Posted on: June 12th, 2015 by Dr. Dale Rubenstein

Summer is finally here, and that brings travel season. Since you probably wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t share your life with at least one furry feline, you may be faced with decisions about traveling with your cat. How can I get my cat into a carrier? Should I take my cat with me or leave her at home? How can I make the annual trip to the veterinary office for a wellness visit less stressful? We will be posting a series of blogs about these questions and more.

At some point, you will likely have to take your cat someplace in the car. This may be just for a veterinary office visit locally, or it may be bringing your cat out of town with you. Traveling with your cat doesn’t always have to be traumatic; cats who are used to it may not mind car travel. We will start with some general tips to make traveling with your cat easier, whether for a short ride or long trip:

  • Start early getting your cat used to the carrier! Keep the carrier out and give your cat a treat daily, by tossing the treat into the back of the carrier. This way, your cat has to walk in on his own, but he will be rewarded for doing so. We recommend giving the treat daily to cement a more positive association with the carrier. If you visit our Videos page on the website, we have several good videos about getting your cat used to the carrier.
  • Feliway® spray (or new Feliway wipes) contains a synthetic pheromone and has calming benefits for cats. We recommend spraying or wiping the evening before travel, then re-apply 1-2 hours prior to travel. Feliway contains alcohol, and you want that to dry before putting your cat into the carrier. You may spray the carrier itself or a towel that goes in the carrier (or both).
  • When acclimating your cat to the carrier, use baby steps. First, as above, just get your cat to associate the carrier with non-threatening positive experiences (treats without the carrier moving anywhere).
  • –Then close the cat in the carrier, bring to another room and then let out. Give treat while carrying.
    –Then just getting to the car.
    –Then take a short trip. Around the block is a good start (5 minutes or less).
    –Then to vet – preferably for something simple, like a weight check, treat, and then home. Talk to your veterinarian; most would be happy to allow you a simple visit if it encourages your cat to like going to the vet!

  • Use old towels in the carrier that you can toss, and a tarp/plastic to protect car. Or you can use puppy house training pads, which are absorbent and disposable.
  • Make a disposable litter pan from a cardboard box with low sides (the bottom from a case of canned food is perfect for this). Fill with torn newspaper strips as “litter” during travel.
  • Feed your cat lightly before heading off in the car to avoid stomach upsets.
  • And, if your cat gets especially stressed, ask your veterinarian about a tranquilizer, such as Benadryl, lorazepam or alprazolam. Lorazepam, for example, is usually administered 1-2 hours prior to travel, and can be repeated in 12 hours if needed. Just be aware that it may make your cat hungry, and that may increase vocalization.

Next time we’ll talk more specifically about taking your cat on vacation with you.