Traveling with Cats

WHAT?  Sure!  Why not?   As long as you and your cat are prepared with the skills you need to succeed, there’s no reason a cat can’t accompany you on a road trip.

I interviewed Angie and Alex about their recent road trip with Gladys, their 4-month-old kitten.  They are seasoned cat parents so had some experience with cat travel, but they are always learning.  Gladys is participating in our Beyond Basic Manners Class right now. Her parents are putting the skills they’re all learning right to work.

Preparing to Travel with Cats in the Car

Just like dogs, cats need to be able to ride safely and comfortably, relaxed and having a good time in the car.  Tolerating the ride is not enough. They are learning all the time and tolerance can quickly slip into having a bad experience.  Make sure your cat has a really good time riding in the car, whether driving to the vet’s office or going on a road trip. Conditioning cats to happily get in their carriers is the first step.

A man and woman in the desert with their cat safely on a leash attached to her harness. Angie and Alex recently took Gladys to Moab to see the desert rock formations.

Teach your cat how great car rides are by taking short trips in the car first.  You may need to break this process down further if your cat already has some fear of the car. Remember, we can change that through association.  Lots of treats during the ride helps condition the ride as a really positive experience. Give treats when the cat is where you want her to be, where she’s safe and not interfering with driving.  Choose ahead of time where those places will be and give treats when the cat chooses them.  Make sure your partner and other family members all agree on where the cat should ride. Check out this post for more information about conditioning pets to ride comfortably in vehicles.

Harness and Leash for Safety

Wearing a harness and leash is an important safety exercise.  Gladys is learning in class to walk nicely on a leash. Before she has those skills, the leash is an added safety device while her parent are holding her in their arms.  Gladys happily participates in putting her harness on and they always have fun when she’s wearing it.

Preparing your Cat to Be Out in the World

Conditioning to loud noises, the many visual stimuli out in the world, and being happy to be held even when she might prefer to get down and walk around are all things Angie and Alex have been teaching Gladys.  Making every experience positive builds Gladys’ ability to behave confidently during the next experience.  They were well-prepared for a recent, potentially dangerous situation and the danger didn’t actually end up happening!

Prepare for Potty Needs During the Drive and in the Hotel

When you’re traveling with a cat, planning ahead for hotel stays is essential.  You’ll need to bring a litter box for use in the hotel or during the drive.  (Even if your cat potties outside or uses the toilet, it’s a good idea to make sure she’s prepared to use a litter box while traveling.) Gladys uses her box while the vehicle is moving and returns to her carrier after she’s done.  If you don’t have room for this, or you’d just rather, you can offer the litter box during rest stops with your cat on a leash for safety. 

We used the latter technique when traveling with my husband’s cat, Charm, many years ago.  We simply set the box on the grass in a shady area, offered Charm the chance to use it if she needed to, and then headed on down the road after scooping.  You can easily carry a regular litter box with litter in the trunk or use a specially designed travel litter box with a cover.

Caution: What Does “Pet Friendly” Mean?

One thing Angie and Alex have learned is that when hotel websites mention they are “pet-friendly”, it actually means “dog-friendly”.  Be sure to ask if the hotel you plan to stay in accepts cats!

Safety First!

Consider conditioning your cat to a large wire dog crate to stay in at the hotel.  Here’s why: there’s always a chance that hotel personnel might open the door to your room while you’re away.  This could be disastrous if your cat ran out.  Of course, we want to train them to stay in the room where we left them, but a nice, roomy, wire dog crate is a helpful option. Cats have room in there for a fluffy bed, toys, water, food, a litter box, and even a raised step stool for looking out the window – and they’ll still be safe.  It’s one idea for making your cat’s hotel stay as pleasant as possible so they have a great time and can’t wait to join you on future trips.

Other Skills for Safe & Fun Travel with Cats

On the same note as hotels, “pet-friendly” patio restaurants may or may not be “cat-friendly.”  Of course, your cat needs to have nice leash skills and be able to lie on a mat during your meal and be conditioned to all the things that go on in that type of setting.  Keep your carrier handy just in case, and be ready to protect your cat from things that could scare her.

  • Ask the restaurant staff if well-behaved cats on leashes are welcome. 
  • Choose your table carefully – look around to make sure there’s no scary stuff like unruly dogs.
  • Provide treats to associate the restaurant with good things so your cat learns to relax and enjoy. 
  • Pick your cat up/put her in the carrier if things get loud or a little wild.
  • Watch your cat for signs he or she is not having a good time, looks worried and ready to leave.

It’s always better to have a series of short but wonderful experiences than to have a long one that ends up with your pet feeling not-so-great about the event.  Associations, both good and bad, are constantly happening and your pet is learning from them – so make them great!

A woman sightseeing in the desert, holding a gray cat safely on a leash attached to her harness.

Oh hi there!
It’s nice to meet you.

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