How to Travel with a Cat: The Best Rules and Suggestions for a Comfortable Trip with Your Feline Friend

A person travelin with his cat
Stella Noble
Written by Stella Noble

Even people who’ve never owned a cat know that traveling with one can be a nightmare for everyone involved, four-legged and two-legged alike. Cats don’t like traveling, plain and simple. Dogs are generally easier; they love to put their head out of the window to feel the wind in their hair. Cats, however, are so attached to the security of their territory that they are almost always afraid of traveling. Still, there’s no reason to despair—because we will provide you with useful information on how to travel with a cat.

Traveling with a cat is difficult, but not impossible. With enough patience and preparation, it can even be done in a way that isn’t stressful for your feline friend—and you. Have you always dreamed of going camping or hiking with your cat? Have you always wanted to go on a road trip with your furry buddy without risking injuries to your cat and yourself as she tries to break her way out of the carrier? How about a trip to the beach without her holing up somewhere unseen in a quivering mess? Well, now you can.

a woman traveling with cats in nature

So, for all of you who are wondering how to travel long distances with cats, we decided to compile a concise list of all the best tips and practices you’d want to employ. Below we’ll talk about the different preparations that you should consider before traveling, how you can go about preconditioning your cat to not being afraid of a car, the specifics of the different modes of transportation, as well as some general ideas of how to make the trip safer and more pleasant for both you and your cat.

Top Tips and Tricks for a Memorable (In a Good Way) Trip with Your Cat

If you aim for a complete success, you will have to plan the trip out every step of the way—in great detail. Perhaps you usually only list out the places you want to visit when you travel solo, but with your furry friend on board, you’ll have to consider the prior preparations very carefully. It’s best to be over-prepared than under-prepared. Take everything into account while always having some sort of contingency plan. First things first, you’ll have to:

Choose a Reasonable Mode of Transportation

There is a huge difference between traveling for 6-8 hours with a car, traveling over a long distance with a car, or traveling by a public mode of transportation like a train or a plane. Traveling by train or a plane is largely dependent on the company you’re traveling with.

Cat-sitting on-a-Plane-Wing

Airline companies have a lot of requirements and rules for traveling with pets, so most of your actions will be predetermined by them. Still, you’d have the choice between putting your cat in the cargo hold and taking her with you in the cabin.

The second option is obviously better for your pet, but it does require more preparation on your part:

  • Choose a big, comfortable and secure carriage for your pet

  • Bring mild sedatives with you in case your cat gets too loud

  • Take your pet’s ID and prepare for any eventual border crossings (a lot of countries have various different pet import rules).

  • Also, it’s preferable to get to the airport early, since some airlines have a limit of pets in the cabin and you might be forced to put your cat in cargo.

  • Also, get the name and contact info of whichever employee of the airline told you that you could get your cat in the cabin. Preferably in writing; this is a good failsafe if upon boarding you’re told that you can’t take the cat with you.

Now, you’d think that traveling with a cat while you’re driving your own car will be easier, but it really depends on the trip itself. A quick car drive is usually a small concern and is much easier on your feline bud than one that lasts several days.

Two cats sitting in traveling suitcase

We’ll be assuming that you have a long-distance drive ahead of you. Still, keep reading even if the drive won’t be that long (that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be as easy and stress-free on your cat as possible, right?).

Condition Your Cat to Accept the Car Prior to Traveling

You can (and should) start this process weeks before traveling with your cat. It’s easier if you’re keeping your car in a garage that’s connected to your house, but even if not – it’s still possible. You can condition your cat to the car and to the traveling crate at the same time. The trick to the whole ordeal is to make your cat know the car (and the crate) and to start feeling comfortable in them:

  • Once or twice a day, preferably before mealtime, put your cat in her traveling box, cage or crate, and take them to the car.

  • Do this in a calm manner and keep talking softly to your cat.

  • When you get in the car, close all the doors and wait a little for the cat to calm down.

  • After several minutes, open the cage and let your cat roam inside the vehicle.

  • Let her explore.

  • After a while, put your cat back in the crate, get back in the house, let your cat out of the crate, and feed her soon after.

  • Once the cat is comfortable in the car, start driving the car for a little bit—not more than a couple of meters at first, just so the cat can get used to the sound and feel of the moving vehicle.

  • Accompany all that with more playtime, soft language, petting, and even treats.

  • Slowly, over the next days, start making longer drives with your cat – 5 minutes, 10, minutes, 30 minutes.

If you repeat this process a couple of times each day for multiple days, your cat will soon start accepting your car as a part of her territory. In fact, your cat can quickly learn to enjoy the trips to the car—especially if you allow them to play with toys, cuddle, and so on.

cat hanging out of car window

And that’s more or less how you pre-condition a cat to traveling in a car. Obviously, the cat should always be in the crate when you’re driving; you don’t want a scared feline jumping up and down around you when you’re driving. As we said, it requires a lot of time and patience, but it’s far from impossible. Do this right, and your pet’s time on the road will be infinitely more stress-free.

Prepare for the Traveling Itself

As with everything else in life, the key to traveling safely and comfortably with a cat is preparation. Make sure to think of everything you, your pet, and the rest of your family will need while traveling, namely:

  • Food

  • Extra blankets if it’s going to be cold

  • Extra water (and ice) if it’s going to be hot

  • A harness (not a collar!) for when you want to get the cat out of the crate

  • The cat’s favorite toys and treats

  • Your cat’s ID, etc.

Even if you’ve got all the supplies ready, your job is still far from over. Pay attention to these crucial things so you will be well-equipped for the long journey ahead:

Prior Preparation Tips #1: Pack a Pheromone Spray

You can use a pheromone spray (like Feliway, for example) inside the carrier and the car every 15-20 minutes for the duration of the travel. A pheromone spray like Feliway is the kind of pheromone that cats release when they feel safe and secure. Spraying the carrier and the car before traveling can help your cat feel calmer. It will tell her that she is in a safe place, especially during the most stressful several hours of travel.

Feliway Travel Spray on a table

You can spray a couple of the carrier’s corners, as well as several of the car’s corners and nooks. Just make sure to test it with your cat the previous day at home. A small minority of cats don’t like the spray and can get aggressive upon sensing it. It won’t be fun for something like that to happen inside the car.

Prior Preparation Tips #2: Consider the Cat Carrier

Once the road trip starts, the most important part is the cat carrier. Your cat will spend most of her time in her carrier. Make sure that it’s spacious enough for her to comfortably lie down, roll around, stand up, and turn. Also, make sure that it’s securely placed on the seat and it doesn’t move.

A cat sitting in a cat suitcase

Put the seatbelt on top of the carrier—after all, accidents happen. Put padding on the bottom of the carrier—something that’ll be soft and comfortable for your pet, but won’t slide too much; otherwise, you’ll have to adjust it constantly.

Prior Preparation Tips #3: Consider the Litter Box

For long distance travel, disposable litter boxes are very comfortable. These are a kind of small, disposable litter boxes that come with the litter inside. They are very easy to put on the floor of the car. Once they are full, you can easily throw them in the trash.

Prior Preparation Tips #4: Consider How the Rest Stops Will Go

You will have to let your cat out of the carrier once every several hours to get a drink of water and to use the litter box (eating is usually easy enough inside the carrier). Letting your cat out of the carrier is a tricky business. First of all—and we’re sorry we have to mention this—never let the cat out of the carrier while the car is in motion. Even if there are other people with you in the car to keep the situation under control while you drive, a scared cat is perfectly capable of causing a traffic accident all by herself.

A young tabby cat worried at the though of traveling in a car

Here’s what you should do:

  • Once the cat is out, let her calmly roam around the vehicle for a while.

  • Let her inspect everything all over again until she feels at least a little bit safe.

  • Make sure that there are no open windows and doors.

  • Also, your cat should be wearing an ID at all times. If one of you accidentally lets her escape the car and you lose her, an ID on her collar can be priceless.

  • To further ensure that you don’t lose the cat, put a harness with a leash on her whenever she’s out of the carrier.

If the cat finds a while to spontaneously get out of the car, grabbing (or stepping on) a leash is much easier than actually catching a hysterical feline.

Prior Preparation Tips #5: Prepare the Meds

Prepare a sedative, just in case. A lot of cat behaviorists don’t like having to give cats sedatives, but if your cat is really hysterical, a mild sedative can make the journey more tolerable for everyone involved.

A cat trying to get out of a red suitecase

Prepare an effective anti-nausea medication as well. People are not the only ones that can get car sick. Talk to your vet for an effective anti-nausea medication he or she would recommend.

Prior Preparation Tips #6: Prepare Your Cat’s Health Records

Get paperwork from your veterinarian that properly details your cat’s health and current vaccination status. You’ll possibly need to visit an unfamiliar vet while on the road, so it’s best for them to have all the available info—especially if you’re moving permanently. If you are about to cross state lines or country borders, said paperwork is also needed.

Prior Preparation Tips #7: Consider Where You Will Be Staying

Whether you’ll be staying at a friend’s or a hotel, it will be a new place for your feline friend. Cats dislike new places almost as much as they dislike moving in motor vehicles.

A Cat in National Park

So, make sure you’re ready for that part of the adventure as well:

  • If you’re going to stay in a hotel or a motel during the journey, make sure they accept cats. A lot of hotels or motels can give you problems regarding your furry friend. Check ahead if they’ll be ok with your four-legged pal.

  • If possible via photos, see if the room you’ll be staying at is actually suitable for your cat. Once you’re in the hotel room, inspect it carefully for any possible hazards for your pet. A scared cat can get into a wall or behind/under big furniture. Something like that can be quite problematic since a scared cat can takes hours (or sometimes even days) before they decided to come out on their own. And getting a frightened cat out of a wall is not fun.

  • After that, try and make the room as comfortable for your pet as possible. Put her favorite bed or blanket, her litter box, her toys, her food and water bowls, and so on in the room. Make the room as suitable as possible before letting your cat out of the carrier.

If you’re staying with a friend, you don’t need to let your cat roam around the entire place—a room is enough. Cats feel more comfortable getting familiar with smaller places first. Your cat will want to get to know every corner and every nook. So, getting familiar with one room at a time is much easier.

Make Sure Your Cat is Ready

Avoid feeding your cat immediately before traveling. Feed your cat at least 6 hours before traveling, no less.Cats may love to eat and may be astonishing at begging for us to feed them, but they don’t actually require a lot of food.

Cat eats from a plate canned food

Especially in a stressful situation, a cat is better off not being overfed, as it will only mean more uncomfortable visits to the litter box in the car. Make sure your cat has access to her litter box before traveling and feed her several hours into the road trip once she’s calm and collected.

If All Else Fails

Not a very optimistic outlook, we know. But still, it needs to be said. We did mean it when we stated that stress-free traveling with a cat is not impossible. However, it is quite difficult. If you have tried everything yet it doesn’t seem like a peaceful trip is possible in the near future, there are multiple different ways you can take care of your cat if you are just going to be away from home for several days, weeks, or even months.

Find a Sitter for Your Cat

This can be a friend or a relative that is willing to come by once a day to take care of your cat’s needs. Ideally, it’d be someone that the cat knows and trust.

a woman playing with a cat

If possible, they can even stay at your place, to keep your cat a company—if they are up to it, of course. Alternatively, if you’ll be gone for more than a week or two, you can take your cat to a friend’s or a relative’s home. Again, only if they are willing to.

Look for a Professional Pet Sitter

Sometimes it’s hard to find a friend or a relative that’s willing or able to take care of your pet. That’s why there are professionals you can turn to. There are a lot of professional pet sitters that can be found online. In many ways, they can be an even better option than a friend, because even if your cat doesn’t know them, they are simply really good at what they do.

Pet Boarding

Pet boarding is generally more advisable for dogs than it is for cats since cats are much more anxious when taken to a new place—especially if it’s a place with other animals in it.

Pet Boarding in Southwest Ranches

Still, if you find a proper boarding facility—one that will keep your cat isolated if necessary, that has nice accommodations, experienced staff, and good reviews—this can be a good option.

Vet Clinics

If your cat requires regular medical attention, there are vet clinics that can help you out. Some vet clinics offer pet sitting plus med care, while others have pet boarding facilities.

Wrap Up

As we warned you, there are quite a lot of things to do and consider, aren’t there? But also, as we promised, a stress-free long-distance travel with a cat, even in a car, is perfectly possible. If you properly pre-condition the cat to the car, if you prepare for all eventualities, and if you do everything right while traveling, things should be perfectly fine. It may be a long and tiresome procedure, but it’s always worth it!

a fluffy cat sitting in a big suitecase

Do you know any other tips that can help with long-distance travel with a cat? All suggestions are welcome, so please leave them in the comment section below!

About the author
Stella Noble
Stella Noble

Stella Noble lives in Warren, Michigan with her family and three cats. She is a Certified Cat Trainer and a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants.