Traveling with a Cat in the Car

In the Beginning

Cats don’t like to travel. Ask any self-respecting cat if she would like to take a ride and you’ll get a definite answer- with a paw swipe on any part of your body she can reach. Cats are tied to their living space- a house, an apartment, the barn, etc. Unless she was born in a house trailer or a boat, she will not take easily to a moving vehicle.

That doesn’t mean that she doesn’t love you, her owner and loving friend. She just doesn’t understand why you have to be traveling around all the time. She thinks you should be as content with your home as she is.

Truth of the matter is : your cat probably suffers from motion sickness. When cats look out the window of a moving car, they see a moving world from a static place. That would make almost anyone slightly nauseous. That doesn’t mean that cats can’t travel, it means that if you’re traveling with a cat in the car you just have to work with them.

Planning for the Trip

Before we get too deep into the trip planning, I need to clarify a few things. First, Don’t plan to take your cat on your vacation trip, unless you have no other option. Cats really don’t like to travel, they prefer to say home.

Try to find someone you trust to come over once or twice a day to clean the litter box, put out fresh water and put food down. The other option is to find a good, clean boarding facility for pets. Go check it out first. Plan on boarding your cat with her own bed or favorite “blankie.” Provide enough of her favorite food for the time you will be gone.

Now, back to getting your cat ready to travel, if necessary. This is not going to be easy, but find a harness for your cat and put it on her. Allow yourself some time. If you can, have another person to help you because you can be sure kitty won’t cooperate.

Be sure the harness is snug and your protesting cat can’t wiggle her head or a couple of legs out. She will be lying down with all this activity and she is determined not to get up and stand on her four feet, or walk for that matter. You patiently stand her up and gently pull on the leash to get her to walk. She will immediately flop down on her side while you end up dragging her across the floor.

You will be doing this activity for quite some time. Several days, or several weeks, depending upon how stubborn your cat is. Some cats will never tolerate a harness. In that case she will have to travel in a carrier. Get a carrier that is roomy enough for your cat to turn around in.

Take your cat for short rides in the car. Put her harness on or put her in her carrier and take some short rides. See if she will eventually learn to ride without panic. Make a trip to the veterinarian with your cat. Make sure she is in good health and all her vaccinations are current. The vet can also suggest medication that will keep your cat calm while traveling.

Ready for Travel

Now that you have done everything for travel with the cat, it is now time to get the rest of the family ready for the trip. On the day of departure, pack the cat in the car first. Feed your cat several hours before you put her in the car. Now you can pack out everything else that is needed without trying to keep track of the cat. Keep kitty confined in the back seat of the car in her harness or carrier while the car is moving.

If you were able to teach her to tolerate a harness, you can let her move around in the back seat. Be sure a leash is hooked to her harness, so you can control where she roams. Other things you will need for your cat include a litter box, a bowl for water, a food dish, litter, and her favorite food.

When you pull into a rest stop, let your harnessed cat out. Stay right with her and stay near the car. She is not a dog. You’re not going to take her for a walk.

Show your cat the litter box and a bowl of water. She will probably refuse both and will immediately want back into the safety of the car. If your cat is in a carrier, let her move around loose in the car until you are ready to resume traveling.

Do not be surprised if your cat refuses to use her litter box or drink or eat until you have stopped for the day. Let her get used to her new surroundings before offering her food. Show her where her litter box and water bowl are.

If you are taking your cat on your trip- make it a short trip. Cats just don’t travel well. Now if you must travel because of a job change, preparation for travel is much the same. A lot will depend upon how much time you have to get ready or where you are going. If you are going to a totally different climate, you need to be aware what your cat will need to acclimate herself.

In fact, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to do some advance shopping for the whole family. Find out what grocery stores, what department stores and pharmacies are available. Take extra medications with you that any of the family regularly takes.

If you are going to be on the road for a couple of nights, make reservations at a good motel for the family. Let them know that you have a cat, so that you won’t be turned away.

At the End of the Day

When you reach your destination at the end of each day, take the cat in first. You may want to confine her to an inside room or the bathroom while you unpack the car. When you are in for good, let your cat out to inspect her new digs. She will go over the place with great care. When she finally settles down, feed her and let her settle wherever she wants.

I would love to hear from you. Did I miss anything? Do you have an experience traveling with a cat?  you might notice I always refer to cats as of the female gender. It’s because they seem more female in character and actions.

16 thoughts on “Traveling with a Cat in the Car”

  1. Thank you for this helpful article. Yes our cats are very territorial. They make our home into their home with their scent, so if we try to take them away from it, it gives them a lot of anxiety. Sometimes we try to let them stay home and ask someone we trust, to watch them. But other times we have to travel with the cat. I think your article was helpful in ways to be gentle with the cat in a situation, understanding its difficult for them and why. Instead of just forcing them. Thanks!

    1. Thanks, Edward for your comments. You have learned a good lesson. You can’t force cats- unless you don’t mind bites, scratches, and hisses.  A little bit of preparation makes  a more pleasant trip for all.

  2. Very cool article. I think there is some great info here that most people overlook. 

    Such as letting your cat get comfortable and making sure that if you are done or stopping for awhile you bring the cat out first. I’ve had cats that don’t mind being in the car and ones that hate being in the car, if I would have had this article before and remembered to do everything you listed, it definitely would have made it easier travel. That’s for sure! 

    1. Thanks Travis. You make these travel arrangements for the cat- because it ultimately makes the trip easier for you. Just don’t tell the cat.

  3. These are all excellent tips. I think it’s a great idea to bring a litter-box and a harness on a lengthy car ride. It makes sense because most cats know what their litter-box is for, so when they see it when their owner places it outside (at a rest-stop or when pulled over), then they’ll know exactly what time it is! 

    1. Just because a cat knows what the litter box is for doesn’t mean she will automatically use it. You hope she will cooperate, and you put it there just in case. Cats will go when they want to,not when you want them to.That’s why cats continue to play us and that’s why we love them.

  4. This is great, I never really thought that travelling will be a problem with a cat. Shelly, my sisters cat hasn’t gone out on a trip before, we only take her out on walks on a normal day. Well, I’m very grateful that hou have this up so I can know what steps to take before taking her out on a trip because my sister won’t let the cat stay home. She wants the cat always around. Thanks again for the tips.

  5. Oh! This is beautiful and helpful. I adopted a cat for my son some weeks back and this is the first time we would be traveling together for a vacation to visit my mom. So, I don’t want to live her back home since we would be spending a few weeks with my mom. Besides, my son wants us to take her along. That’s the reason I searched for this and I’m glad you’ve provided all these helpful tips. I will definitely take them into consideration.

    1. If you adopted a young cat, it may travel pretty well. Just take time and watch the cat carefully. If she is new to the family, she may have a few trust issues- and may try to run if you are not watching her closely.

  6. My cat is certainly not a big fan to travel in the car, especially when we make the trip to the vet for her nail cut and ear cleaning. I always have to bring two pieces of towels because she would pee (and sometimes poop) during the journey to the clinic and pee again on return. Every time she gets home, she will go into hiding for hours before coming out for her meal. What a princess!!

    1. Thank you for your observations.  Your cat has an extreme reaction to trips to the vet. I use a rescue remedy to calm my cat before we get in the car. Ask your vet for it. You simply put several drops of a rescue remedy in your hand and gently run your hand over her head and over her ears and her face. Do this before you leave home. There are also some calming sprays around to spray in the air(not on the cat). Ask your vet for recommendation.

  7. Many people don’t like embarking on a short or long journey. It is not funny when cat also do thesame. Traveling with cat is a big stress for them and if they are not properly takenn care of, it is likely for them to get sick over it. My sister’s cat always stay in the house. She doesn’t take it out with her or travel with her except she’s is relocating. You’re right, cat needs to be taken care of by the veterinarian before embarking on a long stressful journey. Every information in here are very true and very useful for a cat rearer.

    1. Thanks for your comments.Yes, cats are always better left at home with a responsible person coming in to care for them.

  8. Traveling with a Cat in the Car could be a big challenge for us if I wouldn’t have been read your post-because we had no idea how to get rid of it.

    Cats seem to be very sensitive creatures and have their own Behavioral characteristics. I am glad to know more about their habits and how to be prepare whenever we are intended going travel together as well as when she has any weird and  unexpected problems.Especially going to a different area with totally different climate is an important point that I was not aware of; I sincerely appreciate you for bringing the awareness . Thank you

    1. Yes,Shirian, Cats are sensitive creatures ,but they are also very loving and entertaining additions to your household.

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