Take the Cat or Leave Her Home

Vacation Time! Should I bring my cat?

Summer is here at last! As we start to cautiously travel again during this time of COVID-19, summer weekend trips and longer vacations are beginning to happen. So, what about your kitty? Are you planning to take your cat along on your trip, or would he be happier staying at home?

As a general rule, cats prefer routine and predictability. Your cat may love to be with you, however traveling to strange new places may cause your cat stress, which could result in illness or behavior problems. On the other hand, I know of some cats who travel regularly with their humans and love the experience. Your cat’s reaction to travel depends upon your cat’s particular personality.

Taking your cat along on a short trip may do more harm then good. A short trip wouldn’t allow enough time for your cat to become settled and adjusted to the vacation setting. Therefore, the amount of stress he would be under could be fairly weighty. You’ll enjoy your vacation more, and have less worry, if your cat is at home in his comfortable surroundings being pampered by a trusted friend or pet sitter.

Conversely, if you are going away for a few weeks or perhaps for the entire summer, then of course you would want to bring your beloved feline friend along to share the adventure. While it might be initially stressful for your cat, in the long run it would be better for him to come along than to be without you for such a long period of time.

I have moved (too) many times with my cats, and have successfully made two cross-country trips driving multiple cats over 2500 miles both times. Whether your trip is for a vacation, or because you are moving across the country like I did, these travel tips that will minimize the stress for both of you, so you can enjoy summer together and make vacationing with your kitty as relaxing as possible by.

Bold versus Shy Cats

Kittens are bold by nature, and young adult cats are more adaptable. Therefore, they do tend to handle travel better than their old counterparts. If you have a kitten or young cat, you may have a minimal amount of kitty stress to overcome. Adult cats that tend to be more naturally playful and inquisitive may also tend to handle travel better, too.

However, if you have a cat who is shy and timid or one who gets aggressive when meeting new people or encountering new situations, then tasking him along on a trip will likely be stressfully challenging for you both. 

Travel Preparation

It would be helpful to get an idea ahead of time of just how well your cat might handle a car trip. Take your cat on short car rides to get him used to both being in his carrier and to being in motion. This will enable you and kitty to be better prepared, which will make the trip more pleasant for you both. 

Place your cat in a secure carrier and take him for short rides, so his first experience riding in the car isn’t a multi-day journey. Even if you are traveling by plane, these short car rides will get him used to being inside the carrier in a moving vehicle. These shorter trips will also help your cat feel less anxious when he sees he will eventually be let out of the carrier.

It’s a good idea to label the cat carrier with your name and mobile phone number, in case you become separated from your cat during the journey. This is especially important if you are flying, and may become separated at the security counter or baggage area.

If your cat isn’t already microchipped, now is the time. It’s also a good idea to get him used to wearing a collar and tag if he doesn’t already do so. The tag should have your name along with your mobile phone number, making you immediately reachable should your kitty become separated from you along the trip or run off once you get to your destination. You might also want to get your kitty used to wearing a harness and walking on a leash. Some cats really enjoy this, and it is a secure way to let kitty stretch his legs during a long car trip.

Take your cat to his veterinarian for a check up shortly before your trip, as some airlines and even some state boarders require a travel certificate before your call will be allowed entry. It’s also a good idea to obtain a set of your cat’s medical records to bring along, in case your cat needs veterinary care during your vacation. Research veterinarians ahead of time at your vacation destination, so you’ll be prepared should the need arise.

During the Trip

While you’re traveling to your vacation destination, there are some things you can do to make the trip go smooth as possible. Feed your cat only in the evenings during your trip, after travel for the day is done and you’re settled in for the night. This will cut down on potential motion sickness issues during the drive, and it won’t hurt him to miss breakfast for a day or two. Do make sure that he drinks water and stays hydrated.

Herbal calming essences added to your cat’s water may help keep him feeling calm. There are many over the counter holistic remedies, and you can ask your veterinarian to help you choose the one that’s right for your cat. Use of a pheromone spray or plug in while at your evening resting place during a multi-day drive, and also at your final destination, may also help keep kitty feeling peaceful.

While driving, be sure to keep the cat carrier closed and secure at all times. If you’re driving and need to open the carrier to snap on a leash or clean up a mess, or just to give kitty some reassurance, do so with all the car doors shut and locked, as well as all the windows rolled up, to prevent an accidental cat escape.

If you are flying, be sure to use an airport approved carrier and check with your airlines ahead of time to be sure they allow pets to travel aboard the plane. Avoid putting your cat in the luggage area under the plane, where potential accidental escapes could (and do) happen. Also, the atmosphere in baggage hold is not very comfortable and not pressurized or heated/cooled like the passenger cabin.

If you are driving and have overnight stays at a pet-friendly hotel, do not open the door to outside once your cat is out of his carrier, or he might dash out the door. Before letting your cat out of his carrier, check the room for potential escape hazards and hiding places, such as under bed springs, inside a chair, holes in the wall, etc.

At Your Destination

Bravo! You have finally arrived at your vacation spot. The hard part is over, and it’s time to get your cat acquainted with his new “home away from home,” so he can begin to relax.

Start by putting his carrier in small room, like a den or bathroom, so he can get used to the new sights and smells without feeling overwhelmed. Be sure to check for potential escape routes, such as loose screens and open windows or doors. Encourage him to come out of the carrier by speaking calmly and offering some of his most favorite goodies. Let him explore at his own pace. 

If you were able to bring some of your cat’s own things, such as his cat bed, toys, cat dishes, this will help him acclimate to his new surroundings. Having things from home that already smell like him, and like home, will give your cat a sense of security.  Also feed him the same brand of cat food you were feeding him at home. If your cat has a sensitive tummy it might be a good idea to give him bottled water or use a filtered water pitcher. Water from a new city could upset his tummy (and yours as well).

It won’t take long before your cat is relaxed and snoozing in your lap, happy to be sharing this special time with you. Cats eventually adapt to new places, and are happy to just be with you, wherever you are. As long as you’re together, that’s enough to make your cat purr with joy.  

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