After practicing as a veterinarian for 28 years, mainly treating cats, these are my tips for ensuring the best possible experience when you take your cat on vacation, whether you’re flying, driving, or even taking the train.
1. Choose A Good Carrier, And Get Your Cat Comfortable With It
Your cat will need a safe and comfortable carrier during the actual traveling. If you are flying or taking a train, contact the company to learn what their requirements include. It is best to bring your cat into the cabin with you, so the carrier will need to fit under the seat in front of you. Soft-sided carriers usually provide the best option for this. If you are driving, the carrier should have hard sides and top to protect your cat from trauma. The carrier should be big enough for your cat to move around a little, but not so large that she tumbles around inside of it with a sudden stop. Carriers that have removable tops or large openings enable you to put your cat into them and lift her out easily.
Obtain a carrier at least a few weeks in advance so your cat can get familiar with it. Leave the carrier in an area of the house where your cat likes to hang out, and leave the door open or the top off. Place in it a thick, soft towel or blanket, preferably one that already has her smell on it. You can also spray Feliway, which helps to calm your cat. Put cat treats or catnip onto the towel to entice her. Let her explore it, and don’t force her into it.
2. Provide For Your Cat’s Health Needs
Once you have made plans for traveling, set up an appointment with your veterinarian. A thorough physical exam will help to find and address any medical problems your cat may be having. Cats are good at hiding problems and discomfort, so tell your veterinarian about any changes you have seen, however subtle. Cats love routine and any changes to their daily life can cause stress and turn minor problems into major ones. They may not eat and drink well at first. Your veterinarian can tell you when you should start worrying.
Updating vaccinations will help to protect your cat while traveling. Be sure to have an adequate supply of any medications your cat is taking. Also talk to your veterinarian about sedatives or nausea medications if you think they may be needed. Many safe options are available and can greatly improve your cat’s trip.
Just in case your cat gets lost, have the clinic team implant a microchip, or check the current one if she already has it. Be sure that the microchip company has your updated information, such as any new phone numbers or email addresses. You should also provide them an emergency contact of someone you trust to make decisions for your cat if the company cannot reach you. Your veterinarian can give you the information you need to contact the company.
3. Research Your Destination
Before you head out of town, find a veterinary clinic and emergency clinic near your destination that you can call if your cat has any problems. You may be able to call your clinic at home if you have questions, but be sure you know a place near where you will be staying. If your cat needs any special food or treats, find out where you will be able to purchase those.
Research your accommodations to learn if you will need to bring anything special. If you want to bring your cat outdoors and there is not an enclosed space, you may need to get her used to a harness and leash or a cat backpack.
Be sure that your cat is welcome where you are staying. Do not try to sneak her in or assume pets are allowed. You may be refused a room or penalized heavily if found out. If you are joining a tour group or travel program, check that they allow cats. Many people have allergies and will be unhappy or hostile if they have to be near cats.
4. Gather All Needed Supplies
Closely plan all of your cat’s daily needs while actively traveling and in your accommodations. Figure out how much cat food will be needed, and give yourself a margin for error. You may need to bring along a litter box and litter as well as bedding. Make sure you have enough medication and supplements for the length of the trip and a way to keep them cold if needed. Ask your veterinarian for a copy of medical and vaccination records.
5. Plan Your Trip To Reduce Your Cat’s Stress
Before planning to bring your cat on your trip, consider her personality and comfort with change. If your cat howls and scratches at the door of her carrier while in the car, she will not likely enjoy a long car or plane ride. A sedative may calm her enough, or anti-nausea medication may make her more comfortable. Try these out before taking your trip so you can see the effects.
If your cat tends to be fearful, placing a towel over her carrier and playing calming music may help. Classical music has been shown to calm cats. There is even music made specifically for cats that you can play for them while traveling (or when they need to spend time alone). Drive carefully so your cat isn’t tossed around in her carrier by fast starts and stops.
Feed a small amount in the morning, then offer small amounts of food throughout the trip. Cats often won’t eat or use the litter box while traveling. This should not be a problem as long as she eats, drinks, urinates, and defecates overnight when you reach your destination or stop for the night.
6. Set Up A Cat-Friendly Environment At Your Destination
Any change can cause stress to your cat, so try to establish a similar environment and routine to home. Set up a safe place for your cat where she can easily see and access her food and litter box. A secluded place in a corner or behind a piece of furniture may help her adapt more quickly. If you are staying in a place with multiple rooms, start by keeping her in just one and monitor how comfortable she seems. A confident, outgoing cat may not need these precautions, but you can’t completely predict how your cat will feel.
Bring along her food, dishes, and litter box. If you cannot bring those, obtain versions at your destination that are as similar as possible. Feed the same amounts at the same intervals as your usual routine. Take into account any time changes, especially if medications need to be at specific times.
Check the environment for any possible ways your cat can get hurt or ingest toxic substances. Block off any spaces where your cat may hide or where you cannot reach in and remove her. Be sure she cannot slip outside or into unwanted places in the residence.
Give your cat time to adjust to other people and pets at your destination. Cats are territorial animals and usually do not like having pets or people they do not know invading their perceived space. Be prepared to keep your cat isolated for the entire trip if she is too stressed by others.
7. Monitor Your Cat Closely For Any Problems
Cats feel vulnerable to attack when they are sick or in pain, and they will try to act normal and healthy at all times. Therefore, any changes should be taken seriously, even if subtle. Stress may cause your cat to eat less or hide, but if this lasts longer than a couple of days, it is concerning. Make any needed changes to the environment to make her feel safer, and spend some time hanging out with her to help her settle into the new surroundings.
If your cat is not urinating at all or urinating in small amounts, this can indicate a urinary tract infection or worse. Male cats can have their urine outflow, called the urethra, blocked by a plug of mucus and crystals. This can lead to severe illness or death if not addressed quickly.
Cats can get dehydrated or not want to use a new litter box when traveling. This leads to constipation, which can lead to vomiting and not eating. Your cat may also chew on or ingest something that causes vomiting or lethargy.
It is always better to contact a veterinary clinic and ask, or schedule an exam if deemed necessary, than let a problem go unchecked. Any illness or injury should be addressed early to increase the odds of effective treatment and reduce your costs.
Traveling with your cat can be enjoyable, as long as you prepare well and keep her needs in mind. Start thinking about what is needed well in advance, and do what you can to keep your cat safe and happy.