Before taking any car trip with your cat you should always plan some details and take care of basic considerations. Most cats do not enjoy a car journey and it can be stressful for them, so make sure it is as comfortable for them as possible.
Basic cat psychology and car journeys
Always take account of your cat’s behaviour, what it thinks and how it may react. Most cats are nervous in any novel situations as they like routine and making their own choices. They are territory oriented and feel safe in what they regard as their home area. They usually become stressed by travel which may be shown by staying immobile, trying to run away and avoid going in the carrier or sometimes making distress sounds during the journey. Try speaking to your cat during the journey as this may give some reassurance. Cats therefore do not like car journeys, but this can be made easier and more comfortable for them. Start when your cat is a kitten by getting him or her used to going in a cat carrier and going on short car rides. This will accustom your cat and make future long journey less stressful. As well as being territorial, most cats are nervous of noises like car engines as well as car movements, but they will become accustomed to this over time. As a basic behaviour need, cats need to drink, eat, urinate and defecate, so make sure they have the opportunity for these.
Cats should be transported by car inside a special cat carrier. The cage or carrying case should be small to restrict most movement, but large enough for your cat to turn around, stand up fully and stretch out. Get the cat used to this before you use it for travel. Place something soft inside on the floor like a cushion or blanket for your cat to lie on. A blanket already used by the cat will have a familiar smell which may help lower its stress level.
Make sure your cat has an identity tag and collar even if it also has a microchip. Should your cat get lost away from home, having identity information easily read by anyone is essential.
Restraint in the car
It is dangerous if your cat can interfere with your driving, for example by getting access to the car pedals or causing a distraction. Also, should there be a car accident, a cat loose in the car can be badly injured if it is not restrained. Ensure the cat carrier you are using is restrained by seat belts, other objects or put it in a car floor space in case of accident.
Blanket and cloth
It is useful to carry a blanket and cloth for your cat when in the car. A spare blanket may be used to help keep your cat warm or comfortable or else to cover the cat carrier if this makes your cat feel more comfortable by being in the dark. A cloth can be used to clean up any mess the cat might make.
Planning longer journeys
For a long journey always do some planning just for your cat. Some ideas to consider are:
- Exercise or play with your cat before loading it in the car carrier
- Avoid feeding your cat immediately before departing
- Take water and food and drink plus travel bowls. Offer your cat water at rest stops.
- Take a litter tray and litter if you are staying overnight.
- Take bags for cat waste
- Take some toys and treats.
- Plan places to stop in advance for very long journeys.
- Have a cat harness and lead for exercising your cat. Practice using the harness and lead with your cat at home before you start your long journey.
While cats do not enjoy a journey, but they usually are fine and normal very soon after reaching their destination, especially with some kindness from the owner. At your destination, keep your cat indoors at first. If your cat is let out too soon in a strange place, it is more likely to get lost or run away. Only let him or her out when you're sure your cat is happy, settled and familiar in its surroundings.
It is dangerous to leave your cat in a hot car for more than a short period of time, say 5 minutes. If it is necessary for you to have a break, park your car in the shade if you can, with windows slightly open for air circulation and lock the car. Remember to offer water your cat regularly.
Car sickness and sedation
Just like humans, some cats get sick on car journeys. If you are concerned about car sickness, consult with a veterinarian who will prescribe some anti travel sickness medicine.
Some of our recommendations can be useful for other pets, however, if you have also a dog, please visit our special recommendations for travelling with a dog by car.
Dr Peter Messent
10th May 2017