Stress-free travel with your cat

Cats and travel aren’t usually two words that go in the same sentence. In fact, SPCA recommends keeping your furry little friends safe and happy at home.

That being said, there will be times when you’ll need to take your fur baby on the road with you, which can be a scary prospect for everyone involved. The good news is that you can travel with your cat without it being overly stressful for either of you.

Whether you’re moving to a new home or heading away on a trip, here are a few tips for the road.

Get the right sized carrier

Make sure you use a carrier that’s the right size for your pet. Too small and they might feel cramped and stressed, but too large and they might not feel safe.

Opt for something they can move around and get comfortable in, but no bigger.

Let them spend time in their carrier before travel

Don’t let the carrier become associated with bad memories for your cat.

Leave the carrier out somewhere they can pop in and out and get used to it. Throw in a treat or two occasionally, put in a blanket that smells like home, and encourage them to play in the carrier.

This will help them to feel calmer when it comes time to use that carrier to travel.

Ensure the carrier is secure

Place your carrier on the floor behind the driver or passenger seat to ensure that the carrier is secure and won’t move as you go around corners or accelerate.

Of course, in the worst-case scenario of a crash, this will also help to reduce the risk of injury to your cat. 

Avoid meals before travel

Cats can get carsick just like we do, so it’s best to avoid meals in the few hours leading up to travel.

If your cat has trouble traveling in the car, speak to your vet. They may be able to prescribe medication that will help to reduce the chance of them feeling nauseated from the movement – and needing to pull over for a clean-up!

Keep an eye on the temperature

Your cat’s luscious fur coat does a wonderful job of keeping them warm, but don’t forget to keep an eye on the temperature.

A normal room temperature of about 21 degrees is a great goal, but if you don’t have a temperature gauge in your car, you can wear a jumper yourself – if you start feeling too hot in your coat, your cat probably will too!

Make sure your cat is microchipped

Before starting any long journey with your furry friends, Dr. Beattie recommends that they are microchipped in case they go missing.

“Safety first also applies when travelling with your feline family. Make sure your cat is microchipped, and the details are up to date – many cats are escape artists and having a microchip that is registered on the New Zealand Companion Animal Register is the best way to ensure you are reunited with any wayward moggies”.

Cover the carrier during travel

By partially covering your cat carrier in the car, you’re minimising the amount of stimulus your cat is receiving. You can even make a carrier cover yourself but be sure to use a light fabric that allows for good airflow.

Even though they will still hear the noises of the car and the road, smell new smells, and feel the movement, you can at least remove extra visual stimuli. This may help to keep them calmer and make them feel safer. Before your trip you can also lightly spritz the cover with a pheromone spray, such as Feliway, to help them feel safer and more relaxed.

Bring a change of bedding just in case

Sometimes, despite all your best efforts, your cat might have an accident or become sick during the journey.

Be prepared with a second set of bedding that smells like home, and a plastic sealable bag to tuck away the soiled set until you can clean it.

It’s okay to take breaks

Journeys longer than a couple of hours will require rest breaks for your furry friend.

Dr. Beattie recommends the importance of taking regular breaks if you’re on a long road trip with your pet.

“For long trips, you will need to ensure there’s adequate food, water and opportunities to toilet along the way” she explains.

Teaching your cat to harness lead could also be a great way to keep them safe during designated breaks but be aware no harness is 100% escape proof. “Remember, cats are very quick and strong and potentially very scratchy under stress – be very careful about opening your carrier unless you have your cat or the area well secured”.

You can allow them a short break from the carrier while still in the car with all the doors and windows shut. In warm weather we recommend keeping the air conditioning on to avoid your cat getting too hot or uncomfortable.

Letting them out of their carrier will give them the opportunity to use a litter box and have some fresh water. If they do not suffer from motion sickness you can also offer a small snack if it’s been a long time since they last ate.

Create a plan with your vet

If you have done a practice run or two in the car or travelled with your cat in the past, and already know it’s a highly stressful situation for them, be sure to speak to your vet.

“Many cats are not super fond of travelling – getting them used to the idea, and reducing travel stress, be that to the veterinary clinic or a summer holiday location, is possible but it takes time and commitment. See your veterinarian or behaviourist to work out a plan to make travel as stress-free as possible” Dr. Beattie states, adding that it might take a while for your cat to get used to travelling.

At the end of the day, it’s all about doing everything we can for our furry mates. That might mean looking at alternative options rather than travel with them, and doing everything you can to minimise their stress on the road.

SPCA Pet Insurance can help with your stress if your cat becomes sick or injured, by helping to cover the cost of vet bills. Be sure to get your cat’s care sorted before making any travel plans this year!