Whether you’re going on vacation, moving with your cat(s) across the country, or just headed to the vet, you wouldn’t be the first cat parent to ask yourself: how to travel with a cat?

Because on one hand, oh the places you’ll go with your favorite little buddy! On the other hand, a stressed out cat howling in the backseat is no fun for anyone.

So here’s your go-to guide for everything you need to know about traveling with a cat. (Including what to do if they leap out the window.) Let’s go!

Traveling with a cat: Getting started

Now if you’ve ever thought cats hate car rides – well, it’s more a case that they simply aren’t used to them.

So if you take the time to gradually acclimate your cat to riding in the car, a road trip can actually be a wonderful experience.

(Just think – you won’t have to pay for a cat sitter, your kitty won’t miss you while you’re gone, and the two of you will bond over a shared adventure!)

A cat sitting inside a car

So before heading out:

  • Check that your cat’s ID tags are securely affixed to their collar and that they include your current contact information.
  • Consider having your cat microchipped by your veterinarian. Make sure your original contact information is up to date with the microchip registry.
  • Contact your veterinarian to confirm that your beloved feline is current on all vaccinations.

⚠️ Just remember: a microchip alone won’t be able to actively track down your cat if they get lost – like escaping during a potty break or jumping out the car window.

A microchip can only help a stranger identify your cat. (Which is bad news if you’re cat has now been picked up by a pet thief.)

It’s why cat parents around the world – just like you – are investing in a dedicated pet GPS tracker instead. So you can follow your cat’s every step in real-time – no matter how far they’re off roaming.

Cat resting in the grass, wearing GPS tracker

Read more:

Choose the right cat carrier for car travel

A pet carrier is a must when traveling in the car with your cat. Everyone in the vehicle will be safer, including your cat.

Because think about it: what’s more distracting than an unrestrained cat in a car? Within minutes, you’ll be too busy taking care of them to steer, brake, or even see out the window. Plus, they could even become a projectile if you experience a crash or come to a sudden stop.

There are many types of pet carriers to choose from – hard-sided, soft-sided, opening from the side, or opening from the top.

  • Deluxe soft-sided pet carriers have lots of pockets for stowing essential cat gear.
  • If you plan on taking your cat on an airplane trip in the future, you might invest in an airline-approved pet carrier that you can use either in the car or on a flight. 

💡 Just make sure to pick a pet carrier that gives your kitty enough room to stand up and turn around. If your car ride is more than a few hours long, choose a pet carrier that has enough room for a portable litter box to fit inside. 

A cat in a carrier sitting inside a car

How do I get my cat used to traveling in the carrier?

Help your cat learn to love the pet carrier well in advance of your trip. About a month before your journey:

  • Place the open carrier near kitty’s favorite sleeping spot and tuck some cozy blankets inside.
  • Toss a few treats near the doorway.
  • Over time, your cat may end up using the carrier as a favorite snoozing spot. 
A cat sitting inside a carrier

Once your cat seems comfortable spending time in the carrier, try closing the carrier’s door for short time periods and see how your cat handles this. (Placing a few treats inside can sweeten the deal.)

Once your kitty seems comfortable inside the closed carrier, you may be ready for the next step: going into the car.

Where to place a cat carrier in the car

The safest place in the car for your cat is the back seat or on the floor behind the front passenger seat.

  • Place the carrier in a secure location where it won’t slide around too much.
  • Some carriers are equipped with clips for a seat belt to slide through. This provides additional security and will help your kitty feel safer during the ride.
  • For a hard-sided plastic carrier, thread the seat belt through the handle.
  • Also make sure you avoid placing the pet carrier where it will be blasted by the heater or air conditioner. You want your kitty to be as comfortable as possible.
  • Keep the cat carrier out of the path of an airbag if an accident should occur.
A woman placing a cat in a carrier inside a car

💡Most car seats slope backward. To create a level surface for the pet carrier to rest on, roll up a towel and place it under the back edge of the carrier.

Get your cat used to your car

The first time you place the carrier in the car, don’t drive anywhere at all! You want your little buddy to get used to this new, strange environment first.

So here’s to get started:

  • Load the pet carrier into the back seat (with kitty already inside), hop into the driver’s seat, and close all the doors. (Leave a window open for ventilation if it’s hot out.)
  • Talk gently to your cat to keep them calm. If you can have another person in the car to interact with the cat in the back seat, that will be even better.
  • Don’t start up the car or drive anywhere on this first try – that’s the next step!
A cat looking out of a car window

Once your kitty seems comfortable being in a non-moving vehicle a few times, turn on the car and leave it parked.

  • Of course, open the garage door when your car is running to avoid life-threatening carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Keep music low and offer treats as needed to keep kitty happy.
  • Continue to speak gently to your cat.
  • If your cat becomes agitated, turn off the car and head inside. You don’t want to turn this exercise into a battle. (Hint: you will lose!) Give your kitty lots of love once you’re in the house. 

Practice going on car rides

Once your cat is comfy hanging out in a non-moving but running vehicle, try driving a very short distance – maybe around the block at first.

  • Having someone in the back seat to comfort and engage with your cat will help to keep your cat calm.
  • Continue to make car rides a positive experience. As your cat gets accustomed to short rides, gradually try longer rides. Your cat will become “king of the road” before you know it! 
A cat looking out of a car window in motion

Make the car feel a little like home

Cats are very scent-oriented, so introducing familiar scents into the carrier and the car may help your kitty to feel more relaxed.

  • Tuck their favorite blanket (or a piece of it) in the carrier, or toss in one of your old t-shirts – unwashed, so it smells like you.
  • Avoid using scented air fresheners in the car. Those scents may be overpowering for your kitty’s sensitive nose.

Make a plan for each cat

If you have more than one cat, you love them both, but you know that they have distinct personalities. As you plan your trip, consider how to best accommodate each cat’s particular needs.

Most importantly, keep each cat in their own separate pet carrier for the duration of your trip. You’ll reduce stress for everyone and prevent the two kitties from fighting. It’s OK to position the carriers so the cats can see each other. 

Plan rest stops

Both you and your cat may need a few pit stops, especially if your trip is a long one. Plan in advance where you can stop, stretch your legs, and use the restroom. Or the litter box, in your cat’s case.

A cat sitting by an open car door

Where to make a pit stop with your cat

Highway rest areas are located along most interstates and state routes, and you can map these out in advance. Some of these rest stops have pet exercise areas.

This could be an option for your cat but ONLY if they are leash or harness-trained. If you plan on taking your cat out of the carrier, do so ONLY if kitty can be leashed while the car doors are still closed.

⚠️ Do not open the carrier if your cat is unleashed and the car door is open. Besides getting hit by another car, your cat might end up running down the highway, hiding under another car (without being noticed) – or worse.

Read more: How To Harness Train A Cat In 7 Easy Steps

A small cat hiding under a car wheel

If you aren’t on a road with a highway rest stop, travel plazas are a good alternative. These usually include gas stations, coffee shops, fast-food restaurants, and rest rooms.

Also: give some thought whether you can leave your cat in the car while you pop into a restroom or get a quick bite to eat.

  • If it’s warm out, your cat could quickly become overheated if left inside a closed vehicle.
  • If possible, take the entire cat carrier into the rest stop with you.
  • Or, if you have a human travel companion, take turns staying with the cat while the other uses the facilities.

Read more: Heat Stroke In Cats: Common Causes And How To Help Your Cat To Cool Off

💡Or if you want the smart, stress-free option, strap a cat GPS tracker to your buddy’s collar.

So with just a glance at your phone, you can immediately start tracking them in real-time – and find them in no time.

Tractive Trustpilot review

Track Your Cat

Traveling with a cat: Where to go ‘potty’

If your cat is used to doing their business outdoors and is leash-trained, use a pet exercise area at a highway rest stop. Be sure to leash up your cat BEFORE opening the car door to the outside. 

If your cat is accustomed to going in a litter box, bring along a portable litter box and a bag of cat litter. These offer an an easy way to take care of your cat’s needs while on a road trip.

  • Give your cat access to the portable litter box during a rest stop or keep it in the pet carrier.
  • Or, if your trip is only a few hours long, offer the portable litter box once you reach your destination. 
  • A portable cat litter box should fit into your pet carrier and be large enough for your cat to use comfortably.
A cat sleeping in a carrier
  • Make sure it’s easy to clean, waterproof, and collapsible for easy storage.
  • Choose a low-dust, odor control, disposable cat litter to fill the portable litter box – preferably the same type that you use at home.
  • Bring along a scoop and bags to collect used litter and dispose of it in a trash container.

💡Some cats can be very finicky about changes to their litter box situation. You might find it handy to sprinkle a litter box attractant in the portable litter box to make it more enticing for your cat. It may also help to let your cat try out the new portable litter box a few times at home, before you hit the road. 

When should you give your cat food and water on a car trip?

Many cats eat only once or twice a day, so it may not be necessary to feed your cat during a long car ride. However, kitties who are accustomed to snacking all day may need a few nibbles along the way. Intermittent snacking can also help cats who get motion sickness

Remember that eating stimulates the digestive system, so your cat may need to potty soon after eating. This may be a good reason for feeding your cat lightly on travel day.

An automatic pet food dispenser indoors

💡Make sure to offer water to your cat at every pit stop. Cats normally drink very little water, so don’t be alarmed if your cat doesn’t drink much during the trip.

Though if you’re concerned that your cat isn’t drinking enough water, offer some wet canned cat food, which has a higher moisture content than dry food.

Food and water bowls

Some travel food bowls can attach to the wire door of a plastic cat carrier. Or you can purchase a collapsible bowl that you pop open at mealtime.

Bring enough of your cat’s preferred food to last for the entire trip. Cats are famously finicky eaters, so the middle of a road trip may not be the best time to introduce a new diet if you run out of their favorite kibble. They could develop digestive issues, or they could end up refusing to eat at all.

Cat-friendly places to stay

Before you start your trip, plan out exactly where you’ll spend the night. Not all hotels are pet-friendly. Even hotels that advertise themselves as pet-friendly may only have a few pet-friendly rooms. However, many major hotel chains offer pet-friendly accommodations, as do some rental properties.

That’s why it’s important to book your lodging well in advance. When making your reservation:

  • Specify that you will have a cat with you and need a pet-friendly room.
  • Find out what types of restrictions the hotel has, if any.
  • Sneaking your pet into a non-pet-friendly hotel room isn’t a great idea just don’t do it. 
A cat nestling in a hotel bed full of pillows

⚠️ Just be sure to keep in mind: a pet-friendly hotel room has probably been used by lots of other pets, including dogs and other cats.

  • It’s possible that these other pets are not on regular flea or parasite protection.
  • Make sure your cat is protected from parasites before you leave home, in case your cat encounters unwanted pests.

Read more: How To Prevent & Get Rid Of Ticks On Cats (For Good)

If you’re staying with family or friends, remember that not everyone loves cats (hard to believe, but true). Let them know in advance that you’re bringing your kitty along, and assure them that you’ve got all the details covered for your cat’s comfort and safety.

What to do when traveling with a cat by car

You’ve set off on your adventure, and you only have….10 hours to go! How will you keep your cat happy on the trip? Here are some ideas:

  • Play calm music. Cats actually tend to be partial to classical pieces!
  • Keep the car’s temperature similar to the temperature inside your home. 
  • Place a sheet or blanket on top of the carrier to provide extra privacy and reduce the level of disturbance that your cat might experience from passing 18-wheelers, honking horns, rough weather, and bright streetlights
A couple driving in a car with their cat
  • Choose a quiet time of day to travel, with as little traffic as possible to reduce disturbances for your cat.
  • Bring some of your cat’s favorite toys along on the trip. At each rest stop, swap out the toys with different ones. Or, surprise your kitty with a brand-new toy for the trip.

What should I do if my cat gets carsick?

It’s possible that your cat could become extremely anxious or carsick on a long ride. Here are a few options for dealing with these situations.*

  • Calming spray for cats: A few spritzes of a calming pheromone spray on a towel or blanket in your cat’s carrier could help your cat relax into the ride. 
  • Catnip: A little catnip sprinkled into the carrier could distract your cat for a bit and keep them entertained. You might try catnip spray, also.
  • Calming treats: Specially-formulated cat treats can help to reduce nervousness in your furry friend. 
  • Anti-anxiety jackets for cats: Also known as calming vests, these weighted jackets can help anxious pets to relax.

If your cat is prone to vomiting, urinating, or defecating during car trips, speak to your veterinarian. They may be able to offer medications that will make the trip more pleasant for you and your cat.

*Try these remedies out at home before you begin your road trip to determine if your cat can tolerate them.

What not to do when traveling with a cat in your car

A calm and peaceful environment will make the car ride more pleasant for everyone, including your cat. 

So you should:

  • Avoid playing loud music. 
  • Don’t allow the pet carrier to slide along the seat. Your cat will feel very insecure if they can’t predict where they’ll slide to next. Keep the pet carrier buckled in place with the seat belt.
  • Don’t leave your cat alone in a hot car – ever!
  • Avoid making sharp turns or braking suddenly while your cat is in the car. Try to drive as smoothly and evenly as possible.

What to do if your cat hates car rides

If your cat has a history of disliking car travel, you may need to start at square one to acclimate them to riding in a vehicle. This can be more difficult than acclimating a cat who has no past history of car travel problems, because you must overcome the negative association that your cat has with the car. 

Start with introducing your cat to the pet carrier, then to a stationary car, then to short rides around the block as described at the beginning of this post. You may need to take it very, very slow, allowing your cat several weeks or months to get ready for a trip. But it will be worth it when you and your kitty enjoy an adventure together!

A cat inside a carrier outdoors

Make a safe space for your cat while you unload and unpack

Don’t let the excitement of arriving at your destination lead you to fling open the car door and accidentally let your cat out! Keep your kitty safely in the pet carrier as you unload and carry your luggage inside.

Only when you are inside and have safely closed the building’s door should you allow your cat to exit the carrier. Set out the travel litter box and fill their travel bowls with fresh food and water. Give them time to sniff and rub against everything in their new temporary home.

A cat peeking outside a carrier indoors

💡 But of course, if you’re worried your cat might scamper away from safety the minute you let them out of their carrier…

Tractive Trustpilot review

Find Your Cat In No Time

How to travel with a cat in style – and with 100% peace of mind

This goes without saying, but car travel with a cat will be much more pleasant if you drive safely and arrive without incident. Just make sure to:

  • Get your cat used to being and traveling in a carrier.
  • Place your cat’s carrier in a secure, upright position – preferably in your car backseat.
  • Get your cat used to just being in your car first – without driving.
  • Start slow with short drives once they’re more comfortable.
  • Plan rest stops along the way – and make sure to plan ahead for an escape attempt. (From being cooped up so long!)
A cat escaping from a room
  • Consider investing in a collapsible litter box to carry along in your cat’s carrier.
  • Make sure to book a pet-friendly hotel much in advance.
  • Plan ahead for any car sickness. A calming spray or anti-anxiety medication can help.
  • Don’t let your cat out of their carrier once you’re both safely indoors.

And most importantly…

  • Secure your peace of mind with a cat GPS tracker. So you always know where your buddy is – no matter where they’ve escaped.

Know everywhere your cat goes

See where they are in real-time, no matter how far they go. Get alerts if they roam too far home. Find out where they’ve been and discover their favorite spots. Let others track with you.

Discover Tractive GPS

That’s the best way to start and end your amazing driving adventure with your little buddy – one that’s fun, safe, and enjoyable for both cat and cat parent alike.

And if you’ve liked this post, share it with a friend or a loved one – and let’s help build a safer kinder world for our furry friends together.