Travelling with your cat can be quite an undertaking. Cats like their own territory and so many owners might decide it's best to leave them behind with a trusted carer. On the other hand, modern pet carriers, pet passports and vaccinations have made it far more feasible for people who wish to travel with their cat to do so. It is important to speak with your vet first if you are planning a long trip.
If you're travelling by train, car, boat or plane, a cat carrier is an essential accessory. Some cats put into a carrier at the last minute will react with acute anxiety and distress so it is important to start the acclimatisation process well in advance.. The longer the period of introduction to the carrier, the more comfortable your cat will be. Leave the carrier open on the floor and make it appear inviting with some soft bedding, a few catnip treats and familiar scents. Airline-type plastic carriers can be disassembled, inviting curious cats to jump in. Before setting off, remember to check with your travel provider that domestic animals are permitted on their journeys, and that your pet carrier adheres to their guidelines.
Consulting your vet before travelling
In most cases cats don’t require special medication for travelling, however, if unsure, ask your vet. Consider your cat's general health and history of anxiety during confinement or travel. If your cat has been anxious when travelling in the past, perhaps reconsider whether taking her with you is a good idea. If your cat is already taking medication, make sure you have a sufficient supply to last the duration of your time away. Be aware that the sedative effects of the medication could last considerably longer than the trip and your cat may need to be housed in a quiet warm secure place on arrival until she is fully recovered. If your vet prescribes your cat medication for the trip, it may be helpful to ask about trialling it in advance, particularly if you are planning to travel long distances.
- Don't forget to arrange for your cat's comfort and safety at your final destination well before you leave, especially if you are travelling abroad. Make sure your accommodation is cat-friendly and secure, as unless she is already familiar with the outdoor environment where you are going, she will need to be kept indoors throughout the length of your stay.
- If you are staying at someone else's home, check ahead about appropriate toilet facilities for your cat and the presence of other pets, which might affect her behaviour.
- Ensure that your cat will have everything she needs for at least the first few days of the trip until you find local supply sources, such food, water, treats, litter boxes and a good supply of litter. If possible take familiar items from home to help her settle in well, such as scratching posts, toys and comfy bedding.
- For the journey take a non-spill water bowl and bottles of fresh water for your cat, as it is essential to offer fresh water frequently.
- Either place a suitably sized litter box in her travelling carrier that allows plenty of separate access to her bedding after she has used it, or be prepared to move her safely to a separate carrier for toileting every couple of hours. Pack plenty of plastic bags and cleaning equipment for when your cat relieves herself to keep her travelling carrier comfortable and dry.
If you are travelling abroad, some countries require a period of quarantine on arrival but, if quarantine is not required, or you are staying closer to home, make sure to contact whoever is in charge of maintaining your lodgings to let them know of any specific requirements your cat may have. Remember to allow your cat plenty of time to settle in, and leave her in her carrier in a quiet room while you unpack. Then secure the room and allow her out to explore at her own pace under supervision, moving to other rooms one at a time as she becomes more comfortable. Make sure everyone is aware which areas she is to be allowed into and that doors and windows to those rooms are kept closed, and the temperature controlled for her comfort.
Microchipping your cat is always a good idea, even more so if you are travelling. In fact, if you're going overseas under the Pet Travel Scheme (PETS), it's compulsory. Ask your vet for more details.
The Pet Travel Scheme
The Pet Travel Scheme (PETS) is a British Government scheme administered by DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) that allows people in the UK to take their cats and dogs to certain other countries and territories, and return with them to the UK without the need for quarantine, as long as their owner makes sure particular conditions are met. These include the need to book your trip with an approved transport company, use an approved route, and for your pet to fulfil certain health-related criteria, such as up-to-date vaccinations and a recent blood-test.
Some countries have additional special conditions and documentation requirements that must be met before you enter.
The list of everything you need, including approved countries, companies and routes is updated quite frequently, so always check the DEFRA website at www.defra.gov.uk/wildlife-pets/pets/travel/pets/ well in advance of your trip for the latest information, or call the PETS Helpline on 0870 241 1710. We also recommend always asking your vet’s advice before booking a foreign trip with your cat.
Republic of Ireland residents can find out about travel regulations and requirements at http://www.agriculture.gov.ie/pets.
Leaving your cat at home
Cats tend to be most content in their own homes with familiar litter boxes, food bowls and napping spots. So although you will no doubt miss your cat, you might wish to consider leaving her behind with a pet sitter if you feel the trip might be too stressful for both you and your cat.
Assuming your cat has no specific medical needs, a trusted cat-friendly neighbour, friend or family member can be asked to feed her, clean her litter tray, provide food and fresh water and give her some affection and playtime. Alternatively a professional pet-sitter can be hired to care for your cat whilst you are away, or you can leave her at a boarding cattery.
For advice to help you choose what’s best for you and your cat, see Cat Sitting and Catteries.