Car Travel With Cats: What You Should Know
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who knows cats that most felines don’t like traveling. My two cats are no exception.
However, in the last few years, our family life has required several unavoidable multiday car trips with our cats, so I’ve learned a few things about cats and travel — more than I ever hoped to know, actually.
Truths About Traveling With Cats
The cats aren't going to use the litterbox in transit. My husband and I thought we were so smart by creating a designated litterbox spot on the floor of the car behind the driver's seat. We planned to bring the cats out one at a time for a potty break when we stopped for our own. We found out quickly that the cats had zero interest in using a roadie litterbox. We also learned that you can never really get rid of all the cat litter once it spills on the floor of your car.
Cat-friendly hotel rooms are not easy to find. If you’ve ever traveled with your pet, you know that planning hotel stays in advance is a must. Pet-friendly hotels don’t always have their pet-friendly rooms available. And did you know that not all "pet-friendly" hotels accept cats? Be prepared for some hefty fees for the convenience of bringing your kitties along. I spent a lot of time on the phone tracking down hotels along our routes that would welcome our furry family members.
Your cats will hide in your hotel room. When you do find that cat-friendly hotel, do a sweep and block all entrances to places you can’t reach, like behind or under the bed — before you let your cat loose in the room. And don’t underestimate your cat and where he can shimmy. One of my cats flattened himself into a furry pancake and stayed under the hotel’s armoire for most of our overnight stay. I never thought he’d be able to fit under there, but he did.
Simple Survival Strategies
Make the cats comfy in the bathroom. After a couple of trips, I found it was easiest to just keep the cats in the bathroom overnight when we stopped at a hotel. Let your cats out of their carriers, but leave the carriers in the bathroom with them in case they want to hang out in a “familiar” place. Put the litterbox in the tub to create some separation between the box and your cats' sleeping and eating area. In this setup, your cats will be contained, probably can’t damage anything and are easy to corral when it’s time to go. If you're worried about being mean, don't be. Your cats will likely feel more secure in that smaller space anyway.
Don't open the carrier in the car. Some cats will stay in their carrier if you open it, and some won’t. Even if you just want to give them a few reassuring chin scratches, don’t take the chance. You may think you know your cat, but all bets are off when you’re on the road. Your kitty may freak out and bolt, and you run the risk of him jumping out of the car or burrowing under your luggage in the back seat, impossible to reach unless you unpack the entire car. Trust me on this one.
Be prepared to take pit stops in shifts. During our first cat-accompanied road trip, we realized at the first rest stop that someone would have to stay in the car with the cats. This posed a slight issue for us as we were traveling with two small human children in addition to the cats, so we took turns taking the kids to the restroom and for quick playground let-off-steam runs. While it may seem like a hassle to eat and potty in shifts, never leave your pets alone in a car. An enclosed car can heat up quickly and dangerously, even when it’s cold outside.
Update microchips and tags. My biggest fear about traveling with my cats was that one of them would escape and be lost forever. It’s a valid concern because cats get weird when they’re in unfamiliar places, and if you let them out of the carrier, even for a second, you may be in big trouble. Make sure to update your cats’ microchip information with your cellphone number, and if they don’t wear collars and tags already, make sure they’re wearing them while you’re on your trip.
You may think you will never find yourself in a situation where you have to take your cats on a long car trip (I never dreamed I’d have to do it four times), but life takes unexpected turns. Traveling with cats isn’t easy, but it can be done. If you think ahead, take extra measures to keep your cats safe and prepare for unpredictable behavior, then you and your cats are more likely to arrive safely at your destination.