Cats don't always make the best car passengers; they find it very stressful to be taken out of their own environment. Your cat must be secured in an appropriate carrier for the entire journey in the car. To help your car trip go as smoothly as possible, even on shorter journeys, there are ways to make to make your cat feel more comfortable. After all, a journey in a car is a new, frightening experience for any cat.
You must never travel with a cat loose in the car as if they distract the driver this is very dangerous. Also, they could get lost if they escape from the vehicle.
Travel essentials include a carrier which is large enough for your cat, strong and secure and easy to clean in case of accidents. When it comes to cat carriers, larger is not always better as a cat may feel less secure in a big space and prefer to huddle up in a small, secure basket (of course they should not be cramped). Different carriers are available including plastic, wire mesh or wicker ones. Avoid cardboard boxes as they are not as strong and, if the cat urinates in the box it will quickly weaken, risking escape of the passenger.
Tips for a comfortable journey
- Place the carrier in a position where you (as the driver) are unlikely to be distracted, and if you brake suddenly the carrier will not fly off the seat.
- If using a wire carrier that allows the cat to see out of all sides, cover all but the front so the cat feels more secure.
- Introduce your cat to car travel gradually, perhaps starting with a short trip around the block. Then lead up slowly to a longer journey, always followed by rewards of attention and treats. This training is best started as a kitten.
- A waterproof sheet beneath the basket will come in handy in case of accidents.
- Do not feed your cat in the hour or two before travelling as a full tummy may prompt travel-sickness.
- Always carry paper towels, plastic rubbish bags and a safe disinfectant in case of an accident.
- Take along your cat's favourite toy or blanket.
- If a long journey is planned, for example longer than four hours, then you may need to think about a carrier that accommodates a litter tray and a water bowl. If very long journeys will necessitate opening the cat box, ensure all car doors and windows are closed to avoid the cat escaping into a strange environment.
- Open the car window so your cat gets adequate ventilation (but not the carrier).
- Never leave your cat in a hot car, even for a few minutes: days that seem mild can still warm up a car so, if in doubt, do not take any risks.
- Consider using a feline pheromone spray to try and calm your cat during the journey (available from your vet).
- Cats may vocalise during the journey, particularly initially. They will usually settle down as the journey progresses.
With careful planning, a car journey need not always be stressful for you or your cat!