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Tips for Traveling with Cats

Alaina Brandenburger
Sept. 11, 2012

How to travel with your fluffy friend -- and leave the stress at home.

When you are traveling, it can be comforting and fun to take your pets along with you. But while many people travel with dogs, it's not as common to travel with your cat in tow. However, there are situations in which you need to bring them with you. If you're moving, going on an extended vacation or leaving town to care for a sick family member, you may want to bring Pringles with you. In addition, your cat needs to visit the vet on a regular basis, so getting her used to travel is helpful.

In general, dogs tend to be easier to transport than cats, simply because most dogs are not as tentative about car trips or traveling. According to Jane Brunt, DVM, Executive Director of the CATalyst Council, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting cat welfare and well being, cats should be trained to travel. "The more your cat is conditioned to travel, the better," she says. "That way, common trips like vacations, visits to your family or friends and the ever-important veterinary visit become routine. If you need to travel in case of emergency, your cat is already used to its carrier."

Here are some tips from feline specialists to make traveling with your cat easier for both of you.

Plan Ahead

  • Provide familiar comfort. Brunt says that you can relax your cat "by having things with familiar scents from your home, their favorite toys and pheromone products." If you have more than one cat, splurge on a larger carrier and put them together. That company means the world to your furry friend.
  • Clip those claws. Trim your cat's nails so it doesn't scratch itself or you. If you don't know how, this may be best left to a vet, as it's a delicate process most kitties fight. If you do it yourself, avoid the pink part inside of the nail -- it's flesh, and bleeds and hurts if cut!
  • Update information and vaccinations. Include updated identification on your cat's collar or have your cat microchipped, so it can be returned to you if it gets lost. If you're stopped for transporting cats across state or country borders, it's important to have up-to-date vaccination records proving you're not carrying diseases.
  • Train your pet. Before you travel with your cat, it should be accustomed to a leash and harness. If it is out of his carrier, you want to be able to control it and keep it safe.

Plan for Carrier Travel

  • Pick the right carrier. Carriers are a must if you plan on traveling with your kitty. The type of carrier you choose should be determined by the cat. Hard cases are easier to clean, sturdier and have better ventilation. These carriers are good for cats that may have problems with vomiting, urinating or defecating during travel. Softer cases are darker and may be better for more shy cats. Just make sure it has a frame. Here is more advice for How to Choose a Pet Carrier.
  • Conduct carrier training. Experts agree it's important to train your cat to be in a carrier. Pam Johnson-Bennett, CCBC, PCBC, a cat behavior expert and author, says, "Make sure your cat is already used to being in a carrier. That's half the battle, because so many cats aren't properly trained to accept being transported in the carrier in the first place." Both Johnson-Bennett and Brunt recommend carrier training in stages at home, because your cat will be more comfortable there. Brunt recommends: "Practice, practice, practice." Start with the carrier on a chair or sofa and allow your cat to explore it. Keep a soft fleece or pad instead that has the scent of a person or another pet that the cat likes on it. Every few days, do a little more, and provide positive reinforcement with food at every step. As your cat becomes comfortable with the process, work your way up to closing the carrier door for a short time, putting the carrier in the car without starting the engine, starting the engine and not going anywhere, taking a short trip around the block and then going on longer drives around the neighborhood. With this type of gradual training, your cat should be less resistant to traveling.

Plan for Car Travel

  • Keep your cat safe. When driving with a cat, always keep it in a carrier in the backseat, fastened with a seat belt or another type of harness to keep the carrier from moving. This way, your cat will be safe in case of an accident, and you will not be distracted by an animal wandering around the car. Letting your cat loose in the car is incredibly dangerous, especially if it's scared. Cats gravitate toward low, apparently safe places, and can get into the undercarriage of your car where it runs the risk of getting burned or being run over.
  • Provide plenty of water. Traveling with a bowl of water in a carrier can lead to a big mess and one wet -- and unhappy -- kitty. Instead, use a big hamster water bottle in the carrier. It might take a few tries, but the droplet of water on the end is always a draw for thirsty cats. This also allows you to monitor your cat's water consumption and offer a water bowl at stops if necessary.
  • Create calmness. Keeping most cats tranquil on car rides isn't about entertainment, as it is with your kids. These furry fellas often won't settle down enough to play on car rides. If you can house your pet with a sibling, that's super helpful, but veterinarians also provide mild kitty sedatives that may work. Think cold medicine, not full-on sedation. This just allows your baby to relax a bit, avoiding the yowling so many cat mommies know and...don't love. Also, don't crank the music if you can avoid it. All of that extra noise just adds to cats' stress.
  • Feed and food train your cat. Especially if you use any kind of medication to keep your cat calm, provide moist food you've acclimated him to for meals, instead of hard food. Cats are more likely to eat whole meals this way and less likely to be made sick by medication. That said, keep a mild cat-safe cleanser, plastic bags and a roll of paper towels on hand just in case kitty makes a mess. If you know your cat gets sick easily, talk to your vet about anti-nausea medication.

Plan for Plane Travel

  • Bring your cat in the cabin. Flying with your cat can be difficult, as it's not safe to check pets in extreme weather, and they can get lost. "The safest and most humane way is to bring your cat into the cabin with you," says Johnson-Bennett. Find an airline that allows pets in the cabin (which may include a small fee) and make advance reservations. You will also need an airline-approved carrier and a health certificate signed by your veterinarian.
  • Anticipate emergencies. Johnson-Bennett also recommends being prepared for kitty emergencies. "For the plane ride, bring extra towels to line the carrier in case the cat vomits or eliminates. Pack a few plastic bags in your carry-on as well, so you can discreetly dispose of the soiled towels without causing inconvenience to your fellow passengers." And carry some cat-safe cleansing wipes in case of an accidental mess.

Traveling with your cat doesn't have to be a traumatic experience for either of you. By training your cat and getting him comfortable with traveling, you can pop him in his carrier and go anytime. Use the tips above next time you move or even take kitty to the vet, and it will be a whole new experience.

Alaina Brandenburger is a freelance writer living in Denver, Colorado. Her work can be found here.

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