Car Travel with Your Cat

Plan ahead to have a safe, comfortable trip.


A brief car ride to the veterinarian can certainly unhinge many cats, so what do you do when you need to travel with them for a period of five hours — or even more?

My recent move from the Finger Lakes to the Hudson valley required that my two cats, Puja and Rocky, participate in this 225-mile excursion. (It’s possible that I was looking forward to it even less than they were.)

Expert advice includes the following tips, which I want to share with readers here:

Always use a sturdy carrier that is comfortable, large enough and escape-proof (avoid cardboard containers for these reasons). Double-check that the carrier door is absolutely secure. And resist the urge to let your cat loose in the car. Countless cats have been lost at toll booths and rest stops this way. If you really need to give them a little break outside the carrier, be sure to stay inside the car with the doors and windows locked.

Cats can turn into escape artists when panicked on the road, so you can either give periodic litter box breaks — while the doors and windows are KEPT SHUT the entire time — or you can include a small litter tray in a larger carrier.

Keep the carrier steady and secure by creating a flat area for it to rest on (you can pack a thick towel around the outside if that helps). Don’t let your cat see that you are headed for the car; drape a cloth or towel over the carrier before heading out the door. Once you place the carrier on the flat space in the car, you should rearrange the cloth so that your cat can see you, if possible, but not out any window. For some animals, the sight of the earth or sky speeding past can cause them to panic.

Pad the inside of the carrier with something extra plush, like a favorite towel or a flexible cat bed. This helps to make travel more comfortable and less bumpy. By the same token, try to brake smoothly and not speed forward and then lag behind. A slow and steady approach to driving will be appreciated by your four-legged passenger(s).

Play the radio softy to conceal traffic noises — a soothing classical music station will be more effective than 1980s rock!

You can talk to your cat as you drive. Your reassuring voice can be helpful, particularly at the start of the trip.

When you finally arrive at your destination, you should let your cat scope out the new indoor environment first from the sanctity of the carrier. Then you can offer food, water and litter nearby. Particularly in new surroundings, you should ensure that all doors and windows are shut tight and limit the cat to one room initially so she can settle in a bit.

And if you feel that your cat might benefit from the addition of medication, you should talk to your veterinarian about the pros and cons of this approach for your particular animal. A trial run at home might be a good idea, too.


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