Traveling with a cat can be quite an ordeal. Unlike dogs, cats generally hate car rides. There are several problems that are likely to occur when you travel with your cat, be it for short or long trips. With this in mind, you need to master the fundamentals that are necessary to make your journey a success.
Before departing, it is best to spend some time getting your cat prepared for a trip. They need to get accustomed to a few things that will be necessary to use on your trip: making use of a leash, staying in a cat carrier, and wearing a harness.
Allowing your cat to get used to these things, prior to taking a trip, will help you to have fewer difficulties when departure time arrives. You want your cat to be relaxed during the course of the holiday or even for a short trip to the vet. However, if you wait until you’re moving to try to make kitty comfortable, it’s not going to work!
The Cat Carrier
If your cat has never been in a carrier, it will be much easier to train him to use it. However, if your cat has been in a carrier before and is afraid of it, you will have a more difficult time training him – but it can be done. Start by leaving the open carrier in the same room where your cat eats. If you are lucky, your cat will be curious and will explore the carrier on his own. If not, you will want to gradually move his food bowl closer to the carrier. This should be done over a period of days, not all at one meal.
Once kitty will eat near the carrier, you should sit or stand nearby. Your cat may associate you + carrier as meaning a stressful trip to the vet. If so, you want to ease him into being comfortable with having you near the carrier. Move a little closer with each meal.
When he is comfortable having you near the carrier, start the next step by moving his food bowl to the opening of the carrier. With each meal, move his bowl a tiny bit further into the carrier. It helps to also drop a couple of treats a little further inside the carrier to encourage the cat to go deeper inside.
As your cat is getting used to going deeper and deeper into the carrier, you can begin to issue a gentle command as he goes. “Get in” or “Let’s Go” will do, so that eventually, the cat will associate the command with going into the carrier.
Next, you will want to get your cat used to being in the carrier with the door closed. Put some treats in the carrier, have the cat enter, then close the door as he eats his treats. Open the door and toss in a couple more treats, but leave the door open this time. Increase the time the door is closed during each training session. Eventually, you should be able to offer treats through the closed doors.
Now comes the part that is scariest to the cat. That is being picked up and moved around in the air while inside the carrier. Again, start slowly and use lots of treats. At first, place the carrier on the floor, near a low chair or other low object. Have the cat enter the carrier and close the door. Offer treats and lift the carrier that short distance with as little movement as possible. Gradually increase the movement of the carrier until your cat is at ease being carried around the room.
When to Use the Carrier
While getting in and out of the car, or going into a hotel/motel lobby, you’ll want to have your cat in the carrier. Should you want or need to free the cat from the carrier in the car, you must expect it to get out hurriedly. Prior to deciding to open the carrier door, each of the vehicle doors needs to be shut, as well as all of the windows. Using these precautions, in case the cat becomes distressed and runs, it will nevertheless be bound within the vehicle.
Once you let kitty out of the carrier, it’s best to use a harness and leash to restrain them. Otherwise, you’re liable to have a curious cat exploring the car’s interior, including under the driver’s feet, which can be dangerous.
Getting kitty used to wearing a harness should start well in advance of your trip. You want to proceed in very small steps, spread out over several days. Start with laying the harness near their food bowl or sleeping quarters, so that they will associate it with pleasant things. Next, hold it up for them to smell, and right after they sniff, offer a treat.
The next step would be to lightly lay it on the nape of the kitty’s neck for a few seconds, then remove it and again offer a treat. If your kitty is not opposed to being held, do this while holding them, in preparation for when you will hold them to put the harness fully on.
Once he is does not seem to be bothered by the harness, put it on him, followed quickly by a treat. If he resists, distract him with another treat, take the harness off, and offer another treat. Gradually leave it on for longer and longer periods, always giving treats, until kitty is used to it.
Next you will need to get your cat used to the leash. Again, spread this process out over several days for best results. Start by putting on the harness, which your cat should now be used to, attach the leash to the harness and let your cat drag it around. Follow along behind, making sure the leash doesn’t snag on anything and scare him. Once he’s ok with that, you can pick the leash up and follow him around. But be sure you are following, and not pulling him where you want him to go. Keep the leash slack.
Next, you will begin to gently lead the cat where you want him to go. Start by walking to the end of the leash, in front of the cat, and laying a treat on the floor so the cat will come in your direction. Repeat this a few times. Eventually, you will be able to gently pull the cat in the direction you want him to go. Treats always make this process go easier.
Things to Bring
Now that you have your cat trained and comfortable with the leash, harness, and the carrier, you are ready for your trip. You should also bring along plenty of treats and the toys your cat enjoys playing with while at home. If the trip will last overnight or longer, bring along any blanket or bedding that your cat is used to sleeping on.
Bringing their usual food along will help to avoid any stomach upsets while on the trip. And of course you will want to bring a litter box filled with clean litter.
Little conveniences such as this will make them feel much more at ease.
In some cases, cats experience motion sickness, often along with the anxiety and stress that they face over the journey. There are a number of factors which can enable you recognize such sickness.
- Inactivity or lethargy
- Excessive Drooling
- Restlessness and pacing
- Excessive vocalization (loud howling or meowing)
Stress Relief Products
There are several products on the market that can aid in relieving stress in your furry friend. Two of the most popular, both recommended by veterinarians, are Feliway and Bach’s Rescue Remedy Pet Natural Stress Relief.
Feliway is a synthetic copy of a pheromone that aids in calming the tense traveler by emitting an odor which lets cats know that the area is safe and secure, allowing them to relax and be more comfortable.
Bach’s Rescue Remedy Pet Natural Stress Relief is great for calming a traveling cat. Animals that have trauma, dislike veterinarian visits, and are freaked out by fireworks or storms and thunder can also benefit from this product. A few drops of the rescue remedy is usually placed on the animal’s paws, ears or gums, or by adding a few drops to their water. For more information, you can always consult with your local vet.
It may take longer to get your cat used to the carrier, leash, and harness than the actual trip. But it will pay off when you need to take him to the vet or take trips in the future. As long as you prepare in advance, your cat can make a wonderful companion for all your trips.