TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. — When it comes to pets, dogs travel with their humans the most often.
In fact, they account for more than 85 percent of pet travelers. This makes sense; most dogs are happy to go on adventures. They love car rides and can’t wait to hop in and head out anywhere, whether it’s down the street to the park or halfway across the country on an extended road trip.
Cats, on the other hand, are not so keen on traveling by car. One reason is a difference in temperament — they’re just not as adaptable and adventurous as dogs. Another is the fact the bulk of their travel experience tends to involve going back and forth to the vet.
There are times when cat parents do need to transport their furry felines by car, and the prospect can be stressful for everyone involved. Moving, in particular, poses a big quandary, especially if the move is long distance.
Cat parents are understandably apprehensive at the thought of putting a terrified Fluffy in the car and then traveling for hours on end. There are also times when cat parents would simply like to include their cat in their daily travels, but aren’t sure about the best way to keep them comfortable and safe.
To help ease your mind and make traveling with your cat travel experience a better one for both of you, here are seven steps that can effectively prepare your pet for car travel.
Pet carrier training: You should always use a pet travel carrier when traveling by car. The carrier should offer enough space for your cat to stand up, turn around, and lie down in comfortably, and should have proper ventilation. To get your cat used to the cat carrier, place it inside your home with the door open, and put some enticing items like kibble, toys, or catnip inside. Allow him to go in and out of the carrier at his leisure until he feels comfortable being inside of it.
Familiarity is comfort: Cats are highly sensitive to the environment and very protective of their territory. Making the car part of the cat’s territory is a good way to help him adapt to car rides. Start by placing a towel or blanket with your cat’s scent on the seat of the car. Then take your cat into the car with you and close the doors. Let him explore, rub around, and spread his scent around the car. Repeat this for a few minutes each day, gradually increasing the time you spend in the car as you go along.
Positive reinforcement: Once your cat feels calm and comfortable in the car, begin feeding him in the car every day for at least a week. If your cat isn’t particularly food-motivated, let him indulge in some play or catnip instead. Associating the car with good, happy things will help make your cat a better traveler.
Carrier in car: Once your cat sees the car as his territory and the source of good things, you can introduce him to the idea of being inside the travel carrier in the car. Place your cat in the carrier, and put the carrier in the back seat or cargo area of your vehicle, making sure that the carrier is secure and away from airbags. Then, turn on the engine. Don’t drive anywhere — just let your cat get used to the noise and vibration. Do this at least three times a day until your cat gets used to it. Make sure to reward your cat for his patience as soon as he is let out of his carrier.
Short rides: Once your cat is used to the car and engine, it’s time to get moving. Start by driving up and down the length of your driveway a few times. When the ride is over, take your cat into the house and reward him with play time and treats. When you feel he’s ready, extend your trip and drive around the block. Continue taking drives with your cat, gradually increasing the length and duration of the ride each time, and taking care to reward him after each new step in the process. Be sure to take things slowly listen to your cat — he will let you know if he’s not comfortable with the speed of the “car training.”
Calm energy: Your cat can sense your energy. If you are feeling hyped up and stressed, he will too. It’s very important for you to stay calm, relaxed and unhurried throughout the process.
Potty breaks: If you’re traveling a long distance, you’ll need to consider the issue of potty breaks for your cat. Some cat parents have their cats harness trained, which allows them to walk their cats at rest areas along the way. If your cat is not harness trained, it is probably best to keep your drive time down to 8 hours at most. You know your cat best, so this time could vary.
Helping your cat become more comfortable traveling in a car definitely takes time and a lot of patience, but if you go slowly and stick with it, you’ll be rewarded with a pleasant journey that you’ll both enjoy.
Safe and happy travels with your cat!
TripsWithPets.com, founded by President Kim Salerno, is an online resource for pet travel, offering resources to ensure pets are welcome, happy, and safe while traveling. The website features a directory of pet friendly hotels and accommodations, airline and car rental pet policies; pet-friendly restaurants, beaches, and events and more.