Cat Travel

May 18, 2010

Most people are familiar with dogs traveling around on holidays, but now that cats are becoming a more popular pet, many people are taking their cats along on summer vacations. In general cats dread travel, but this can be overcome if you plan ahead.

I have a friend who travels from Columbia to Charleston every weekend, and her aged cat made the trip regularly until he died at the age of 22. This kitty was adapted to the car at an early age. I now have two young kittens, and I want them to be comfortable with travel. In order to accomplish this, I keep their carrier on the floor of “their” room. Then can go in an out of it as they like and they will often find a tasty treat in there. I take them to work with me occasionally, but this is often for a shot update or something else unpleasant. I don’t want them to associate every car ride with a trip to the vet, so I also put them in the carrier and just take them for a drive around the block. This keeps them used to the car.

Cats must be confined in the car or they tend to climb under your feet or onto the dash via the steering wheel. A small carrier works well, but you will need to allow access to a litter box every 3-4 hours. A larger carrier may enable you to keep a dish of water and a litter box in with the cat. This reduces the risk of escape at a rest area. Don’t be surprised if your pet doesn’t use the litter box. Stressed cats can “hold it” for 24 hours or more. Most grocery stores now carry disposable litter boxes. These are very handy for travel although a pie pan works well too.

If you need to let your cat out of the carrier to eliminate or eat, attach a leash. Very few cats will “walk” on their leash, but it provides a certain safety net if he should dart away in fear. Leashes are most effective if they are attached to a harness rather than a collar. Be sure a collar or harness bears tags with your name and numbers and a microchip is mandatory for a traveling cat.

If you stop at a pet friendly hotel, I recommend that you keep the cats confined to their carriers or the bathroom. This reduces the risk of urination on carpet or the bed. But, they can get some supervised exercise before you go to sleep. This is also a good time to offer a small portion of your cat’s regular food.

Unfortunately, most cats hate car travel and may require sedation to make a longer trip. Your veterinarian can recommend an appropriate sedative. Be sure to get an extra dose to do a trial run with the sedative. Give one on a Saturday or Sunday when you can stay home and watch your pet’s response to the drug. Some cats get disoriented under sedation and vocalize incessantly. If your pet does this, you might want to skip the sedation, as constant howling makes for a miserable car ride.

If you choose to fly with your cat, I strongly recommend that you book well in advance so that you can take him on board with you. Cats easily fit in soft carriers that will fit under the seat in front of you. Some cats will need sedation for this type of trip. Discuss this with your veterinarian. Again, be sure to do the trial sedation before the flight so you will know how much sedative to give and if it actually makes your cat more or less comfortable. Adapt your cat to the new carrier by offering treats inside the open carrier for a week or two before the trip. A thick layer of towels and some plastic trash bags will enable you to handle any “accidents” during the trip.

Once you reach your destination, be sure to keep your cat indoors. It is true that cats will try to walk back home, even if it is hundreds of miles from your vacation spot.

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