Traveling By Car With Your Cat

By Elisa Black-Taylor

This is the time of year when a lot of you will be traveling by car with your cat. While many of you may choose in-home pet sitters or professional boarding, a lot of people simply refuse to leave their cats behind when they visit family.


A lot of the stress associated with cats, carriers and automobiles can be alleviated with a little pre-trip planning. I’m going to off several tips I’ve learned over the years. At the end of this article, I hope the readers will add to this.

Cat Travelling in a Car
Cat Travelling in a Car. Collage by Michael. Original photo of cat in car by Liz Grace.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

One thing to be sure to do when traveling any distance with your cat is to have identification as well as vet records with you. Your cat should have on a collar with lost and found information, as well as micro-chipping. Micro-chipping is more dependable as a collar may break loose and come off should a cat panic and run through bushes or anything that can detach the collar. An identification tag however, may reunite you with your cat faster, as a trip to the vet to check for a microchip wouldn’t be necessary for anyone finding your cat. Just make sure with either one that the information is up to date.

Many states require any traveling cat to carry a health certificate. These are available at your vet.

Also be sure to take along any medication your cat may be on.


Before the trip, it’s a good idea to acclimate your cat with the vehicle in which it will be riding. No matter how tempting it may be to allow your cat freedom in your vehicle, please don’t give in to this urge. It’s important for your safety as well as your cats to be in a carrier. A loose cat can become a projectile in an accident. Or you could accidentally crush your cat. A loose cat may lodge itself under the gas or brake pedal or hide under the car seat. The cat also has a greater chance of escaping when a car door is opened. Many cat owners have permanently lost their cat when a car door was opened and their terrified cat bolted.

It’s recommended to take a few “pretend” trips with your cat beginning at least a week before your actual trip is planned. Place your cat in a sturdy carrier, along with food and water and a few toys. Some cat owners even place a personal item like a worn sweater in the carrier so the cat has a familiar scent. Drive around the block with your cat in its carrier. Cats don’t like breaking from their normal routine, so it’s important to make riding as normal as possible.

Cat In Car
Cat In Car. The cat is Anabelle, a cat Elisa rescued. Photo by Elisa. Collage by Michael

If you’re traveling with more than one cat, it’s a good idea to have a carrier for each cat. Some cats may feel more secure riding together in one carrier. Others may go ballistic in a moving vehicle, at which point you’ll have two terrified cats in a carrier instead of one. Personally, I’ve had more success allowing two cats who are familiar with each other to ride in the same carrier. A carrier that can be disassembled and made into a bed is also a better choice than a soft carrier. For one thing, it’s safer in an accident. It’s also a good way to introduce the cat to the carrier by making it into a bed before the trip. This is how we “tricked” Furby into enjoying a car ride.


Sometimes a vet will offer a mild tranquilizer to lessen anxiety on a road trip. This topic is debatable, because it may be better for a cat to meow and release stress than to hold it inside. I’ve traveled with cats for years and the worst thing I’ve experienced is meowing. This always stopped once we reached our destination.

One recommended product for nervous travelers is Rescue Remedy. This is an herbal mix that’s been in use for 70+ years and sells for around $20. For more information on this, their website is Calming collars filled with chamomile or lavender have also been reported to calm a cat.

A pleasant scent sprayed inside the vehicle may help calm your cat. Lavender is a good choice. Catnip spray was suggested by a cat owner in a forum I was reading on traveling with a cat. I recommend taking along several favorite blankets. By several I mean you should bring along extra bedding in case of pee and poop accidents while en route. If you know your cat is high anxiety, paper towels crumpled in the carrier may be preferable to cloth bedding. And a good quality trash bag to store any soiled bedding until it can be laundered.


Here’s a checklist of things that are a must have for a traveling cat.

  • Dry and canned food
  • Food and water bowls
  • Bottled water or water from home (strange water can cause tummy trouble in some cats)
  • Litter supplies (including disposable litter box and flushable litter, litter scoop, baby wipes and poop bags)
  • Medications
  • Medical records
  • Emergency vet contact information
  • Grooming supplies
  • I.D. tags on cat as well as carrier
  • Toys
  • Extra bedding


We’ve had very few problems traveling with cats. Furby actually enjoys riding in his carrier in the car. He’ll just curl up and sleep all the way to the vet. Then he sleeps for most of the ride back home. We live half an hour from his vet. The shelter we rescued from was more than an hour from home. The worst case scenario during our rescue trips was a little poop accident between the shelter and home.

Readers, do any of you have any tips to add to those I’ve listed here? Any toys or herbs or sprays that you’ve found effective in alleviating anxiety(the cats, not yours)?

Enjoy the holidays, everyone. Cats included.


14 thoughts on “Traveling By Car With Your Cat”

  1. We had an older cat named Spot who was once trapped on a terra cotta pipe down a well. It took 2 days to find him and for the neighbor to climb down and bring Spot up. After that Spot refused to ride in a carrier. He’d stay beside me on the seat when we went to the vet.

    Brinkley goes nuts in any type of carrier. And I mean NUTS! You’d think we were killing him.

    Furby loves to ride. Poor baby got so scared at his last vet visit that he was shaking from head to toe, but he enjoyed the ride over and he couldn’t wait to get back in his carrier after his vet “violated” him as Furbys calls a temp and worm check. He never even meows!

    Traffic hear is too crazy to be looking around for the cat in the car. Safer for both of us using the carrier.

    • Bless Furby. Your experiences demonstrate that cats are individuals. One danger of letting your cat travel loose in a car is that he can get under your feet. Sometimes they settle down under the seat but I fear that he will interfere with pedal control and just maybe cause an accident. It seems possible. I wonder whether it has ever happened. Or something happens in the back of the car – he meows loudly for instance – and the driver turns around to check, pulls the steering wheel, fails to pay attention and bingo – accident. I think for short and medium journeys the carrier is best. For long journeys it is probably OK to see if it works with your cat outside the carrier after the first hour or two.

  2. I had a cat when I was young who was fine with travel. She’d come with us in the car sometimes– just to ride along, like a dog would. Mom would go in the store and we’d wait in the car with the cat. We never left her in the car alone in the heat. I don’t get people who do that. It’s a horrible thing, but I guess any article on traveling with pets, it will come up. People underestimate the dangers to an animal in a closed automobile in hot weather. Just cracking the window is not enough. I don’t remember the cat coming with us if it was ever really, really hot.

    When we’d go to swim at this little spot on the Wisconsin River she’d come along. It wasn’t really a proper beach– just a place locals know about. There was a boat landing there. Tippy would hop out of the car and run around, having a great time. When it was time to go we’d call her and she’d jump back in the car. She liked to ride on the back of the front seat on the passenger side. If we’d ever had an accident she would have been a projectile– but so would we have been, because none of us, kids or adults ever wore a seat belt. It didn’t seem unusual. Nor did having a cat who enjoyed riding in the car and who would go places with us. When we walked to the store she’d come along too, waiting for us in the bushes by this one house. It was hard to stop her from coming along if we went anywhere. She died getting hit by a car at about 4 a.m. one summer morning. I think it was bound to happen because her territory encompassed areas on both sides of a couple of roads, because she was used to going there with us. We learned our lesson with the next cat. We only ever let her be with us when we weren’t crossing any streets, and she did stay in the yard or the ravine for the most part. Monty is very against travel of any kind. I’ve tried taking him along on car rides and he hates it. He stays in his own yard because of the fences, but he’s never tried to climb them and escape. He seems to have no desire to go beyond his house and his yard. I don’t think I could ever move because it would be so hard on him.

    • I like your story. Although the ending is sad the story is evocative. It gets my imagination going thinking about the American past. It seems to have been magical is some ways. The freedom and naturalness of the lifestyle. Maybe I have seen too many American films! I can almost feel the light, space and sense of freedom. I love these things. Monty is much easier on the mind because he is safe. It seems you don’t and won’t get any anxious thoughts caring for him.

      • When I lived on the North coast of California where it is quite rural, there was a lady who lived in a travel trailer. She had a cat who lived and traveled around with her. She liked to let the cat out on the beach. I saw her and her cat at the beach often. I would chain up the dog immediately. Granted, you rarely saw another human out there early in the morning. It was a strange sight to behold. The cat was happy.

        I think if you start a kitten early riding in the car, they become happy dash ornaments. Except for the heat, I don’t see a down side to it.

        • Absolutely. I completely agree. In a way it would be nice to see more cats on the beach. It would demonstrate a better integration into our lifestyle. I want to go up to Norwich to visit my brother for a couple of days. I can’t take Charlie with me because it is too much for him. It would be nice to take him. It would make life a bit easier for me.

      • I still worry. Even when we’re in the house together if I haven’t heard from Monty in awhile I go search for him and see what he’s up to. Jeff uses a quick way to find Monty– simply set a plate on the counter in the kitchen and he will appear within seconds from anywhere in the house.

        I have always loved the wide open spaces in Wisconsin, like on the Wisconsin River. Jeff and I like to rent a canoe now and then. Most places will allow pets in the canoe with you. Tippy probably would have been fine with that. So long as she was with us, she was content. Of course, I kind of hoped Monty would be that kind of cat, that we could actually take him with us when we go have fun. All those sand bars on the river and little pools of water teeming with tadpoles and minnows– a cat coukd have a great time there. Tippy liked it. But Monty’s not Tippy. I thought if I started him young I could train him to be like her, but it wasn’t possible. Tippy was different from the start. We were at Grandma’s farm trying to catch a kitten and she just walked up to us. She had to have been at least 12 weeks if not older, and she’d had basically no human contact other than seeing Grandma come in the barn to leave food and water. All Tippy’s litter mates were completely wild, as was the mother cat. She was just special. She chose us.

        But I love Monty for who he is, the little goof. He does all right considering his start in life. He is ok with people so long as they don’t stay overnight. And why should he want to leave his home? He’s got a great home. He never needs to go on a vacation. Every day is a happy day for him.

  3. I took Bigfoot to the coast for a long weekend at my friends beach house. I actually thought he’d be happier coming along, looking at the big ocean out the window. He wasn’t afraid, but he mostly stayed under a very tall bed and waited until it was either meal time, night time when he’d climb up the tall bed, or time to come home. I let him be loose in the car even going to the vet. He meows but isn’t stressed out. The biggest problem is him wanting to be under my feet while I drive. The vacation was lost on him. He’d have rather the neighbor checked on him through the day at home and patiently wait. He gave me a look that said “next time, send me post card, will ya?”

    • You are right dw. Cats just like being in their territory so much that any change is not good. We say “a change is as good as a rest”. Cats say “don’t disturb my routine”.

  4. Last time we took one of my friends cats to the weekend house it was her first time in the car so I made an extra special effort. Firstly we used a big dogsized collapsible carrier and I used a shoe box lined with plastic as a litter box and I made a little roof over it so she could go up on the platform above the letterbox or just down beside it. I put a blanket over the whole carrier when she started meowing because I could see it was from looking out the window that she was becoming most nervous. I sat in the back beside her and just kept my head under the blanket with her so it was just her and me – she could see me but not outside. The journey went well in the end although she was pretty scared. It was her first time. When I lived there we used to go to the weekend house every weekend with 2 cats and they were ok mostly. One, the boy, would meow a lot, but never any toilet issues. With more than one cat it helps a lot to have them together. They are much calmer if they have each other. That’s why we got the huge carrier in the first place. They both travelled well in the carrier together. Its the noise and view outside they don’t like. Tunnels on the motorway are the worst. I am more nervous than the cat usually, I can’t help it – I just hate the process.

    My cat Lilly came 12 hours on the night train to Switzerland. She’s a real trooper. I had her in a sleeping compartment but to feel better and less claustrophobic I took her for a walk up and down the train in the night. In Zurich central station at morning rush hour she was standing staring out through the grill of her box. What a cat. She’s been in cars and now a train. But her buddy Pepe was not a happy bunny in the car – meowing all the way. Cat’s and travel usually don’t mix. But some cats are pretty cool about it. I guess any cat can get used to anything.

    • The wildest cat travel I did was to take both my cats on an overnight ferry from Wales to Cork in Ireland. We drove from London to Wales. The cats were smuggled on the ship in bags! One of the bags was actually a large executive brief case, one of those pilot cases.

      We stayed at my former wife’s mother’s house on the west coast. Then came home the same way we came. I was more adventurous in those days. The cats were fine. My little girl cat slept on the dash of the car all the way back. Cool. The boy (her brother) occupied the back of the car.

  5. This is a nice timely story. Love it. For me travelling with my cat is like travelling into a journey of…anguish and stress..and into the unknown…I am always glad when it is over. So is he. Mr Three legs.

    I like the extra bedding for poop and pee tip. Charlie has pooped in the carrier before and peed too.

    Never, ever, ever….let your cat pee on your car seat. The only solution is to scrap the car 🙂


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