Cats and car trips are usually a bad combination. Unlike dogs, most cats object loudly–and violently–to riding in a vehicle.
Because they hate car travel so much, most cat owners avoid taking their pets for a ride unless there’s no other choice. That means car rides usually involve a trip to the vet, further reinforcing the idea that cars are terrible and scary in your pet’s mind.
So how do you make car trips a little easier for everyone? And how can you safely take a pet cat on a road trip or cross-country move?
1. Practice with the Carrier
Before your cat ever leaves the house, get them used to the idea of hanging out in the pet carrier. Make sure to get one that’s large enough to be comfortable for your cat. Put some kind of soft bedding, such as an old towel, inside. Sprinkle it with catnip if your cat enjoys it, and shake some treats out.
Then set the carrier down and let your cat explore at their own pace. Leave the carrier out for a few days or even weeks, allowing your cat to get acclimated and mark it with their scent.
2. Try Shorter Trips
Some people say you can’t train a cat, but you can reinforce good behavior with treats and praise. Try this out with short car trips. Bring the cat in their carrier to the car on a sunny, mild day. Leave them inside the carrier and secure it in the backseat. Like child car seats, the backseat is best!
Turn on the engine and let the car run for a little bit to get the cat used to it. Keep talking to your cat. It helps to have a second person in the car who can ride in the back with them. If kitty is still doing okay, you can try taking them for a spin around the neighborhood.
When you return home, provide lots of treats and praise! Keep repeating this process in the days before you need to take a long trip.
3. What About the Litter Box?
Road trips with dogs are much easier when it comes to, err, business. Cats require a litter box, which means that you’ll need to provide one in the car. If you’re lucky enough to have an SUV or other vehicle with a larger cargo area, then your best bet is investing in a “puppy crate” for long trips. Get one that’s big enough for a bed and a travel-sized litter box.
If that’s not an option, then you’ll need to use a travel litter box. Your cat probably won’t love it, but a litter attractant can help. Only use the litter box during stops. They probably won’t eat or drink as much during the stress of travel, but make food, water, and litter available whenever you pull over for a pit stop.
4. Keep Your Cat Caged
Although you might want to let your cat out, don’t do it! No matter how miserable they sound, it’s important for everyone’s safety that your cat stays in the carrier while the car is in motion. A panicked cat could easily cause a car wreck.
Cats may try to get under your feet, blocking the brake pedal. Even a calm cat who is lounging on the dash or a headrest could become a projectile during a crash.
It’s not likely that you’ll have an accident, but better safe than sorry.