Whether it's a trip to visit family or a week-long vacation, your cat can come along for the adventure, as long as you do a little prep work. "Contrary to popular belief, many cats do like to travel," Susan Sikule, DVM, of Just Cats Veterinary Clinic tells WideOpenPets.com. "The challenge often is that when most of us travel with cats, we've only brought them to the vet, which often isn't a pleasant event for them. But you absolutely can bring them with you on trips if you make it part of their routine."
To keep your fur baby safe on your next road trip, make sure to use a travel carrier. Introduce your cat to it slowly by leaving it out where your cat can see and smell it in your home for a few weeks prior to your trip. Place treats and toys inside it to encourage your cat to explore and associate the carrier with positive things. You also can spritz in a feline pheromone spray, which may help them relax. Dr. Sikule says she prefers the soft-sided fabric carriers that allow you to place your cat in from the top or side. You also want one that allows you to loop the seat belt through it to keep the carrier securely in place when the vehicle is moving.
Of course, keeping your cat safe in the car is just one small part of adventuring with a feline. Here's what else you need to know about how to travel with a cat.
Make Sure Your Cat is Microchipped
Microchips are as tiny as a grain of rice, and most cats don't even flinch when it's inserted with a small needle in the area behind the shoulder. "I strongly recommend all cats be microchipped because it's used everywhere now, so your contact information is immediately accessible if your cat gets lost while traveling," says Sikule.
Start When They're Young
The younger you start bringing your cat along on trips, the more it becomes part of their routine, Sikule explains. Start with short drives around the neighborhood, maybe a block or two. Increase the distance if your cat seems at ease and isn't yowling or otherwise upset. Cats actually love verbal praise, so be sure to tell your cat "good boy" or "good girl" and give treats to reinforce good behavior during your practice runs.
Pack Your Cat's Favorite Things
Cats tune into familiar smells, so place one of your t-shirts and his or her favorite blanket in the carrier with them to make it feel and smell more like home, suggests Sikule. Don't forget to bring along toys, a litter box, bowls, food, water, treats, and any medications your cat needs.
Skip the Potty Breaks
Unlike dogs, who need to make stops for bathroom breaks, cats typically won't need a trip to the litter box until you arrive at your destination. Chances are, you'll need to stop long before he or she does!
Give Your Cat Time to Adjust
Once you arrive at your destination, let your cat stay in one room—preferably where they'll be sleeping with you—to get accustomed to the new sights and smells. (Just make sure it's kitten-proof, first!) Put the litter box in the same room, too, so it begins to feel more like your cat's home environment, says Sikule.
Reconsider If It's Not Working
If it's a trip you absolutely must take with your pet, talk to your vet about medications such as gabapentin, which Sikule explains can help your cat relax without sedation. But remember that all cats have different personalities, and not every cat likes to travel. If yours always gets upset or anxious, don't force the issue. Respect and love your little sweetie for who he or she is. After all, each cat's unique persona is why we fall in love in the first place!