How to Care for Your Cat While Traveling

posted: 05/15/12
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iStockphoto/ Bogdan Pop |

Cats are a finicky bunch. For many, the mere sight of a carrier or leash can inspire fits of panic. Cars and any other motorized vehicles are also decidedly evil, causing cats to behave as if you were sending them into the fiery pits of hell. Luckily, there are steps you can take to make caring for your cat while traveling a breeze. Well, a breeze might be a bit of a stretch. But you can at least minimize your feline's fear and make your own journey a bit less troublesome.

For a successful trip with your cat, let this be your motto: preparation, preparation, preparation. You'll need a carrier or cage for the journey, and some cats might do well with a mildly sedating medication from your veterinarian. Plan to visit your vet a few weeks before your trip to do a check-up and to stock up on whatever supplies and medication you might need.

A carrier is essential for transporting your cat. Get one in which to bring your new cat home; the earlier he starts using one, the sooner he'll accept it easily. Put the carrier in an area where the cat normally sleeps, and line the bottom with bedding that carries his scent. He may investigate the carrier on his own or you may be able to lure him inside with a favorite toy or a treat. Whenever the cat enters, give him verbal praise and a food reward; then, start to do the same with the door closed.

When the time comes to actually use the carrier, your cat may still be hesitant or unaccustomed to it, or simply may not like being coerced into it. If you try to nudge the cat in headfirst, he will probably straddle the door opening with all four paws, sending the carrier off on a slide across the floor. The best approach is to pick your cat up gently and distract him by repeating his name in a soothing voice. With the carrier against a wall to keep it from moving, back toward it and slowly put the cat in tail end first. Close the door quickly so the cat doesn't dart out, and then offer a treat and a few soothing words.

Another option is to place the carrier end-up and swoop your cat in back-feet-first, before he has a chance to realize what's going on.

A panicky, struggling cat or one that turns aggressive during this exercise may need to be wrapped in a towel or put in a pillowcase for restraint until you can get him securely inside.

If you plan to fly with your cat, be sure to contact the airline about its pet policies. Some allow animals in the main cabin, while others require that pets be placed in the luggage compartment, which could be unsafe or uncomfortable. Keep in mind that for airlines that allow cats in the main cabin, they are usually required to be in a carrier placed under the seat in front of you during the flight. Your cat may not be happy about his cramped conditions, but this is the safest place for him on a plane.

Before you place your cat in his carrier, attach his collar, leash and harness. You don't want to risk losing him during a struggle to attach these items at the airport or a highway rest stop. Assuming your cat is leashed-trained, he will appreciate a quick stroll during a layover or driving break.

There is nothing worse for a pet owner than losing your animal in a strange place. Before you travel, be sure your cat has I.D. tags with information on how to reach you while you are away. If you are flying or crossing an international border, you should also put a copy of your cat's health records and your contact information inside his carrier.

Cats get very attached to their surroundings. Add the fact that most car trips result in humiliating (and sometimes painful) sessions at the vet, complete with pokes, prods and injections, and it's no wonder your cat disappears at the sound of his carrier being brought out. While many dogs like nothing better than to accompany their masters on car outings, travel with a cat can be difficult. Even if your cat is a decided homebody, there are ways you can help him cope a little better.

Cats tolerate carriers and the travel implied by them much more easily if they have been acclimatized at a young age. If you take your cat for frequent short drives to the store, to visit friends or even just for the occasional spin around the block, then he won't be as likely to associate travel with unpleasantness, such as those traumatic visits to the vet. If your cat is trained to a harness and leash, take him on car rides to check out nature a bit farther away than your backyard. When your cat becomes accustomed to these trips, you can begin to try longer ones.

Few cats appreciate changes to their routine, and food is no exception. Rather than introduce a new food while traveling, bring your cat's food from home. If space is an issue, at least bring enough for a day or two until you can introduce a new food while your cat is relatively calm (i.e., not at 30,000 feet). For your cat, traveling may be challenging enough without having to deal with a dietary disaster.

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