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How to Prepare Your Cat for Travel

Thinking about taking a trip? Maybe your cat could use a vacation, too. To help make it a fun and successful journey for both of you, you'll need to make your plans with your cat's physical, social and mental health a top of mind.

Shopping for Cat Travel

Regardless of your mode of travel, choosing an appropriate carrier is among the most important decisions. If you’ll be flying, you’ll need a carrier that meets the specific requirements of the airline you’ve chosen. You’ll need to know the dimensions required to ensure your carrier will fit securely beneath the seat. You’ll also need to ask about weight restrictions and any other rules the airline has about passengers traveling with cats. As you shop, look for the words “airline approved” on the tag, and keep in mind that soft-sided carriers can be easier when you have a close fit.

Cats traveling by car will likely appreciate a roomier carrier, although some find it easier to relax in a smaller space.

For car or air travel, lining the carrier with a puppy pad can ease the cleanup of any messes, if necessary.

Once you've decided on how you'll travel, think about your cat's daily meals. Pets sometimes experience an upset stomach if their food changes suddenly, so bring a plentiful supply of your cat’s usual food in case you can't find it at your destination. A water filter or stash of bottled water could also be crucial if you are traveling somewhere where the water quality isn’t the same as what your cat drinks at home. Consider a travel-specific food and water bowl.

Also, think about what you’ll be doing when you arrive at your destination. Will your cat be spending any time outdoors? Even if you don’t plan to take your cat for walks, a harness and leash can be helpful (and they'll be required for air travel) when first acclimating them to a new indoor space, such as a hotel room or an unfamiliar home. If you do plan to walk them outside, ensure a proper fit so they cannot squeeze out of the harness.

Things to Consider Before You and Your Cat Take Off

Although cats tend to be less enthusiastic about being transported from place to place than dogs, a trait that has given them a reputation for disliking travel, many are cooperative, don’t object to carrier rides in cars and readily adapt to new surroundings. Whether your feline friend is a seasoned traveler or has never been away from home, travel can impact their health and happiness. Here are the things you can consider to help make the experience of traveling with cats easier for everyone involved.

Consult your vet to discuss general health and travel safety before you confirm your plans. Request the medications you'll need for your cat's road trip or plane ride ahead of time. These include any long-term medications they're already taking in addition to temporary medications, such as an anti-nausea prescription, that might their journey more comfortable.

While you're at the vet, ask for a microchip scan to be sure it's still readable. Also confirm that your contact information is up-to-date. If you are flying, don’t forget to check with the airline about vaccination requirements.

You’ve probably already been on a few car rides with your cat, even if it's just been for vet visits, so you already have some valuable information to use during your trip planning. If you’ve noticed behaviors on those trips that make you nervous about longer journeys, a few practice trips could help to establish car rides as a routine occurrence instead of a high-stress event. Importantly:

  • Allow yourself plenty of time before your estimated departure date to familiarize your cat with their carrier. Leave the carrier out in the open for your cat to explore on their own, and take time to practice putting them in it and taking them out.
  • Confine them to a room prior to placing them in the carrier in the car—cats tend to disappear when they sense something is happening.
  • To the best of your ability, ensure that they have recently used their litter box recently.
  • Encourage them to exercise by playing with them to tire them out before the drive.

Once on the road:

  • Be attentive to your cat’s behavior. If anxious yowling or pacing hasn't subsided stop for a comfort check. Is their behavior consistent with what you were expecting?
  • Offer water and their litter box (if it does not fit in their carrier) at each stop. Cats are often most comfortable with their own litter box and litter from home.
  • Be sure to reward and reassure them with petting and treats.

Before you depart for the airport:

  • As with car travel, allow cats to become accustomed to the carrier before the trip and ensure they are used to being taken in and out before driving them to the airport and boarding a plane. Give them treats and praise if they venture in.
  • Be sure you have all proof of vaccination paperwork ready. Airline personnel will probably ask for it.
  • Follow the preparation steps listed for car travel until you arrive at the airport and make sure your cat is wearing their harness and leash before placing them in the carrier.

At the airport:

  • Your cat should already be wearing a snug-fitting harness and leash, which stays on at all times.
  • Remove the cat from their carrier, which goes through the x-ray machine, while walking through security. Pet parent and feline will walk through another x-ray machine.
  • Replace the cat in its carrier after security, and keep it zipped for the remainder of the trip.
  • Keep food and water with you to offer them when you arrive or in case there is a long flight delay. Not letting them eat immediately before car or air travel could help reduce the risk of any vomiting.

Upon Arrival

However you have gotten there, upon arrival, either at a hotel for the night or at your vacation destination or a new home, it might help to confine your cat to one room until they are calm and seem ready to explore. Not only is this approach safer for them—it will probably be more convenient for pet parents to unpack the car without worrying about the exterior doors and windows of the entire house or apartment.

Successful Travels!

Cats and pet parents can travel well together! Remember that many cats also need some time to adapt to new surroundings once they have arrived. Foresight and prepared practice can help lead you and them to a happier and less stressful experience.