For a lot of us, it’s hard enough getting our cats into the car for a trip to the vet, let alone for a long summer road trip. But as someone who drove 3,000 miles with three cats in the back seat of my car, I’m here to tell you that you can do it. Not only can you do it, but you can do it comfortably for both cats and humans. From cat carriers to pet hotel etiquette, here are 10 tips for traveling with cats based on my cross-country road trip experience.
1. Get your cats a checkup
Before you leave, be sure your cats are in good health and have all their vaccinations. Have your cats microchipped if you haven’t done so already — that way, if somebody escapes, you have a better chance of finding them again. Also ask your vet to email or provide you with a copy of your cats’ medical records.
2. Get your car a checkup, too
The last thing you want when you’re traveling with cats on a hot summer day is a breakdown. Take your vehicle to your favorite mechanic, and get a hood-to-trunk safety check and tuneup. When I did that, I discovered that a family of squirrels had made a nest in my air cleaner and that I needed to have my rear brake pads replaced. I was glad to discover these issues before I hit the road!
3. Make sure you have good cat carriers
Each cat should have a carrier big enough for them to sit up comfortably and to stretch out if needed. Stuffing your full-grown Maine Coon into a cat carrier that fit him when he was a kitten paves the way for discomfort and possible heat illness due to insufficient ventilation. Your cat carriers should also be in good repair so they don’t fall apart with the cats inside. If your cat hates the carrier, behaviorist Pam Johnson-Bennett has some great tips on getting your cats to like their crates.
4. Stay as calm as possible before and during travel
Cats are little emotional sponges, so if you’re stressed out, they will be, too. It’s difficult to prepare for traveling with cats without getting stressed, and it’s also tough to deal with unpredictable traffic. But if you’re able to find some peace and calm, it’ll benefit both you and your cats.
5. Plan your route before you go, and reserve rooms at pet-friendly hotels
If your trip is going to last several days, figure out how long you can drive before fatigue starts to set in (for me, it was 8 to 10 hours) and search for pet-friendly hotels in those stopping places along your route. A couple of pet-friendly hotel chains are the La Quinta and Red Roof Inns. Sheratons have also been known to be pet-friendly hotels. Tell your hotel you have cats with you when you make your reservation, so you can confirm that they allow pets.
6. Keep it cool inside your car
Run your air conditioning a little bit colder than you might like it. Your cats are covered in fur, after all, and they’ll appreciate all the cooling they can get. Consider getting some sunshades for your back windows so the sun won’t shine on the carriers and overheat your cats.
7. Don’t leave your cats alone in a hot car
This should go without saying, but if the car engine is off with the windows closed (or even partially open!), your car will get very hot, very fast. Your cats could easily die of heat stroke if you’re not careful.
8. Keep the car comfortable
Cats have very sensitive hearing and a strong sense of smell. Keep the music volume down, and don’t use strong air fresheners.
9. Clean up after your cats
When you stop at hotels for the night, be sure to clean up after your cats. Put any litter box deposits into a plastic bag, and tie it tight. Have stain and odor remover handy in case someone vomits or poops where they shouldn’t. You want to leave the hotel staff feeling confident that pet owners make good guests.
10. Keep the cats safely indoors when you reach your destination
It’s going to take a while for your cats to reset their internal compasses to your new home, and you don’t want them to get loose and try to make their way back to their old home. Make sure doors and windows are closed, so adventurous kitties and escape artists can’t get outside.
What other tips do you have for traveling with cats? Please share them in the comments!
Top Photograph: humonia/Thinkstock.