How to Travel With a Cat

PetMD Editorial
Written by:
PetMD Editorial
Published: March 16, 2011
How to Travel With a Cat

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The very first rule of traveling with cats is to have a cat ID tag or other means of identification securely affixed to the kitty. Thousands of dogs and cats end up in shelters simply because the owners never dreamed the pet would get loose or become lost while on a trip. There are few disasters in a person’s life that are worse than having to drive off without a pet because all means of locating and recovery have failed. This kind of tragedy will haunt you for the rest of your life; don’t let it happen. Get an ID tag, or at the very least microchip your cat.

Before you leave make sure you consider the option of leaving your cat in a hometown boarding facility. Many are just for cats and do not board dogs. Others have the cats well away from any sight, sound or smell of a canine. In fact, go and visit your local boarding facility and see what goes on there. 

Also, there may be a pet sitter in your area who would tend your pets in your own home. With a pet sitter you can even call home and tell your cat how much fun you’re having … Oh, and also how much you miss the rascal—of course.

Below we'll list a few troublesome areas when it comes to traveling with cats and how to best facilitate safe and enjoyable road trips with cats. It's important to note that you should first take a number of local short trips before you go out on an all-day trip. An "all-dayer" is basically just a bunch of short trips anyway.

Travel Crates


These inventions are very handy. Your cat, if happy and comfortable in a crate, will be safer and you will have the peace of mind knowing it is secure when you must leave your friend alone for short periods.


Using a travel cat carrier is important for both your safety and the safety of your cat, as a cat that roams around a car while it's in motion can be potentially distracting to the driver and could cause serious harm to the cat. If you do use a crate, be certain that the cat is totally accustomed to it well prior to the trip. 

Motion Sickness or Hyperactivity?

Anyone can get carsick, even humans. Most cats can overcome motion sickness by desensitizing them with repeat short, uneventful trips. Gradually accustom your cat to spending time in the car with the engine off, then with the engine on, then short trips, then the cross-country adventure. Prior to long road trips with cats be sure your cats have food and water available, then remove food and water at least three hours before you set off. 

You can also use anti-motion sickness medications to help settle the stomach and prevent the sometimes prolific drooling that occurs in a nauseous cat. Most cat medications used to prevent motion sickness while traveling with cats in a car are very safe antihistamines, and many cats eventually will travel without the aid of medical assistance. Just in case, bring a roll of paper towels.

What if your cat goes bonkers when they are in a vehicle? She probably has hyperactivity. These cats aren’t sick, they’re possessed! Salivating, panting, whining, jumping from front seat to back, swatting at nonexistent butterflies and trying to cling upside down to the roof of the car are common characteristics of the hyperactive feline traveler.

This is different than motion sickness. Cats with motion sickness are generally quiet and even a little depressed because they feel awful. They will drool all over the place, maybe even pass stool, and eventually start vomiting. (Even with an empty stomach the vomiting reflex can be very strong.)

How to Sedate a Hyper Cat for Travel

If you must bring the hyperactive cat with you, a cat sedative for travel will surely make the trip safer, easier and less stressful for both you and the cat. Talk to your vet to see what options you have. Once you have the cat tranquilizer medication, the key is to give it to your cat well before the trip starts.

Some cats start their Tae Bo routine as soon as they hear the word car! Be nonchalant, sneak a little medication in a treat, and don’t mention the C-A-R anywhere near the cat prior to your trip. If you believe your cat may be a candidate for a cat sedative for travel, be sure to do a leisurely pretrip trial well ahead of the time you really need it.

About one cat out of ten will not respond in the common way to a particular cat tranquilizer medication or a particular dose. You do not want to find this out the morning of an eight-hour, midwinter trip through the Rockies to accept that national writing award you won for the article on "Logical Steps To Effective Planning."

Eyes on the Road!

Your attention should always be on the traffic, not on the cat. 

If your traveling pal is a good traveler, they might curl up next to you on the seat and, ah ... well, take a cat nap. Do not ever allow a pet to go near the driver side floor where the brake and gas pedals are located. And the dashboard must be out of bounds for safety sake.

Seat Belts

Many veterinarians and pet owners believe strongly in buckling up pets in a car just as you would a child. There are many types of restraining devices for dogs, but there are very few options for cats. 

You might consider using a padded fabric type of crate or a cat car seat for your cat instead of the plastic or wire crates in order to keep your cat in place during a trip and to ensure additional safety in case of an accident. A cat collar, cat harness and leash are a must for any travelin' cat. The bottom line? Be prepared.


Plan Ahead

Plan ahead … well ahead. If you know you will be staying overnight somewhere, be sure to have reservations at an establishment that welcomes pets. A handy list of pet-friendly motels or hotels can be found if you do a little searching.

Don’t even think about it if you hope to hide your cat in your room or think you will launch a successful appeal to the motel owner’s sense of sympathy if you show up with a 25 pound Maine Coon!

And don't forget to bring along some disposable "Scoop n Toss Bags"; you must be socially conscious about where your kitty chooses to relieve itself. Your portable cat litter box may not be the cat's first choice. Be prepared!

Food, Water and Supplies

It wouldn’t hurt to pamper your pal—bring along your cat’s own cat food and drinking water from home and you will be better off. Not that you’re fussy, right? And a few old towels or rags will make good cleanup devices if your cat happens to discover a mud puddle or comes in contact with something nasty like spilled ice cream sundaes.

Emergency first-aid kits are very handy for you and your cat if a sudden cut, sliver or rash intrudes upon your day. Anti-itch medication, bandages and antibiotic ointments may save the day when you least expect something will go wrong. 

It is also good idea to have your veterinarian give you a copy of your cat’s medical history to take with you just in case a visit to a veterinarian along the way becomes necessary.


Yeah, that's right ... plural. If you are traveling with cats in a car, you should bring two leashes. That way you’ll have a spare when you misplace one. Cats are notorious for doing Houdini-like escapes from their collars. A cat harness is much more secure, especially the ones that will adjust according to the amount of tension placed against it. The harder a cat pulls the tighter and more secure the slip harness becomes.

Heat Stroke

Leaving a pet alone in a car has a number of potential risks, including heat stroke. Always be conscious of the effects of heat buildup in a parked car.

It only takes a few minutes for the internal heat to build up 40 degrees above the outside air temperature, especially if the car is in direct sunlight. Even the cat’s body heat (expired air in the cat’s breath is 102 degrees!) will act like a heater inside the car. Symptoms of heat stroke include panting, rapid breathing, restlessness, drooling, bright red gums, vomiting, sweaty paws, fever, collapse.

Be very cautious about leaving pets unattended in parked cars. Heat stroke is a dire emergency and one from which many pets do not recover. And you'd be shocked to find out just how fast it can happen.

Have Fun!

Don’t forget to bring along some fun cat toys and tasty cat treats ... just so the kitty knows that this traveling stuff is really fun. Oh, and don’t forget the camera too!

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