Traveling with a cat can be an exciting adventure, but it requires careful preparation to ensure a smooth journey for both you and your feline companion. In this comprehensive guide, we will walk you through the essential steps of traveling with a cat, from preparing your cat for the trip to making them comfortable in a new environment.
Here at tuft + paw, we are cat experts. The information in this article is based on consultation with a cat behaviorist, veterinarian, extensive online research, and our own experience as cat parents.
Cheat Sheet: How to Travel With Your Cat
- get the right carrier
- visit the vet
- check airline + accommodation pet policies
- gather your supplies
- go on a practice trip
- feed your cat before travelling
- put your cat's harness on
- secure the carrier
- keep your cat in the carrier
- give your cat treats + reassurance
- stop occasionally
- cover the carrier (if necessary)
- keep your cat in the cabin
- don't fly with your cat as cargo
- don't fly with brachycephalic cats
- choose a secure room
- cat-proof the space
- set up essentials
- let your cat explore
- maintain your usual routine
- follow your accommodation's pet guidelines
Prepare Your Cat for Travel
Preparation is the most important thing when it comes to traveling with your cat. You can have the coziest carrier and the tastiest treats, but there’s no substitute for gradually building your cat’s confidence and showing them there’s nothing to worry about. Planning will also help reduce your stress, which your cat will definitely pick up on.
Get the Right Carrier
The first step in preparing for cat travel is to choose the best cat carrier you can find. Opt for a well-ventilated carrier that is sturdy, secure, and large enough for your cat to stand in, turn around, and lie down comfortably. Soft-sided cat carriers are usually more convenient for car and air travel, while hard-sided carriers are best for safety and preventing feisty cats from escaping. Introduce the carrier to your cat before the trip and allow them to explore the carrier's interior and exterior.
Note: If your cat is on the bigger side, our list of the best carriers for large cats could be helpful for you.
Visit the Vet
Before embarking on any trip with your cat, it's important to visit the veterinarian for a health check-up. Ensure your cat's vaccinations are up to date, and discuss any specific concerns related to travel. Your vet can provide advice on motion sickness medication, anxiety management techniques, and any additional precautions based on your cat's health and needs. Vets can also prescribe sedatives, though this should be used only as a last resort.
Note: Most airlines do not allow sedated animals onto their planes.
Check Pet Policies for Airline & Accommodations
If you plan to travel by air, research the pet policies of the airline you'll be flying with. Each airline has specific regulations regarding documentation, health certifications, and carrier dimensions (which makes having an airline approved cat carrier especially important). Additionally, when booking accommodations, ensure that they are pet-friendly and allow cats. It's essential to inform the hotel staff about your cat's presence to avoid any complications upon arrival.
Gather Your Supplies
Make a checklist of all the essential supplies you'll need for the trip. This may include your cat's regular food, treats, medications, litter, litter box, etc. Having everything prepared and easily accessible will help ensure a smooth travel experience.
Here’s a sample checklist to get you started:
- food + water bowls
- cat food
- water – tap water is different everywhere, so we recommend bringing a bottle of the tap water your cat is used to drinking (just in case).
- litter box + scoop
- lightweight cat litter
- ID tag/collar
- leash + harness
- soft familiar object (for scent)
- cat toys
- carrier liner in case of accidents (puppy pad, towel)
- grooming supplies
- Any necessary medical equipment — e.g. pheromone spray, anti-nausea meds, thundershirt
- cat bed — a lightweight cat cushion like the one below makes for a great travel bed
Go on a Practice Trip
If your cat is not accustomed to traveling, consider taking them on short practice trips, whether for a walk or in the car. This serves as an opportunity to practice getting your cat into the carrier and helps them acclimate to the motion of driving or walking in an unfamiliar environment. Start with brief trips and gradually increase the duration to help your cat become comfortable with the experience.
Put Your Cat's Harness On
To ensure your cat's safety, put a harness on them before opening the carrier and keep their leash on hand. Most carriers have an interior safety tether which clips into the harness to prevent escapes. This feature is especially helpful when you need to remove your cat from the carrier, such as when making stops during a car trip. It's important to practice using the harness and leash before the actual travel day to accustom your cat to wearing them.
Feed Your Cat Before Traveling
Before starting your journey, feed your cat a light meal a few hours in advance. Avoid feeding them immediately before the trip to prevent an upset stomach. Additionally, provide fresh water for your cat to stay hydrated during the journey.
Dock Bowl and Stand by tuft + paw - Shop Here
How to Travel With Your Cat by Car
Traveling by car with your cat offers more flexibility and control over the journey. Follow these tips to make the car travel experience as smooth as possible.
If you plan to do lots of driving with your cat, it could be worth looking into the best cat carriers for car travel.
Secure the Carrier
It's crucial to secure the carrier in the car to prevent it from sliding or tipping over. The safest place for the carrier is on the floor behind the front seat, but some carriers are also seat belt-compatible. Avoid placing the carrier in the front seat as it can be distracting.
Keep Your Cat in the Carrier
While it may be tempting to let your cat roam freely in the car, it's safer to keep them in the carrier throughout the journey. Cats can easily get startled or frightened in a moving vehicle, and their curiosity may lead them to unsafe areas. Keeping them in the carrier ensures their safety and minimizes distractions for the driver.
Give Your Cat Treats & Reassurance
To make the car travel experience more comfortable for your cat, offer them treats and provide reassurance throughout the journey. Speak to them in a soothing tone, and if possible, provide gentle pets (either from you or someone your cat is familiar with).
Cover the Carrier if Necessary
If your cat becomes anxious or agitated during the journey, covering the carrier with a lightweight blanket or towel can help reduce stimulation from the outside environment. Ensure proper ventilation and monitoring while using a cover. Some carriers have built in privacy flaps for this purpose.
During long car trips, it's essential to make regular stops to allow your cat to stretch, use the litter box, and drink water. Choose safe and secure rest areas or pet-friendly locations where your cat can safely explore under your supervision. Keep that harness and leash on!
Credit: Piotr Musioł on Unsplash
How to Fly With Your Cat
Flying with your cat requires careful planning. Here are some essential tips to ensure a safe air travel experience.
Keep Your Cat in the Cabin
Whenever possible, opt to bring your cat into the cabin with you rather than traveling with them as cargo. Many airlines allow cats in the cabin if they meet certain size and carrier requirements. This helps reduce stress and allows you to monitor your cat's well-being throughout the flight.
Don't Fly with Your Cat as Cargo
Traveling with your cat as cargo should be avoided if possible. The cargo hold can be stressful and potentially dangerous for pets due to the temperature fluctuations, rough luggage handling, and loud noises. Only consider this option if it's the only available choice, and ensure you follow both your airline's and vet’s guidelines for transporting pets as cargo.
Don't Fly with Brachycephalic Cats
Brachycephalic cat breeds are those with a flat face or squished snout (e.g. Persians, Himalayans, Exotic Shorthairs). These cats often have trouble breathing and regulating their body temperature due to their skull anatomy (brachycephalic airway syndrome). These breathing difficulties can be exacerbated by flying, so many airlines no longer allow brachycephalic breeds on board. We recommend leaving your brachycephalic buddy at home, but if you must fly with them check your specific airline regulations and talk to your vet beforehand.
Credit: Touhid Arastu on Unsplash
How to Make Your Cat Comfortable In a New Environment
Once you've reached your destination, it's important to help your cat adjust to the new environment. Follow these tips to make your cat feel at ease in their temporary home away from home.
Choose a Secure Room
When introducing your cat to a new environment, it’s best to limit their space at first so they don’t get overstimulated. Choose a relatively small, secure room in your accommodations to serve as your cat’s home base (e.g. bathroom, bedroom). You can let them explore the larger space once they’ve settled into the smaller one. This is essentially the same approach as when you bring a kitten home.
Cat-Proof the Space
Before allowing your cat to explore, ensure that the new space is safe and free of potential hazards. Remove any toxic plants, secure windows and balcony doors, and hide electrical cords or other items that may pose a risk to your curious feline buddy.
Set Up Your Cat's Essentials
Create a dedicated space for your cat with their familiar essentials. Set up their food and water bowls, a cozy bed/blanket, and place their litter box away from their food but close enough for easy access. Having these items in place will provide a sense of familiarity and help your cat feel more secure in the new environment.
Kip Cat Cushion by tuft + paw - Shop Here Credit: @annalouiselutz
Let Your Cat Explore
Let your cat out of the carrier and allow them to explore the new surroundings at their own pace. Cats are naturally curious creatures, and giving them the freedom to investigate their new territory will help them feel more comfortable. Supervise their initial exploration to ensure their safety.
Maintain Your Usual Routine
Cats thrive on routine, so try to maintain their regular feeding, play, and sleep schedule as much as possible. Consistency and familiarity will help your cat adjust more quickly to the new environment. Spend quality time with your cat, offering them reassurance, affection, and of course the occasional treat.
Follow Your Accommodation’s Pet Guidelines
Familiarize yourself with your accommodation’s pet rules before going out. Some hotels require pets to be kept in their carrier if left alone in the suite, while others may be okay with letting them roam the space. If you’re staying at an Airbnb or guest house, double check what your host’s preferences are.
Traveling with a cat requires careful preparation and consideration of your feline companion's needs. By choosing the right carrier, visiting the vet beforehand, gathering supplies, and going on practice trips, you can help ensure a smooth travel experience. Once you're in transit, it's up to you to ease your cat's stress, and this is where acclimating your cat to travel will pay dividends. Upon reaching your destination, create a comfortable environment using familiar belongings, allow your cat to explore, and maintain their usual routine to help your cat adapt to the new surroundings. If you have any doubts about traveling with your cat, ask your vet for their advice. Good luck and safe travels!
1. How long should I acclimate my cat to the carrier before traveling?
It's recommended to acclimate your cat to the carrier at least a few weeks before your travel date. Gradually introduce your cat to the carrier by placing treats and familiar bedding inside, allowing them to explore and associate positive experiences with the carrier.
2. Can I use sedatives to calm my cat during travel?
It's best to consult with your veterinarian before considering the use of sedatives for your cat. Some cats may have adverse reactions to sedatives, and some airlines don’t allow sedated animals on board.
3. Should I let my cat roam freely in a hotel room?
While it may be tempting to let your cat roam freely in a hotel room, it's recommended to keep them in a secure space, such as a bathroom or designated area. This will prevent any potential accidents or escapes and help your cat feel more secure in the new environment. Some hotels may require cats to be kept in their carrier when left alone.
4. Can I use a regular leash for my cat during travel?
It's advisable to use a harness specifically designed for cats instead of a regular dog leash. Cats are skilled at slipping out of collars, and a harness provides better security and control during travel.
5. How long does it take for a cat to adjust to a new environment?
The time it takes for a cat to adjust to a new environment can vary depending on the individual cat's temperament. Some cats may adapt within a few days, while others may take weeks. Providing a familiar routine, comfort, and patience will help facilitate the adjustment process.