Traveling with Cats in a Car – Long Distance

Cats are creatures of routine. When subjected to long car rides, they will protest. For one, it disrupts their sense of normalcy and pushes them into the unknown.

What can a cat owner do when a cat must go on this journey? Things to consider include your cat’s safety, comfort, feeding and relieving schedules, activity, stress relief, and medications. 

Let this post be a friendly guide for keeping your cat—and your own—anxiety levels at bay. 

Visiting Your Vet

We will discuss cross-country traveling by car on a separate post. But, even with 3-6 hours long car trips, you will still want to take your cat for a check-up.

Your primary concern will be to ensure your cat is fit to travel. Traveling causes stress and anxiety to cats, which can further complicate any illness.

You may also need to discuss medicating your cat for the trip. In particular, cats on their first-time to travel long distance will show signs of discomfort, including:

Panting, drooling, excessive yowling, aggressive behavior, vomiting, and incontinence

As much of an annoyance as it can be for humans, cats have it worse. We want cats to feel safe and comfortable as much as possible. 

Anti-anxiety medication, anti-motion sickness, and sedation may be the best course for such a cat. The effect of sedatives can last between 6 to 8 hours.

Prepping Your Cat

Preparation goes a long way in making sure of the success of your long-distance road trip with your feline buddy. The less of a shock traveling by car is to your cat, the more cooperation it will give you.

The Car

Get your cat accustomed to the car long before the trip. Make short, frequent trips around the block. This can decrease the anxiety of unfamiliar environments as your cat gets acclimated to the sound, smell, and movements in a car.

The Safety Precautions

Your cat will also need either a harness and leash or a carrier for the trip. You will need to train your cat to be familiar with your choice of security for the trip.

The last thing you want is to be delayed hours for your trip from struggling with a cat that won’t get in its carrier or refuses to be placed on a leash.

Securing Your Cat

A cat collar with an updated ID tag with your contact information is a must. Also, consider microchipping for your cat to ensure its safety.

When going out with your cat, make sure you have your cat in a carrier or on a harness with a leash.

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Plan pit stops every 2-3 hours so you can give your cat a drink, time to use the litter pan, and stretch its legs while on a leash.

Restraining Your Cat

Adults, children, and babies are mandated by law to be restrained to the car via seatbelts and car seats.

When riding with cats, for everyone’s safety, be sure to have your felines restrained. As mentioned above, options include a cat harness with a leash and a contraption like a seat belt for pets—or you could select the right carrier (soft/hard) for your feline buddy.

If you are riding with multiple cats, you may need to travel them in separate carriers or purchase an especially large carrier. For cats who can’t stand each other, separate carriers are a must.

Why can’t cats roam freely in the car?

It is not wise to let a cat loose in a moving vehicle without a harness and seat belt on. We know it is not safe for humans and pets to ride in the car without a seat belt on.

Distracted driving can happen when a cat is loose in the car. The cat can get startled by sudden stops, bumps on the road, or the honking of the horn. You want your mind and eyes on the road, not on your cat.

Even with other passengers to care for the cat, it is still safest to restrain your cat—not just with a hand, but with the appropriate safety measures. Also, make sure the windows and doors are locked securely when your cat is in the vehicle.

Sticking to Your Cat’s Schedule

Traveling or not, it is wise for cats to have feeding and relieving schedules in place. Consider feeding your nocturnal buddy at night so it can poop in the morning.

It is not ideal for cats to feed or drink while the car is in motion. But since hydration is a non-negotiable, make sure to offer your cat a drink at every pit stop.

Take away food and water for at least 3 hours before the ride. Some cat parents find it better for their cats to stop feeding the night before the trip. Ultimately, this will decrease the chances of nausea and vomiting in the car.

Dealing with the Litter Box

Your options are to keep a litter box inside the carrier with your cat or to have your cat pee at every pit stop. Have poop bags or a cat poop scooper on-hand for the journey.

When choosing kitty litter, consider large pellets that are dust-free to keep the mess at bay. Be aware that anxious cats can lose control of their bladder. Be ready for accidents with your choice of cat urine remover.

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Easing Your Cat’s Discomfort

If you choose to sedate your cat for a long-distance road trip, it is wise to start on the lowest dosage and gradually add more throughout the trip. You can also try calming treats for cats.

It is best to have another passenger stay with the cat and provide comfort. You can distract your cat and ease feelings of discomfort by playing and rubbing the cat often.

One thing your cat won’t like is overstimulation and this is why cats hate going on car rides. The sound and sight of traffic is a far cry from the stimulation your cat receives from its window perch at home.

Position the cat carrier facing the passenger side. You may cover the sides of the carrier with a blanket but be sure it does not obstruct ventilation.

Keeping Temperature in Check

When traveling in winter, be sure to have warming pads or extra blankets for your cat. In summer, have cooling pads or ice packs you can place under or on the sides of their bedding. 

Never leave your cat in the car alone. Even if you roll the windows down or leave the AC on while the car is in shade, danger can happen and your cat may suffer a heat stroke.

Staying at Hotels / Arriving at Your Destination

If you plan to go on a long-distance trip over several days, it is best to stay at cat-friendly hotels for the night. You may need to pay a pet deposit.

Always survey the place and cat-proof it before you let your cat roam freely while you sleep. It is best if your cat stayed in one room.

Give your cat time to adjust to its temporary or permanent environment. Be wary that your cat may have temperament changes during and after the trip. It will soon go back to working on establishing its territories.

Wrap Up

Your cat can ride in the car with you for 10 to 12-hour rides with several stops in between. To minimize nausea and mess, offer a drink and the litter pan at every pit stop instead of giving free access to these necessities during the trip.

Safety should be your top concern. These include your cat’s collar, ID tag, microchip, harness, leash, safety belt, and carrier. 

To ensure your cat’s health and wellness, be sure to visit your vet before the trip, gradually introduce your cat to the environment in a car, and have options to comfort your cat either with medication or distraction.

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