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It’s National Pet Travel Safety Day, so I thought this would be a good time to discuss traveling with your cat. I’ve traveled by car and plane (no trains — yet), and stayed in all sorts of hotels, so I am kind of an expert by now! If I tried sharing everything I’ve learned, it would be a book! (Hm… that gives me an idea….)
Today, I will just discuss the preparation part of it. Because if you get that down, the rest of it will be much, much easier. This applies whether you are going on vacation or moving, or just taking a quick weekend trip an hour or two away.
Preparing for Your Cat’s Trip: It’s an Inside Game
I am going to share the biggest secret of all first: you are the most important part of your cat’s travel preparations! People are always talking about how stressful travel is for cats, how they are homebodies, resist change, etc., etc., etc. So most people go into traveling with their cats expecting them to hate it and be stressed out. And of course, your cat will sense that. How can you avoid stressing out your cat? Stop freaking out about traveling with her in the first place! Be more calm and practical about it, and consider all the things you need to do without getting emotional and overexcited. Think of it like you are going on a great adventure with your cat! Because that is what it is, really. You will be your cat’s anchor, so you need to keep your cool.
Make sure you have everything you need to make your cat’s trip comfortable. Here are some lists for you.
Travel Necessities — The Big Stuff
- The appropriate travel carrier. If you are going by car, make sure it is something sturdy that can be secured with a seatbelt. It should be able to withstand an accident. I really like the Sleepypod Mobile Pet Bed — they have been crash tested, and are very sturdy. They are also very comfy! If you are flying with your cat in cabin, you need an airline-approved carrier that fits underneath the seat in front of you. There are many companies that make the right size carriers — check the dimensions with the airline you’re flying on to avoid problems at the airport. I seriously do not recommend flying your cat in the cargo hold, but if you can’t avoid it, there are special kennels for that purpose. Do not skimp on that.
- A disposable litter box, litter, scooper and bags to dispose of the waste. You have lots of options here, including a litter box/ litter set up that is all-inclusive. I recommend using the same type of litter that you use at home. Your cat will appreciate the familiarity.
- A plush bed from home that your cat loves is another item that is good to bring.
- If you are going somewhere where you are planning on spending time outdoors and would like your cat to accompany you, consider getting a portable enclosure for her. I have a couple I use at cat show, and while I don’t need them outside because I enjoy being on my leash, I think it might be fun for other kitties.
Travel Necessities — The Small but Essential Stuff
- A harness and leash. The harness should have an ID tag attached with your cell phone number, even if your cat is microchipped. It is essential that your cat be comfortable with the harness on! It could mean the difference between losing your cat forever, or getting her home safely if she becomes lost. Come to think of it, bring an extra leash and harness, just in case something happens to the other ones.
- Enough cat food to last the duration of the trip, and a portable bowl. It should be your cat’s usual food, to avoid digestive upsets. The only exception is if you feed raw or refrigerated food. If you can bring it in a cooler, that is awesome! But you might not be able to, and if that’s the case, mix in the travel food with your cat’s regular food for a few days before you leave, so she is used to it.
- A small portable water bowl and a bottle of water. You can’t leave out water for your cat while in transit, but when you make a pit stop (if you’re driving), you can see if she’s thirsty. If you’re flying, get some water at the airport and see if she wants a drink when you reach your gate.
- Cat treats. Make sure to pack her favorites! She deserves a reward for being a good traveler (or possibly, a reward for dealing with all the annoying travel stuff).
- Extra blankets, if it is cold. Cover up your kitty’s carrier when you are outside with her, or she wants privacy.
- Pee pads. They are very handy for a couple of things. My human puts them under my litter box at hotels because it helps contain the litter that I tend to scatter and makes clean up easier. She also puts them in the carrier in case I have an accident (so far I haven’t, except for one time when I was going to the vet and wasn’t well).
- Ice packs if it is hot and you are traveling by car. Keep them in a cooler, and if you need them (like if your air conditioner fails or the car breaks down), you can wrap them in a towel or old t-shirt and put them in the carrier to help keep your cat cool. Frozen bottles of water work well for this too.
- Rescue Remedy, if you think your cat may be nervous. Pro tip: if you are flying, use the alcohol-based human kind and just put it on the carrier. Don’t use the animal kind because it contains glycerin, which will give you a big red flag at TSA. We know this because it happened to me and my human once! All her carry-on bags had to be examined by hand and she had to be patted down… meanwhile I sat there on my leash and laughed at her. You can also use those flower essences made by Jackson Galaxy too, for nervous kitties.
- A small dust pan and brush… because even with a pee pad, litter scatters like mad. Also sometimes we get clumsy and knock over the smaller, lighter travel litter boxes.
- Paper towels and a small spritzer of cleaner, in case of cat-caused accidents in your hotel room, or just general feline messiness.
- Cat toys — and make them your cat’s favorites.
- A small first aid kit, in case of any mishaps along the way.
- And, of course, any medications your cat may require.
Travel Necessities — The Paperwork
- Proof of rabies vaccination. If something happens and your cat bites someone, you need to have proof of rabies vaccination, or it may be very bad news for your cat.
- Health certificate, especially if you are traveling to another state. Airlines do check for them, although not consistently, so it is better to be safe. You should have your regular vet give your cat a quick checkup and fill one out 10 days before you leave (no sooner). Tell her what the certificate is for, so she fills out the correct paperwork.
- If you are flying, contact the airline as soon as you have made the reservation and let them know you are bringing a cat. Airlines only reserve a certain number of seats for passengers with pets, and you don’t want to get bumped because there is no room for your cat. You will also have to pay a (in my opinion) exorbitant fee for flying with your cat. Seriously, I think they should at least cut it in half because we aren’t that much trouble, if the human prepares properly. But enough editorializing — just make sure your cat is cleared with the airline right away. Do not wait on this.
- The names and numbers of veterinary clinics in the city you are traveling to. Make sure at least one is a regular vet, and one is an emergency vet.
- Photos of your cat on your phone, and notes with details about her — her age, identifying marks or fur patterns, etc. Again, if your cat gets lost, you will need all this information.
So as you can see, there is a lot of preparation, but if you take care of it all, your trip with your cat will be so much more stress-free, and maybe even fun! Your cat may never like to sit at the gate an airport and greet travelers like I do! But if you make sure she is comfortable and has as many of the comforts of home as possible — and you are calm! — she will handle her trip a lot better than you may expect.