Traveling with cats

Most cats don’t like traveling, but if you take the right approach, you can minimize the stress, ensure the trip goes smoothly – and maybe even get your kitty to enjoy it.

Sooner or later, your cat is going to have to do some traveling. Whether it’s a vacation, a work-related move, evacuation due to natural disaster, or just his annual vet visit, no kitty can stay home all the time.

The majority of cats don’t enjoy traveling, as Charlotte Slater can attest. She has moved across the country, traveled for a summer internship, and evacuated because of hurricanes – and has taken her cats along for all of it. She recalls crossing the desert in Arizona/New Mexico. “One of my cats, Idea, didn’t like car rides and howled for the entire five-day cross-country trip,” she says. To make matters worse, the car’s air conditioner quit during the trip. In spite of the open windows, Idea overheated. “I found a gas station in the middle of nowhere. The air conditioning there and cool water on her body lowered her temperature, but it was scary.”

“Traveling with Calico, a former feral cat, was also extremely difficult,” Charlotte adds. “I live in the Florida Keys and one hurricane season we had to evacuate four or five times. At the hotel, Calico would hide. Once I thought she had escaped but I found her behind some furniture. In the commotion, I hit my head on a coffee table and almost knocked myself out. By the time we got home, she was fine but I had an egg-sized lump on my forehead as well as slash marks on my legs.”

“When traveling with cats, it’s better to be over-prepared than not,” advises Dr. Kathleen Miller, Director of Anti-Cruelty Behavior Research for the ASPCA. “If the car breaks down, a plane is delayed or other mishaps occur, what should have been a short trip can look like an episode of Gilligan’s Island – the three-hour tour that turned into a shipwreck.”

Taking your cat places doesn’t have to be this stressful. Here’s how some cat lovers turned their kitties into veteran travelers.

• To get her kitten used to the car, M. D. Robin took her on short rides to the grocery store, and then sat in the car with her. “I started with 15-minute trips and worked up from there,” says M.D. “Now, when we travel, Zia sleeps during the day but in the evening she loves to watch tractor trailers go by. She also loves to people watch. So far, Zia’s been in 16 states.”

• Remie is used to both cars and planes. Now aged two, she’s been traveling since she was four months old. “When she goes with us on flights she wears a harness so we can easily take her through security screenings,” says Erin Lumpkin. “Otherwise we don’t make too many adjustments. We withhold food and water four hours before leaving for the airport so there’s no issue with motion sickness. We bring a blanket to put over her carrier on the plane. Zia also stays in her crate to and from the hotel. We bring her favorite blankets, toys, food, water and litter. We’ve learned to ask for a room with a view so she can look out and see people going by.”

• “Our travel was not recreational,” says Peggy Bendel. “For many years, we split our time between homes in Arizona and New York. For nine years (18 trips) we traveled back and forth in a van with our seven cats, a four-day trip each way. Each cat was in his own carrier and wore a harness with an attached tag that said ‘reward’ with my name and cell phone number. The harnesses stayed on throughout the trip.” An attached leash helps prevent escape and makes for an easy catch if the cat tries to hide in a small space.

Over time, many cats become seasoned travelers and may even come to enjoy it. “My Birmans, Calin and Cody, love traveling,” says Charlotte. “When we arrive at the hotel, they like to explore the room and signify their approval with head butts and purrs!”


Sandra Murphy lives in St Louis, Missouri. When she's not writing, she works as a pet sitter.