How can I best prepare my cat for traveling?
Cats are not known for their adaptability. Once they’ve established a home and a routine, they’re loathed to mix it up. They have such a keen eye for detail that they will notice the slightest change in the house, even a new wall outlet. For this reason, cats are generally not fantastic travelers. But travel is a fact of life, whether it be for a cross-country move or a simple trip to the vet. If the idea of loading your cat in the car gives you anxiety, you’re not alone. Relax in the knowledge that there are many things you can do to make the journey smoother for both you and your pet.
The Travel Crate
Make your life easier by investing in a solid cat crate or kennel. It can be tempting to just use a large box or container you have at home, but the clever design of proper cat crates will alleviate many of the issues other containers would bring. A good cat crate is well-ventilated, helping to keep your cat cool in the warmer months. Unlike with a box, you will never have to worry about it falling apart or ripping. The last thing you want while driving is to unexpectedly have your cat crawling all over the car. Many cat crates give you the option of pulling back flaps or zippers for better visibility. Depending on what your cat likes, you can shield him from outside triggers, or offer him the chance to get a good look at what’s going on. You can also place a familiar blanket or favorite toy inside the crate to offer some comfort in the unusual setting.
Begin at Home
Another useful thing about using a specific crate is that you can start preparing for travel while still at home. Leave the crate somewhere in your house so that your cat can explore it on his own time. Cats love to inspect anywhere that they can fit, so it shouldn’t be long before your cat begins investigating. Once he seems comfortable with the crate, you can practice putting him inside and gently carrying it. Entice your cat by putting his favorite treat inside the crate. By making the crate a special place that he thinks of as safe and “his,” you’ll make having to move him around in it later much easier. Make sure to randomly put him in the carrier for a minute – even just to eat a treat. By shaking it up in this way, your cat will be less suspicious than if you only put him inside to go somewhere undesirable. You can take this a step further by bringing the crate into the car and starting the engine. Let your cat get used to the various sounds and smells. With all of this groundwork, it will be much less stressful for both of you when it’s actually time to go somewhere.
For both humans and cats, motion sickness is one of the worst parts of traveling. Some cats seem fine and undisturbed by the motion, while others are visibly ill. In some cases, cats suffering from motion sickness will vomit. One approach to handling this is to give your cat more travel time. Sometimes they just need to get used to the sensations. Younger cats prone to nausea in the car will often outgrow it if given enough opportunities to become accustomed to the experience. In more extreme cases, you can talk to your vet about medication. There are anti-nausea meds that can remove the queasy element, as well as help soothe the cat in general. Like with human versions of anti-nausea drugs, they can create a drowsy effect. In addition to reducing the vomit factor, you can eliminate some of the anxiety associated with the trip. Depending on the severity of the cat’s fear, your vet may also prescribe a light sedative.
The Packing List
If you’re going on a longer trip, you’ll want to pack all of the essentials. Food, water, and the required dishes are obvious, but there’s more you can do to make the trip as painless as possible. While packing a full-sized litter box can be inconvenient, you can bring either disposable trays or a travel-size litter box. Bring along the usual litter you would use at home, in addition to a scooper and bags. A harness and leash are a great idea for breaks at rest stops. Your cat will appreciate the break from the car and the chance for some fresh air. Spending some time at home getting your cat to accept a harness is valuable. Just trying to hold your cat in your arms is very risky, especially in an unfamiliar place and near traffic. Lastly, you might want to bring something for the cat to claw, such as a small scratching post. This is particularly useful if you end up staying in a hotel and don’t want your cat to start scratching the furniture there.
Travel Via Plane
Air travel with pets can be a little nerve-wracking, but sometimes it’s necessary. Do some research before booking your flight, as not all airlines will allow cats to be carried onto the plane. When you purchase a crate, make sure to get one that is airline-approved. They will need to be a certain size and quality, or else your cat will not be allowed on the plane. If possible, book a direct flight to avoid layover stress. Some people will put their cats in the cargo part of the plane, but this is very risky. Your cat will feel much safer being next to you while undergoing this scary journey. When you keep your cat with you, you’re able to be absolutely positive that he is taken care of. You can check in with his mental state and provide reassurance when needed.
If you’re crossing any state lines, look into the vaccination requirements. You can also ask your vet for a certificate of health. Carry proof of your cat’s previous immunizations and examinations with you. Whether your cat is microchipped or not, it’s smart to put an ID tag on his collar. Hopefully, you never need to rely on that to retrieve your lost cat, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Stay One Step Ahead
As chaotic as travel can be with or without cats, the best way to alleviate angst is to be as prepared as possible. Start planning your journey and prepping your cat as soon as you are aware of an impending trip. When you plot ahead and stay organized, you can handle any complications in stride.