1. Ask yourself if taking your cat with you is the right thing to do (for your cat and your family). If the answer is “no,” then make suitable arrangements (cat sitter, boarding kennel, etc.) for your cat. If the answer is “yes,” then plan, plan, plan!
2. Make sure your cat will be welcome where you’re heading – this includes any stops you may make along the way, as well as your final destination. If you will be staying at a hotel at some point, make sure that they allow pets. Get the name of the person making the reservation who tells you pets are allowed, or even better, get it in writing of some kind. Don’t try to sneak your cat in, you might get away with it, but you might not, and do you really want to be wandering around a strange city at 10pm at night looking for a pet friendly hotel?
Once you are in the hotel room, inspect everything to make sure there are no hazards for your cat. Wouldn’t you feel horrible if they had a mouse trap or poison out somewhere and your cat got into it? If you don’t feel that the room is cat safe it is okay to shut your cat in the bathroom overnight. If your cat has a favorite bed from home, bring that with you for your cat to sleep in. If not, then bring bedding or something from home that smells like home to make things a little more familiar for your cat. You can pad the bathtub with them to make a cat bed for your cat.
If you are staying with family or friends, it will be much less stressful for your cat to confine them to one room in the home while you are there, preferably the room you will be sleeping in.
3. If you’re crossing state lines during your travel, you need a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (also called a health certificate). You’ll need to get it within 10 days of when you plan to travel. Your veterinarian will examine your cat to make sure it doesn’t have any signs of infectious disease and that it has the appropriate vaccinations (e.g., rabies). This certificate can’t be legally issued without a veterinary exam, so please don’t ask your veterinarian to break the law.
4. Make sure you know how you can find a veterinarian quickly if there’s an emergency on the way to or after you’ve reached your destination. The AVMA’s MyVeterinarian.com site allows you to search for a veterinary practice by zip code or city/state, even in an emergency.
5. Prior to travel, make sure your cat is properly identified in case they become lost. Your cat should be wearing a collar with an ID tag (with accurate information!). Microchips provide permanent identification and improve your chances of getting your cat returned to you, but make sure you keep your registration information up to date.
6. Properly restrain your cat with an appropriately-fitted harness and in a carrier of the appropriate size. “Appropriate size” means that they can lay down, stand up and turn around, but it’s not so big that they will be thrown around inside the carrier in case of a sudden stop or a collision. Cover the bottom of the carrier with some type of padding, preferably not something that will slide around, but will stay covering the floor of the carrier. Secure the carrier with a seatbelt. If you are in a car accident, you want your cat to be as safe as possible. After all, aren’t you wearing a seatbelt? Certainly no cats in laps! That’s dangerous…for everyone.
7. Make sure your cat is accustomed to whatever restraint you plan to use BEFORE your trip. Remember that road trips can be a little stressful on your cat. If your cat isn’t already used to the harness or carrier, that’s an added stress.
8. If it is a short trip, under 6 hours, then your cat will be just fine staying in the carrier the entire time. If it is a longer trip, especially if it is over a several day period, you may want to let your cat out of the carrier periodically to get a drink of water (do not leave water in the carrier, it will only spill and leave you with a wet and unhappy cat) and use the litter box. Purchase some of the disposable litter boxes that come with litter already inside. You can place these on the floor of the car for your cat to use – once they have eliminated, you can dispose of it in a trash receptacle – no muss, no fuss.
When your cat is out of the carrier and wandering in the car, do not open or shut the car doors. Make sure your cat is wearing a harness (not collar)and leash. If your cat were to suddenly dart out of the car, it is much easier to step on a trailing leash than to try and grab a scared freaked out cat.
9. Take adequate food and water for the trip. Offer your cat water at each stop. Be sure to bring plenty of water with you, but only give it to your cat when you are parked. Do not leave a water bowl in your cat’s carrier while driving – it will only spill and make a mess, and you will end up with a wet unhappy cat. It may also help to bring a gallon jug of the water your cat drinks at home – whether it is tap water or filtered water. Cats won’t always drink water that tastes different.
Don’t feed your cat the morning of your trip, or while you are driving. They will be just fine only eating in the evening for a day or two, and it will minimize the risk of your cat vomiting in the carrier during the trip.
10.When traveling in the dead of winter pack extra blankets for the cat and yourself in case you get stuck somewhere.
Alternatively when traveling in summer, pack several ice packs or frozen bottles of water in a cooler. If the air conditioning should go out your cat could overheat very quickly. If this happens you can line the inside of the carrier with a couple ice packs wrapped in cloth to keep your cat cool.
11.When traveling, keep a current picture of your cat with you so you can easily make “lost” posters and/or use the picture to help identify your cat if it becomes lost.
12.Make sure you take your cat’s medications with you, including any preventives (flea and tick) that might be due while you’re traveling.