Little Bug Traveling Cat
Traveling with cats? No one travels with cats, right? Tell that to Lily, who goes on trips around town with her owner, Lori Cowell, in Florida. Or try to convince Bug, who just got back from a journey to Europe with her constant companion, veterinarian Dr. Ken Lambrecht.

Their stories may sound like fantasy when many of us struggle just to get our cats to a vet appointment. But more cats do it than you might think — and even if your cat isn’t the type, you can still learn something from how these owners keep their pets happy on the road.

Know Your Cat, Then Start Slowly

Ask anyone who’s done it successfully, and she’ll tell you the first step in making travel fun for a cat is to pick the right cat.

"I call her ‘puppy cat,’ because she is more like a dog than a cat," Cowell says of Lily, who she got from a shelter at 11 months old after her original owner died. "She loves people; she loves to he held; she loves to be carried. My other cat would run under the bed when the door opened. She runs to the door."

Dr. Lambrecht calls cats with the right temperament "adventure cats." "These are cats who are ready to go from the get-go," he says. Bug was like that from the beginning, when he got her as a 12-week-old kitten. Looking at a photo of her litter of six, he says, "You can see it in her eyes, looking at me like, When are we going?"

Of course, even with the right temperament, you need to work up to the big adventures. Cowell says, "I started taking her on errands with me, getting her used to the car, taking her to neighbors’ houses." Now Lily accompanies her on overnight visits to friends’ and hangs out at the salon. "I put her down, she looks around and the next thing you know she’s sitting on someone’s lap."

After Dr. Lambrecht successfully took Bug camping and hiking for the first time, she started to accompany him to other activities. At one point, a friend was moving to Washington, D.C. and wanted company, so the two of them flew there with her. After that trip went well, Bug started going to veterinary conventions, finally leading to their recent trip to Spain and Portugal. "People got a big kick out of it," he says. "Everyone wants a cat fix, so they come up and pet her. Now she has her own business card and six or seven hundred fans on Facebook."

Even as you gain experience in traveling together you still need to be observant of your cat’s behavior and not push beyond her limits. Lily, for example, generally loves dogs but not so much her own kind. "I dog-sat for a weekend, and she loved playing with him," Cowell says. "Not other cats, though — she’s not a cat person."

And not every journey may be right for your cat, even if she enjoys traveling. Cowell recently took a trip to Washington, D.C. but left Lily behind, because she was staying with a friend whose dog is not friendly. "I know what works for her. I wouldn’t put undue stress on Lily," she says. "She’s not a nervous cat, and I don’t want to make her one."
Lily Traveling Cat

Travel Safety

Keeping the cat safe is the first priority for all traveling pet owners. Cowell and Dr. Lambrecht go places with their pets, because they’re confident they have cats who won’t run away, but they both still have leashes and harnesses on them.

"I have heard horror stories about cats getting loose on the road, so I keep her in a harness, and if I stop, I put the leash on her," Cowell says.

Dr. Lambrecht says that microchipping is essential, and he is also about to get a new GPS collar that’s small enough for a cat. He has an airline-approved carrier, but usually carries Bug in a breathable bag that goes under his arm. "She loves to be in bags, so she snuggles in there."

Another safety issue you should prepare for involves vaccinations and parasite protection. If you’re thinking of traveling with your cat, talk with your veterinarian about vaccinations and parasite control products that may be needed, depending on potential exposure to other cats or parasites in different parts of the country or world.

Litterbox Logistics

It’s important to have a plan for letting your cat do her business. On her overnight trips with Lily, Cowell uses a disposable litterbox with a peel-off top. Dr. Lambrecht has a covered box that he keeps in a big bag. Then, he says, all you have to do is watch your cat’s behavior. Bug slept for most of the nine-hour flight from Spain, so it was pretty clear when she needed to go. "If you think about it, cats sleep 70 percent of their life, so as long as you take care of her litterbox issues, she’s totally comfortable in her bag," he says. "I can tell when she’s restless, and I had to get the box down from the overhead and go into the lavatory and let her do her thing."

He says he’s done the same in bus stations, on a train and even on his friends’ sailboats. "I leave the litterbox covered — you want to be a good guest — and when she paws on the litterbox, I take the top off."

Little Bug on Boat

Every Cat Has to Travel Sometime

Even if you don’t have an "adventure cat," every cat is going to have to go somewhere at some point: if you move, say, and, of course, to go to the vet.

"We do a very poor job of socializing kittens," Dr. Lambrecht says. "They need to go other places and do other things. Any amount of travel ahead of time is going to make the time they have to travel easier."

Work on getting your cat used to a carrier and the car, even when you’re not going anywhere. At Dr. Lambrecht’s practice, they actually provide an opportunity for cats to go visiting — it’s called Cat’s Night Out. Five to 10 cats go each month to hang out and socialize with each other. Though they’re cats who already have the right temperament, he says, practice helps: "They do get better with multiple visits, as long as there’s treats and it’s a fun visit."

Some of these cats also go other places with their owners. "We have a number of people whose cats go backpacking with them. It’s not that rare, I think," he says. "It’s a paradigm shift — there are more cats than dogs now, and the younger generation says, ‘I want my cat to come with me.’ No one told them you couldn’t do that."

And Dr. Lambrecht says that though not all cats are suited to go on adventures, there may be more of them than we think.

"We’ve underestimated what cats can do," he says. "Start young, start with one who shows the right temperament and then nurture that from a young age by small positive experiences."

From those first small steps, who knows where you’ll end up — maybe even in Spain. "I never planned any of this. I just kept taking it to the next sensible level," he says. "Now that I know the path, I think it might open up the possibility for other people."

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