Traveling with a cat can be a stressful situation, especially if your cat has a personality! This past May I drove across the United States with my cat from Miami to Seattle. Before driving I read a ton of different websites dedicated to traveling with a cat, and of course I came across a variety of opinions on the subject.
Since I just traveled and moved with my cat, I wanted to share my experience. Here are some important steps and items you should bring when traveling with a cat.
Learn about Paperwork & Regulations
One of the first and most important steps when traveling with an animal is learning about paperwork and regulations.
Traveling across the United States requires the Certificate of Veterinary Inspection. The certificate is legally required when crossing state lines. You should have this certificate on hand at all times when traveling with your pet. If you get pulled over for any reason, you could be asked for the certificate. From my research the two states most likely to request and check the certificate are Arizona and California.
Some vets refer to the Certificate of Veterinary Inspection as a health certificate. Whether it is driving or flying, you should have this certificate. The certificate is only valid for 30 days after signed by a vet. Most airlines require the certificate to be completed within a certain timeframe before flying.
Regulations can also impact your travel. This was not something that personally affected me this trip, but if you are traveling to certain states (like Hawaii) or outside of the United States you should look into potential regulations. For example, Hawaii does require a quarantine for all animals entering the state (though there are exceptions for service animals).
Visit your Vet
Just like with humans, it is important to make sure everything is okay with you cat! I took my cat to the vet about a week before moving for a check-up and for a health certificate.
If you are planning on traveling or moving, here is a checklist of items to obtain for your cat:
- Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (health certificate)
- Prescription refills
- Vaccinations – Update any vaccinations that are due
- Microchip – If you haven’t already microchipped your pet, a microchip is an excellent investment. If you cat becomes lost, a shelter can scan your cat for a microchip. The scan should pull up all your contact information connected to the microchip. Make sure to keep the information on the microchip up-to-date, including the yearly subscription. My cat’s microchip is connected to HomeAgain. I always make sure I have her microchip information on hand, which I’ve saved to a note on my phone and contacts for easy access.
- Medical Records – This is helpful to have if you need to visit a new vet or if a hotel asks for the information. Your vet should provide you copies of all medical records.
- Motion Sickness – This wasn’t something I was personally worried about since my cat does not get sick. If this is something you are concerned about or you cat has a tendency to get motion sickness, talk to your vet about any motion sickness prevention.
- Practice Riding in the Car & Cat Carrier
Luckily my cat was used to my Jeep from vet trips and when I drove her to Ft. Lauderdale for her cat hotel. It is important to make sure your cat is used to the feeling of being in a car. This is also the perfect time to find out if your cat will have any issues of motion sickness. Additionally, make sure your cat is comfortable in a cat carrier, especially if you don’t use one much.
Creating a Routine
This is a difficult issue on a road trip, but try to make a routine for your cat. This is especially important when it comes to feeding! After getting to a hotel I would immediately set up the play pen area to include her bedding, litter box, dry food, wet food, and water. Whenever we were in a hotel she had access to both types of food and water at all times.
Each morning I would immediately feed her after getting up. Mainly this was replenishing her wet food in the morning. I also added a spoonful of water to her wet food. This helped her stay hydrated throughout the day.
Typically, I removed the food from her play pen about an hour before packing up the room. I really tried to avoid her eating right before I put her in the cat carrier. This way she had enough time to allow food and water to settle before leaving, especially in case of potential motion sickness and bathroom accidents.
Length of Time for Packing
Not necessarily something you may think of, but you should take into account the time for packing each morning. Not only are you packing your own items up, you are also having to pack your cat’s supplies up and attempt to put your cat in a carrier! I gave myself an extra 45 minutes for packing and cleaning everything up each morning. Adding extra time to your schedule will be helpful when trying to leave early.
Invest in a Safe Cat Carrier
I wasn’t thrilled with the first carrier I had purchased when I adopted my cat years ago. After a ton of research, I ended up investing in a higher quality carrier. I purchased the Sleepypod Air Carrier. This carrier meets all airline and TSA requirements, though I doubt I plan on flying with my cat anytime soon!
My favorite feature is the ability to secure a seatbelt around the carrier. Humans wear seatbelts, pets should also be protected! In case of an accident, the restraint actually will keep the carrier in the seat. This also is the only pet carrier brand I could find that crash tests their products.
Collar with Identification Tag
My cat actually wears a collar all the time with identification. For travel it is especially important to have a collar with an identification tag. If you cat isn’t used to a collar, you may want to start practicing. This is just an extra step to help properly identify your cat in case something happens during your trip. I recommend a breakaway collar (the collar should breakaway if it becomes stuck on something). The tag should at least have your pet’s name on it and your mobile number. If your vet provides a rabies tag, also include this as well.
Harness and Leash
I have to fully admit I was not able to use a harness, but I really wanted to use one. This would have been a huge help on the road. I tried and tried to get a harness on my cat, but I had no luck! If you are lucky and can get a harness on your cat, use it! I was not able to remove my cat from her carrier during the ride since I ultimately could not get a harness or leash on her. If I had a harness, I feel my cat’s experience would have been much better.
Cats can be slippery and can manage to get themselves out of collars and harnesses. Make sure to purchase a harness that fits your cat properly, which your cat will be comfortable in but also can’t escape from. The best tip is to practice using the harness and leash on your cat, this way your cat will be used to the restraint and you’ll have an idea how your cat will react.
Knock on wood, my cat has never had fleas since I adopted her. I don’t give her flea treatments often but I have always given my cat a treatment before being boarded. You just never know what other animals may be around. This time I gave her a treatment before traveling. Basically, I use the treatment as a preventative measure. You truly never know who stayed in a hotel room previously or what you may encounter on the road.
Bring Water from Home
Water probably isn’t something you think about right away but is probably one of the top things you should bring. Bring water bottles of your own home water or purchase bottled water. Your cat is used to the water from home, keep the routine the same by using the same type of water. I actually purchased bottled water and started mixing this into her water bowl before moving. This way my cat became used to the taste of bottled water, which made it easier in the long run.
Water around the United States can taste different, plus it may not be pleasant in some areas. Heck, the tap water in the hotel in Tennessee we stayed at was absolutely horrid when brushing teeth. Your cat may not drink the tap water if it smells or has an odd taste. Bringing water from home or purchasing bottled water, will make everyone’s life easier!
Using a Play Pen (or Crate)
A lot of blogs talk about letting your cat roam the hotel room or just closing them in the bathroom for the night. Personally, I think this is a wrong way to go for most cats. Cats explore and like to hide when they become upset (or sometimes dart out an open door). The best way to make your cat comfortable is to create their own space in a hotel room.
I purchased a Pet Pen from Amazon (36-inch) about a year before moving. I knew I would be moving at some point in time and wanted my cat to become accustomed to the pen. I set up the play pen in my apartment for about 6 months with a blanket inside. After the first week, she went in the play pen on and off. When the time came to drive across country, she was used to the play pen and had no problem being in it.
I felt using the Pet Pen made a huge difference while traveling. Once I was in each hotel room I immediately set the pen up with her blanket, food, and litter box. After the pen was setup I placed her in it each evening and closed it. This way she had her own space and everything was contained. I did end up placing a towel over the top of the play pen after the first night. She seemed a bit restless but once the towel was on the top she calmed down tremendously. I knew she was safe and wouldn’t get stuck somewhere in the room.
My worst fear was having my cat become stuck behind furniture and not being able to get her out easily. Most hotels rooms I stayed in did not have a bed with a solid base. A lot had furniture with gaps on the bottom, which she could have gotten stuck under. I have even read stores online of cats becoming stuck in air conditioning units. I flat out did not want to take a chance.
Travel Litter Boxes
I ended up using both a disposable litter box and a plastic litter box with a lid. My cat is used to a lidded litter box and was confused the first time when I tried to use the disposable box. The disposable box does not come with a lid and she flung litter everywhere. To stop this potential problem, I went and purchased a plastic litter box with a lid that I could use with the disposable box. I was able to place the disposable box into the lidded box, which kept my cat’s play pen clean and made easier cleanup for me!
Each day I just bagged up the disposable litter box and used litter into a garbage bag. I could then easily take the used box to the garbage. The plastic litter box barely needed any cleaning since the disposable box was really the only part being used. This made cleanup a breeze!
Also, you can always make a makeshift litter box out of storage plastic bin and lid. This might be the best route if you plan on being on the road for an extended period of time. This way you don’t have to dump the cat litter every night and can cover the bin with a plastic lid.
Depending on your cat, liners may also be another option to create easier cleanup in litter boxes. Make sure to bring litter your cat likes, a litter box scooper, and some garbage bags.
Find a Cat-Friendly Hotel
I’ll dive into this in Traveling (Or Moving) with a Cat! – Part 2. This step actually requires some research and planning.
- Your cat’s regular food (wet and dry) – Also bring some extra
- Food and water dishes – I ended up using plastic bowls for the food, which I was able to throw away after each use. This made it easier for cleanup and my cat was not bothered by the plastic bowl (some cats may have an issue). I did though you the same water dish my cat was used to from home.
- Water – Tap water from home or bottled water
- Favorite toys
- Kitty treats – Great way to bribe your cat sometimes
- Cat carrier
- Wee-Wee Pads – Used at the bottom of the cat carrier in case of any potential accidents
- Roll of paper towels – To clean up any messes
- Play pen or crate for the hotel room
- Litter box
- Litter scooper
- Garbage bags – Actually rather helpful when dumping the disposable litter boxes in hotel rooms
Even though I describe my cat as a goober, she truthfully was a good cat traveler! I’m thankful the traveling experience went really smoothly and that she remained calm most of the time. She never got sick once during the trip or had an accident. The only issue I had was non-stop meowing while driving through the entire State of Kentucky!
Have you traveled with a cat? What was your experience like?
Want to read more? Check out Part 2 of Traveling with a Cat!