Crate Traveling for Cats

By PetMD Editorial on Mar. 16, 2011

By Victoria Heuer

Cats!! These little creatures always seem to be a challenge when it comes to transporting them from one place to another. If you have never listened to the forlorn yodeling of a terrified cat on its way to the veterinarian you have missed a true spectacle of nature. And if you have heard these shrieks and cries from a panicked cat you’d be very thankful you did not experience it while out camping some dark night.

If you're moving or going on a road trip, only one cat in a hundred will curl up contentedly on the car seat next. Nobody knows for sure why the other ninety-nine totally lose it and think they’re falling into outer space. If you can't travel by car and need to fly with your cat, there are some considerations you should take into account before you book the flight, including how your cat may behave. Accept the fact that traveling with a cat may require a few preliminary preparations in order to make the experience at least tolerable for you and your little feline friend.

How to Move or Travel with a Cat

First, invest in some sort of crate or fabric containment. If you can get your cat into one of these portable products the cat will be much more secure physically and psychologically. Cats go into a sort of "I’m safe in here" mode when they find themselves enclosed within a crate. They still may yowl and cry but if that does occur, at least they won’t be able to use your forehead as a springboard to the ceiling of the car!

Once you have a travel crate, place it in the house with the door open, put a little treat and a small litter box in it, and then ignore it. Do not put the cat inside the crate or it might get spooked and refuse to go near it again. Cats are not dumb! And they do not like to be controlled or forced to do anything. In fact, the cat might be thinking, "Hmmm, I might have to urinate on that thing just to show it who’s boss around here."

On the other hand if you allow the cat to discover this neat little den/crate right in the house, you may find the kitty hangin’ out in it. Then someday when you need to capture the feline trickster to transport her to the veterinary hospital all you’ll have to do is keep an eye out for when the kitty is inside the crate and slam the door on your way by.

Now a trip in the car will be safe for you and the cat. Don’t worry about putting food and water in the crate; healthy cats can go without food and water for many hours.

How to Fly with a Cat

The Humane Society of the United States states that when flying with a cat, it is important to check with your airline long before your anticipated flight to find out whether or not you can bring your cat in the cabin with you, what type of crate or carrier you can use, and if the airline has any health or immunization requirements. The cabin is always the best option for traveling with pets, but some airlines may require you to put your pet in the cargo hold. If this is the case and you absolutely cannot travel by car, be sure to read up on the potential risks of transporting animals in the cargo hold and determine if the benefits outweigh the risks in your case

Using a Tranquilizer / Anti-Motion Sickness Medication

Do some occasional trial runs prior to any long trip you need to take so that you know what to expect when you have to take your cat on a cross-country escapade. If your cat really seems uncomfortable and cries like a banshee for any longer than twenty minutes, you may need to contact your veterinarian about using a tranquilizer or other anti-motion sickness medication prior to a long trip.

It can be difficult to discern whether your cat is displaying hyperactivity or is in the throes of motion sickness. Describe what your cat is doing in the crate (quiet and drooling or going bonkers and screaming) and your veterinarian will be able to prescribe appropriate medication to allow the kitty to be comfortable.

For you folks who are really opposed to medicating your pet, be assured that the medications are very helpful in providing the least amount of stress on your cat while it is going through an experience it finds horrific and unexplainable.

During a car ride a terrified cat is probably thinking along these lines: "Thunder!!" when the engine turns on; "Earthquake!!" when the car starts to move or bounces over bumps; "Hydrocarbon fumes!!" when she smells auto, bus and truck exhaust; "I’m falling sideways!!" when she looks out the window and sees the trees whizzing by.  Can you blame the cat for feeling disoriented? Medication may be a very humane choice for your kitty.

Avoiding the Dashing Kitty

Never open a crate with a cat inside unless you are prepared for the cat to spring out of the crate and make a dash for freedom! One of the most dangerous and embarrassing events you will encounter with your cat is trying to retrieve it from the rafters of the building you are in. And the odds are overwhelmingly stacked in favor of someone innocently opening the front door of the animal hospital just at the moment your kitty spies the tallest pine tree on the other side of the hospital parking lot.  

"What was that!" the innocent door opener says, as you and half the animal hospital staff rush out the door in hot pursuit of the escapee.

It can be dangerous, too, in the enclosed exam room when the veterinarian opens the crate or travel container. Some cats are wound as tight as a miser just waiting for their chance to escape. The natural tendency is to climb to safety … and injury will result if the kitty uses a person for a tree. 

You need to go slowly when removing the cat from the container; let the her reorient a bit before trying to get your hands on her. It may be best to open the crate or container and allow the cat to amble out on her own. Just be careful.

A healthy cat may not move an inch for six to eight hours at a time. Allow a little food and water but don’t expect the cat to even glance at the feast you’ve provided.  At your motel sometime during the night, when everyone is sound asleep, the kitty will use the litter box and have a private banquet on her own terms.  Your cat may use the litter box once, eat once and drink once every twenty-four hours when on a long trip. The odds are you will be worrying more about these behaviors than the cat.

Never, ever, let your cat loose when on a trip.  It makes no difference how "good" your cat is at walking with you at home.  On a trip you and your cat are in a different world and if your cat, for any number of reasons, "takes off" you may never see it again.  Some sort of an ID tag is always a good idea. 

If you are like most cat owners, you will not look forward to traveling with your little pal.  Nevertheless, if done often enough, maybe you will be one of those lucky 1 percent whose cat thinks a trip is a human invention designed specifically for cats to see the world much more efficiently.

Image: Tambako the Jaguar / via Flickr

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