Traveling with a cat has historically been a daunting and uncomfortable experience for both cat parents and cats, but it doesn't have to be that way.
Whether you're bringing your cat to the doctor or dropping it off at a cattery, you should try to make the trip as peaceful and stress-free as possible for both of you. First, because otherwise, it is exhausting, but mostly because the flexibility that you will gain by making trips with your cat is incomparable. Imagine being able to take your cat on vacation with you!
Since I started traveling with my bengal cat Mia I've learned that there are a few things you can do to ensure your cats have a stress-free trip:
- Develop Trust
- Create Habituation
- Anticipate and Plan
- Be Flexible
More on this later in this post.
Is it Cruel to Travel with a Cat?
Cats that have never left the apartment will prefer to stay inside. This does not mean by any means that cats are designed to be locked in an apartment. What this means is that if your cat's only reality is the safety and the quietness of an apartment or the inside of a home, they can easily become overwhelmed when they first step outside. It's the same with humans. Imagine someone was kidnapped as a kid and not let free until they are 30 or 40... their ability to survive in the outside world would be VERY limited.
Cats are little hunting machines, engineered to be fast, agile, and great climbers. They are designed to make their territory, patrol, hide pounce and kill.
Indoors, we have offered opportunities to mimic that behavior with their scratching posts, toy mice, and fluffy beds, but that's not in their nature.
Traveling long distances is also not in a cat's nature, but if we consider what makes a cat a cat and try to make traveling as comfortable as we made our homes for them, we can safely take our cats with us.
Taking a cat on a long trip or vacation, which involves a change in habit or surroundings, may cause cats discomfort and anxiety, which in turn may cause behavioral issues, illness, or unease.
Continue reading to learn how to do long trips with our cats while keeping them comfortable and happy.
How to Safely Travel with a Cat
For the sake of your cat's safety, you should restrain or secure your cat in some way to prevent them from escaping and getting into trouble during your trip.
There are 3 ways to travel with a cat:
Depending on the activity or the type of trip, we should use one or another but that's a topic for another day.
The second piece of advice that I can give you is the process in which we make our cats comfortable with our choice of bringing them with us. I have developed a framework that will allow you to make every experience a positive one:
- Develop Trust
- Start Slow
- Be Flexible
Let's get deep into each one of these:
Develop Trust with Your Cat
Let's face it, we are not cats. Our cat does not see us as a cat. We are clumsy giant animal that seems not to be interested in eating cats.
With a little time of us feeding a cat and proving to them that we are no danger, we will get a cat to stop fearing us. That is just the beginning of a long process toward getting our cat to trust us.
A cat will develop trust as long as we respect their boundaries consistently and attend to their needs. If we fail to play, feed, clean, or give space to our cats, trust is going to be inexistent, and leaving their safe space with someone they don't trust is going to be particularly hard.
Read this article to learn more about increasing the trust of your cat.
Once our cat trusts us and we are a safe person/space to be with, we can move to the next step:
Anticipate and Plan your Trip with Your Cat
Cats after 16 weeks of age will approach new experiences with caution and care. This is because cats are both predators and prey and their curiosity peaks at 14 weeks and every experience that's new after that time, will be considered dangerous until proven otherwise. Training a cat from a young age is easier.
Anticipating what we want to do and getting our cat ready will be key.
Create Habituation or Desensitization
Habituation is the diminishing of a physiological or emotional response to a frequently repeated stimulus.
Because we need to create a set of positive experiences to create a new perception of something that today is new, we need to start slow.
Make sure your cat's carrier of choice is perceived as a safe, nice, pleasant place for them to spend time before transporting them. Put your pet carrier or backpack in a visible place inside your home, so that they get used to it.
The carrier you choose should provide your cat ample room to stand, sit, lie down, and turn around. If your cat is comfortable on the carrier indoors, it will likely be more comfortable on it when you use it for traveling.
Every other experience that your cat will be exposed to should be approached the same way, with an adapted version of it and building up to the situation that we want our cat to be comfortable facing.
For example, if we want to take our cat camping, they will need to get used to riding, being in a tent, and being with people among others. Each of these activities can be trained little by little with short exposures to similar situations.
Travel with Your Cat Wellbeing in Mind
You should start making preparations for your vacation as early as possible since these things require time. The more prepared you are for a trip with your cat, the less stressed out both of you will be.
Plan for alternatives in case, your cat gets hot, there's a neighbor dog that makes your cat's life impossible or any other external factor that might make your cat not be as comfortable as they deserve.
If your cat is uncomfortable, move you your plan B, so that your cat does not link the bad experience with traveling. Be ready to stop, turn around and go home at any time. A traumatic experience will likely make it impossible to travel with your cat in the future.
Let's summarize what we've learned so far:
- Have a travel bag for your cat.
- Get your cat familiar with the carrier by training it to like it.
- Develop trust with your cat by training and playing with them
- Anticipate the type of trip you are taking
- Train your cat to be habituated to what they'll be facing during the trip
- Be ready to modify your ideal trip on behalf of your cat's wellbeing
What happens if you can't train your cat because you don't have the time or you just don't want to do it?
Well, your cat will freak out and the only alternative to your cat freaking out is to use medicine to make the trip the least traumatic possible to your cat.
Cat Sedative for Travel
If despite your best efforts to prepare them for the trip, your cat still exhibits indications of worry or dread during the habituation practices, a cat sedative for travel may be necessary. As a last resort, cat sedatives may be necessary if your feline friend suffers from mild to severe anxiety about travel.
Using sedatives should be the last resort when traveling with your cat
Since there is no such thing as a completely risk-free medicine, your vet is the only one who can say for sure whether your cat is healthy enough to take sedatives. Because every cat is unique, you should consult your physician about which sedative would be ideal for your particular feline.
My advice is that if you go for a sedative, you try it upfront on your cat to understand how it affects them so that you don't have a major freakout if your cat starts doing things you never saw before because of the medication.
Traveling with a Cat and a Litter Box
Bringing a pet on a trip nearly always adds extra stress. Their needs, including feeds, dishes, leashes, and transport devices, might be difficult to manage. There is widespread agreement among cat owners that the litter box is a major source of stress. No matter how fast or comfortable the transportation, our cats still have to go do their business. On short trips is best to train your cat to hold it, but in longer trips, there's no alternative but to get your cat to use a portable litter box.
When road tripping, there's the chance you can get them to defecate in the appropriate location. However, not every cat can be walked on a leash.
- Get your cat microchipped
- Get your cat vaccinated
- Use anti-flea and tick medicine
- Get a cat carrier
- Get a cat harness
- Buy a foldable litter box
- Use the same brand of litter they've always used
- Get the best treats you can find
- Bring food and water with you (also the bowls)
You can always bring more stuff, but these are the minimums you will for sure need.
When to Travel with a Cat and When not to
You should select a mode of transport that will keep your pet both secure and comfortable. If you won't have much time to spend with the pet on the trip, it's best to leave your cat at home. Otherwise, taking them with you will prevent them from spending alone time while you are out.
How to Travel with a Cat?
Taking a cat on a trip can be fun if you and your furry friend are fully prepared for it. Whether you're traveling by airline, car, train, boat, etc., be sure you follow these tips for a stress-free and safe journey.
Long Distance or International Cat Travel
If you're taking your cat on an international flight, be sure it satisfies the regulations of both your ultimate destination and any stops along the way. The worst thing that could happen is that you arrive at the country of destination to learn that the hotel does accept cats but the bus or taxi that will take you there doesn't.
If you want to travel internationally with your cat, keep these things in mind:
- Check the regulations of the country of destiny
- Most will require at least the rabies vaccine up to date
- Look for an airline that allows cats in cabin
- Get a direct flight to cut down on your journey time
- Put a tag with your contact information on the cat's collar, including your phone number
- Your cat's nails should be trimmed before the trip so in case they escape, they can't hurt anyone
- Take a cat harness so that your cat can spend some time walking around the airport and getting tired
More tips in the video below:
We advise you to carefully consider the hazards before flying with your cat.
Note that animals with "pushed-in" faces, including bulldogs, pugs, and Persian cats, are at increased risk of injury during flight and they are banned from air travel. Flying with your cat if they have a flat face is not adviced and irresponsible because due to the limited airflow via their tiny nostrils, they are particularly susceptible to heatstroke and oxygen deprivation.
Most airlines will allow you to bring a cat or small dog inside the cabin with you for an additional fee. However, there are limits on how many pets may travel in the cabin, so it's best to check with the airline ahead of time.
How to Travel with a Cat on a Train
Trains are becoming my favorite means of transportation. They are ecologic, less noisy than a plane and you avoid all those security checks. Additionally, your cat will be able to walk on a leash up and down if they desire and that for me is worthelss.
Make sure your cat is comfortable in its carrier weeks before your trip since it will be kept there for the entirety of the train ride. Put in their favorite blankets (because they are impregnated with their pheromones) and toys so they may feel at ease and use it as part of their routine.
If your cat is acclimated to the carrier's scent and temperature, your next trip seem more like being at home and your cat will be able to relax more.
Be careful because in trains there's also dogs. Try to be in an area where there are no dogs around and if they are, ensure they are properly leashed and muzzled.
How to Travel with a Cat on a Boat
Sailing with cats has been one of the best experiences of my life.
Cats have been sailing for centuries and they are one of the best sea companions one can dream of. They have great balance, they are quiet and don't get dizze plus they get rid of any mice or insect that could be on board.
Despite cats' great sailing skills, only a small number of cruise lines—and often only ocean crossings—allow pets, and even then, only service animals are allowed. Many cruises only allow pets in designated areas, such as kennels.
If you want to sail with a cat on your own boat, keep reading to learn how, but if you plan on bringing your pet with you on your cruise voyage, it is important to contact the cruise line in advance to find out more about its pet-friendly policies and which ships provide kennels.
If you own a boat and want to sail or motorboat with your cat note that there are 2 very important things to consider safety-wise:
- Cats have great balance but they cant grab onto the deck of a boat
- Cats are great swimmers but can't swim forever
There are other considerations but that would make this article too long. Learn more about sailing with cats in this other article.
How to Travel with a Cat on a Car
Your cat should ride in a carrier that is secured to the car with a seat belt or other method to ensure its safety. Restraints and seat belts for cats help keep them from wandering the car and distracting the driver, but they aren't effective in protecting cats from harm in accidents.
Said this, some cats will hate the carrier and having the cat on your lap will be a good way to sooth them. Note that every country regulations are different regarding pets in cars so check out what's permitted and what not in your country.
Never let your cat out of the car without a harness. If your cat were to run towards a road, they could be exposed to serious trouble.
If your cat doesn't like car rides, follow these steps to help create some desensitization:
- Introduce the stimuli slowly, at levels that your cat can accept and digest.
- Reward every time that stimuli are presented at a level that your cat can tolerate.
- Increase the intensity of the stimuli as your cat builds desensitization.
Traveling with Cats Hotels
Finding a hotel that allows cats is possible, but it will cost you more than one that allows dogs. Although they may advertise as pet-friendly, not all establishments allow felines.
Most hotels will tell you no, and you'll end up paying an additional 30% to 40% on average. Although it may be inconvenient, it is best to reserve a hotel room or other accommodation well in advance of your trip and don't trust those hotels that say pet friendly because most are only dog friendly.
Some big chains that allow pets are the following:
1. Marriott Hotels (more than 1,500 hotels that allow pets)
This chain has several chains that will allow cats. Make sure you call them before making a reservation because polices change all the time: Aloft Hotels, JW Marriott, Residence Inn, The Ritz-Carlton, or Sheraton Hotels.
2. Kimpton Hotels
They have fame of being very good with cats and other pets. They are some of the first cat-friendly chains going back to their founding times in 1981.
3. Comfort Inn
The Comfort Inn & Suites is a no-frills cat-friendly hotel chain. There is a fee for checking in a cat but beds and common off-limits to pets.
4. Quality Inn
Quality Inn allows two pets per room, with weight and possible breed restrictions (large dog owners should call beforehand to get approval from the specific hotel). No pets allowed on beds or in common areas. And there’s a pet fee.
5. Four Seasons
I bet this one comes as a surprise! There are many Four Seasons properties that allow pets and even provide upscale accommodations, like a special dining menu, grooming services and complimentary pet supplies. Expect a pet fee.
Traveling with Cats final Tips & Tricks
Bringing a cat on a trip is a major hassle. The key is to make sure they feel safe and comfortable the whole time. Taking care of a pet while traveling may be a pain, but with the tips we've shared here, you can make the journey more comfortable for both you and your furry buddy. If you plan, both you and your kitten companion will arrive at your destination in good moods.
As always, remember to Stay Wild and Stay Safe!
We will see you outdoors!
Albert & Mia