cats can easily slip out of their collars, and many collars have a break-away mechanism that can snap open under tension.
If you’re letting your cat out to use the litter box, make sure to have all of the cleaning tools with you. Traveling in a closed-up car with cat poop will not make the trip enjoyable for you. There are also disposable litter boxes available that are made of sturdy cardboard, and you can fold those up and throw the whole thing away. Make sure to use the litter that your cat normally uses, because cats do not like change.
Be sure to bring plenty of water with you. Cats won’t always drink water that tastes different, so it can be helpful to bring a gallon of water from your house that your cat normally drinks. Only give your cat water when you are parked. Do not leave a water bowl in your cat’s carrier while driving because it will only end up spilling and making a mess.
Don’t feed your cat the morning of the trip, or while you’re driving. If your trip is over multiple days, you can feed your cat in the evening when you’re stopped for the night. This will minimize the risk of your cat vomiting in the carrier during the trip.
If you are traveling in the summer, bring several ice packs or frozen water bottles in a cooler in case your air conditioning goes out. You can place these inside the carrier underneath the mat to help keep your cat cool. If you are traveling in the winter, bring extra blankets in case the heat goes out. You can completely cover the carrier with a blanket and this will help trap the heat and keep your cat warm.
Consult your vet to create the best travel plan for your cat if he does not travel well. Sometimes sedatives are a good option, but because they can interfere with your cat’s natural regulation of his body temperature, your vet may not consider this to be the right choice. Instead of sedatives, your vet might also recommend pheromone sprays or collars, or a special fitted shirt. Make sure to test out your plan on a short car ride before traveling because not all cats react the same to medication or special shirts, and the day of travel is not the ideal time to find this out.
If you plan to stay at a hotel, make sure they allow cats. While you might be able to sneak your cat in unnoticed, it is definitely not worth the risk of being kicked out of your hotel should you get caught. Once you’re in your hotel room, make sure to crawl around and look under all of the furniture for any potential hazards to your cat. If you’re staying with friends or family, it may be much less stressful for your cat to confine him to just one room of the house, preferably the room that you will be sleeping in.
Air Travel with Your Cat
Don’t forget to schedule an appointment with your vet to obtain a health certificate in advance of your travel. Most health certificates are good for 30 days, but check with the airline for specific requirements. Also, contact the airline as soon as possible to reserve a spot, because only a limited number of animals are allowed on each flight.
When you check-in at the airport, they will require you to take your cat out of the carrier when going through security. It’s a good idea to have your cat in a harness for this because you can attach a leash to the harness when you take your cat out of the carrier. If your cat spooks and jumps out of your arms, it’s much easier to step on a trailing leash than to catch a running cat who is terrified. Do not leave the leash on while the cat is in the carrier because he could get tangled in it as he moves around.
Always be prepared for flight delays, and keep extra food in your carry-on bag in case your checked baggage gets lost en route. If you need to let your cat out of the carrier to use the litter box, try to find a handicapped or family toilet with a door that isn’t open at the bottom.
Although it may sound daunting, with some advance planning and a bit of practice, travel with your cat can actually be a fun experience!
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