Tips for the purrfect long-distance trip with your cat

Think about it from your kitty’s perspective. When was the last time he went anywhere with you in the car? Chances are, he entered the vehicle with that squinty-eyed look of caution and reserved judgment, only to wake up some time later at the vet’s office missing parts of his male anatomy. Cats are not notoriously good travelers under even the best of circumstances, so confining one in a car for hours on end might seem like a recipe for disaster. Or is it?

1. Tips for moving a cat long distance

Veterinarians say that the best time to introduce your cat to driving is when he’s very young, ideally less than 9 weeks old, but all’s not lost if you’ve missed that boat. Whether it’s his first trip to the vet or a drive from Philadelphia to Denver, start small, and build up to the distance you’re trying to achieve.

Take him to your car – in his carrier – then just sit in there with him for a few minutes the first few times. After a couple of successful “car visits,” turn on the engine so he can get used to the sound of it. When that becomes no big deal, take a trip around the block, then around town, and he’ll be ready to head for the coast before you know it.

2. Make sure he has suitable accommodations

If you’re planning to plunk him in his cat carrier for the trip, consider thinking bigger. A cat carrier is ideal for short excursions, but a dog crate is often better for a long trip, one that’s an appropriate size to fit in your car. Now your feline traveling companion isn’t going to be scrunched up for hours on end in a little carrier, and – even better – he can actually see you the whole time if you buy a cage-type crate. Make sure it’s secure from wobbling or tipping over if you have to come to a fast stop. Securing it with a seat belt ought to do the trick.

3. Litterbox issues when you’re traveling by car with a cat

Even when your cat is emotionally ready to spend a day in the car with you, let’s face it – nature is going to call him. You can fit a small litter pan in a dog crate as well.

Get your cat used to the arrangement in advance of your trip – place the crate with its litter box in the same spot in your home where his traditional litter box always was. Leave the door open. When he has to go, he’ll eventually enter the crate to take care of business, particularly if you begin with his familiar litter box inside. You can switch to a smaller, travel-convenient tray later.

If you have to use the bathroom yourself while you’re on the road, make sure your cat stays in his crate when you leave the car. Crack the windows about an inch for some ventilation. Be as quick about it as possible. Both hot and cold days can be a danger to your pet in a parked car.

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Many states have laws that prohibit leaving pets in parked vehicles, so do a little research along your planned route before you depart to make sure you know the rules. In fact, California passed a law, effective 2017, which allows passersby to smash vehicle windows to free pets trapped in hot cars. The interior of a closed vehicle can reach 120 degrees in 10 minutes on an 80-degree day, and if the temp hits 90 degrees, it can reach 150 degrees in the same period of time – not a healthy environment for your cat.

4. All the comforts of home

Another advantage of using a dog crate is that it will be large enough to carry, not only kitty and his bathroom, but his food dish and a favorite toy or two as well. If he has a favorite blanket or bedding, include that, too.

Avoid making any changes to his diet, or he might be needing that litter box a little more than you’d like. Most important: Don’t change his water. He’s probably used to the tap water in your home, so fill multiple jugs full of it to take with you.

5. Make time for the outdoors

You can’t expect kitty to stay in the car for eight hours straight without a break. If he’s not already trained to a harness, begin breaking him in months in advance. When he’s accustomed to being outside on a leash, he’ll probably be very happy to get out of his crate – and the car – for short periods of time. A harness and leash will keep him safely by your side in the event that something startles him and he tries to bolt. Never just attach his leash to his collar. That’s no kind of restraint if a panicked cat really wants to get away. He’ll just wriggle out of the collar and leave you holding a leash with nothing on the other end.

If you’re not comfortable with letting your cat out of your car when you’re on the road, park somewhere and let him out of his crate to explore the car. Make sure all the windows are up. Cats can flatten themselves into pancake proportions and squeeze in and out of the tiniest of openings. Leave the car idling and the air conditioning on if you must, and pack the areas beneath the seats with towels or something similar to prevent him from crawling under there.

6. Don’t forget basic precautions

You might be prepared for anything, but life is famous for its unexpected surprises. Make sure your kitty has an up-to-date ID tag, just in case, and consider getting him a microchip. If he already has a microchip, make sure the information associated with it is up to date as well.

Identify veterinarians in towns along your route so you’re never too far from one in an emergency, and be sure to take his rabies vaccination documents and other health records along with you. Make advance reservations in cat-friendly hotels and motels.