Three Things to Do Before Embarking on a Road Trip with Your Cat

Whether you're moving or embarking on a long car ride, experts advise following these safety precautions before you head out on the open road.

kitten in a pet carrier
Photo: Carlina Teteris / Getty Images

Cats love familiar routines, which is why traveling in a vehicle can be confusing and stressful for our feline friends. "As a veterinarian and cat owner myself, I'm not a huge fan of traveling with cats unless absolutely necessary such as medical visits, moving, and so on," says Dr. Justine Lee, DVM, DACVECC, DABT, veterinary spokesperson for Pumpkin Pet Insurance. "Don't get me wrong—some cats can slowly become acclimated and end up loving car trips, but most cats don't enjoy traveling. It can stress them out."

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, your cat should be introduced to the experience by joining you on a few short car rides first. This helps your cat to get used to the vehicle's movement and disassociates car trips with veterinarian visits. Your car will also begin to take on your cat's scent, which is an important territory marker as well as a source of familiar comfort. To best prepare for a road trip with your cat, here's what to do next.

Invest in a safe carrier.

Above all else, purchase a well-ventilated carrier for your feline friend. Securing your pet in a carrier keeps them safe while the vehicle is in motion and this makes the trip less stressful for you both. "It is extremely dangerous to have a cat running around loose in the car," explains Dr. Lee. "And in fact, in some states, it may be illegal to allow a pet to roam in the car, so always make sure to keep them secure and safe!"

Dr. Lee also recommends that you make the carrier a calming and soothing place for your cat "at least one month in advance." Tuck a blanket inside the carrier that smells like your Kitty, a favorite toy or two for the road trip with your cat, and provide an occasional treat to get your cat to associate the carrier with good things.

Pack the right necessities.

Cats that have medical issues may need special preparations prior to the long trip. Before leaving, ask if your veterinarian can prescribe aids for calming anxiety or treating motion sickness. "There are really safe prescription anti-anxiety medications called trazodone or gabapentin. Simply giving a dose two to three hours before the stressful event—and even the night before—will help keep your cat happy and stress-free," Dr. Lee says. "Note if your cat drools a lot during car rides, [as] that may be a sign of motion sickness."

Make sure that you also pack a first-aid kit, your cat's medications, and other necessities like food, treats, water, and a kitty litter tray. Bring along copies of their veterinary records, such as proof of vaccination in case you are going across the border. Like us, cats can get bored, so if your car ride is several hours long or even days, you will need to prepare for stops along the way. Does your reserved hotel room allow pets? How often will you provide bathroom breaks for your cat? Always have a plan that considers your cat's needs and talk to your veterinarian if you are not sure how to plan for a long road trip with your cat.

Prepare for any emergencies.

You also need to prepare for potential emergencies. "I recommend having your veterinarian's information along with the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center number (888-426-4435), and an emergency veterinarian's phone number pre-programmed into your cell phone," says Dr. Lee. "In addition, I always advise that pet parents have health insurance for their fur-babies and that they check with their animal's insurance company before traveling to understand whether any coverage restrictions may apply."

What if you have a free-spirited kitty? Training your cat on a leash ahead of time can prepare her for all sorts of new situations. You can also give your cat some exercise time along the way by taking her on a walk on some of your driving breaks if your cat feels safe and comfortable with it. (Many cats will not, so speak with your veterinarian before doing this.) Above all, make sure to have up-to-date information on your cat with a microchip and collar. If your cat runs off or escapes, people will have your information to contact you and reunite you with your pet.

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