Going on a road trip with cats can be a fun and adventurous experience for both of you! Or, it can end up being a total stressful crap shoot that will make you both taking the next exit to head back home. However, if you know how to prepare and care for your cat before taking them on a long-distance road trip, your dream adventure can come true!
Unlike dogs who love to go on a car ride on a whim, most cats can’t stand car travel. Some kitties may become car sick or have severe anxiety. But, you can alleviate that discomfort and stress by knowing exactly how to introduce your cat to road travel.
So, let’s see how we can get your cat in the mood to join you on your road trip adventure!
Going on a Road Trip with Cats? Road Travel Tips for Cat Owners!
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Should I allow my cat to roam free in my vehicle or RV?
Veterinarians all over the world strongly advise cat owners to restrain your cat and/or keep kitty in a cat carrier instead of roaming free.
Cats are notorious for getting into small spaces or places they shouldn’t be (like under the driver’s feet!). Should you get into an accident, your cat may become a projectile; thus killing or severely injuring her.
On another note, if you allow your cat to roam loose in your vehicle or motorhome, they may escape and face uncertain dangers out in the wild should you get into an accident.
If your cat prefers being right at your side, you’ll need to either buckle them in using their harness and the seat belt. Or, you and your cat may come to an understanding that a cat carrier is safer for him AND you.
Before heading out on a road trip with cats, get them accustomed to their cat carrier, cat harness and walking on a leash. Practice makes perfect.
I suggest leaving their cat carrier out where they can enter and exit on their own free will. Put one of their favorite cat bed or blanket to entice them to start napping in it. Once they realize it’s their safe haven, they’ll be willing to go in it without putting up a fight.
And practice putting their harness on and taking them outside on their leash. Let them take the lead and explore.
Check out how we RV with Cats in our video!
What size cat carrier should I get for my cat?
You should pick a cat carrier that roughly 1 1/2 to 2 times the size of your cat. I wouldn’t go any bigger as cats prefer smaller spaces to contain stress. Your cat should be able to stand up and turn around, sit and lay comfortably inside.
Should I put anything inside the cat carrier besides my cat?
We certainly wouldn’t like it if someone just stuffed us inside a cold box with holes. Nor should we expect our feline friends to like that either. In fact, your cat may appreciate you placing their cat bed or comfortable cat blanket inside to not only provide padded comfort but also, it’s their familiar security.
If you’re going to be traveling in hot weather, you may want to consider placing a pet cooling mat in their cat carrier. This will help regulate their body temperature and help prevent heat stress.
Never place cat toys with strings or any object they can get tangled in, wrap around their necks, chew or choke on. Sometimes, we may let them keep their favorite stuffed toy to snuggle with.
Unfortunately though, some traveling kitties may have an accident as a result of overstimulation, anxiety, fear or rebellion. So, I recommend laying a potty pad on top of their bedding in their cat carrier. If your stressed cat does have an accident in her carrier, lovingly take her out and clean her belly with wipes (for dignity) and replace the potty pad with a clean one. Don’t let her sit or lay in her mess.
If your cat still seems anxious in her cat carrier, put a lightweight sheet or thin blanket over it to create a den-like atmosphere. Just make sure you leave one side open so your cat can see out when she wants.
What can I do to help alleviate stress in my cat?
Cats are generally creatures of habit. They keep their own schedules; when to eat, poop, play, sleep and stare at us when they want something from us. Anytime we change their schedule or their habits, cats become anxious and may show signs of stress and discomfort.
There are some Veterinarian-approved methods out there that can help make them feel more at ease before, during and after road travel. You can ask your cat’s Veterinarian for advice and usually, they’ll prescribe medication that makes them groggy and less responsive. If you travel full time, this can be expensive and really not great for your cat to drug them every time you put your car or RV into drive. It is an option though should your cat need it.
However, if your feline is one who stresses out at the littlest change, you can slowly introduce them to calming products instead. But, you need to be patient when experimenting with cat calming pheromone sprays, cat-friendly essential oils (be VERY careful with them), calming collars or treats. You only should introduce these products to your cat one at a time to see which one they tolerate best.
There’s a number of cat calming pheromone sprays on the market. However, these products are not all safe for your cat. Make certain to use one that is recommended by your Veterinarian and is made of a drug-free solution that mimics a cat’s natural facial pheromones. You want a stress reliever that will help your cat adjust to challenging situations and curb their stress. Otherwise, you may be adding to their stress; thus resulting in unwanted behaviors such as urine spraying or peeing, nervous scratching or fearfulness.
A few minutes before we put our motorhome into drive, I will spray the inside of their cat carriers and bedding with FELIWAY Calming Spray. However, I never spray it directly onto our cats.
Cat-Friendly Essential Oils
I use cat-friendly essential oils with extreme discretion because scientifically, cats don’t metabolize certain chemicals, even natural ones, the way humans or larger animals do.
Therefore, there’s only one essential oil blend that I trust that’s made specifically for pets called Young Living Animal Scents T-Away. T-Away was created to have a soothing scent for your animal to support a new level of emotional freedom and joyful feelings.
Young Living recommends adding 1 drop behind each ear to calm your pet. Or, you can attach a rollerball to apply to the bottom of their paws or on their flanks. However, before applying to any animal, you need to dilute it with a carrier oil such as coconut oil or olive oil first.
But, if you’re like us and don’t feel comfortable applying it directly onto your cat, simply put T-Away in your essential oils diffuser and allow them to breathe it in naturally approximately an hour prior to departure. If you’re going to be traveling for a long distance, you may want to put a couple drops onto a USB diffuser and plug it into a portable battery bank near their cat carrier (NOT inside).
Should you prefer not to use the above, there is another option called Rescue Remedy for pets. It’s a homeopathic remedy for natural stress and occasional anxiety relief. Like the T-Away (above), it’s non-habit forming. It’s formulated from plant-based active ingredients. It’s free of artificial flavors and colors, sugar, gluten, alcohol and major allergens.
Pet-safe Rescue Remedy helps promote emotional well-being and a positive state of mind when your cat (or dog) becomes overwhelmed. I typically put about 2-3 drops onto Kandi’s paw about 30 minutes before travel. As she grooms, she licks it off which starts to work within minutes.
SPECIAL NOTE: Statements regarding dietary supplements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or health condition.
When we first started RVing, a friend recommended ThunderShirts for our cats. So, we got one for each of them. Made specifically for cats, their ThunderShirt is a calming wrap that helps to comfort and calm cats when they are experiencing anxiety. Taking the “PET” out of petrified, a ThunderShirt can help to calm during travel, separation anxiety, vet visits, storms and fireworks, and even when we stay at loud military bases.
Whether you are taking a short drive, or going on a long road trip where you want to bring your cat along, it can be tough on everyone if your cat hates to travel. A ThunderShirt helps your cat to feel significantly calmer and more relaxed during travel. With over an 80% success rate, the ThunderShirt could be the solution you’ve been looking for! And of course, ThunderShirts are machine washable.
Now, our cats don’t wear their Thunder Shirts every time we travel. However, we do keep them nearby should our other stress remedies not work for them.
Cat Calming Products WE Use for Road Trips and RV Travel:
Calming Treats and Calming Collars
Being honest here, we don’t use cat calming treats as we’ve not done diligent research to find which ones are safe for our cats. However, there are several brands on the market. We recommend seeking recommendations from your Veterinarian.
On the same note as the calming treats, we’ve not tried cat calming collars either. Again, do your research should you wish to go that route.
Should my cat eat while riding in a vehicle or RV?
This is a tough one. While others may choose to, we do not allow our cats to roam free in our motorhome. Therefore, they don’t have access to food underway. However, any time we stop for lunch or to stretch our legs, we do feed them a small amount of canned cat food to hold them over until we get to our destination or stop for the day.
Where does your cat go potty during road trips?
If you are taking your cat on a long distance drive or multi-day road trip, it’s important to allow them to use their litter box to relieve themselves.
According to Waldo’s Friends, “when it comes to toilet habits, every cat is different. Normal peeing may range from two to six times a day depending on your cat’s age, water intake, and diet, as well as other factors such as existing medical conditions, medication, heat, humidity, and stress. Pooping, on the other hand, is done by most cats at least once a day. Failure to urinate or defecate creates a risk of injury due to the toxin buildup in your cat’s system. Increase in toxins can make your cat sick and may lead to damage in her vital organs. Worse, it may cause death.”
So, make certain you either stop a few times a day to allow your cat to use the litter box. If you do allow your cat to go outside to pee or poop, please put her in a harness and on a leash. So many lose their cats at rest stops and campgrounds because they are not on leashes.
And of course, when stopping for the night or when your RV is parked for any specified time period, always provide a clean litter box in your RV, vehicle, or hotel room.
Can I leave my cat in my RV or vehicle should I need to vacate it?
To be honest, leaving your cat alone in your vehicle or RV is a complex question. During your road trip, should you need to stop and vacate your vehicle to use the bathroom, grab a bite to eat or take a walk to stretch your legs, you need to be conscious of the outside temperatures and weather.
Be cognizant of dangers your cat can get into during your absence. If you leave your vehicle’s air conditioner running, be aware that your cat may accidentally open the windows by stepping on the buttons on your car doors. Always make certain your emergency brake is engaged. I’ve heard stories of cats accidentally bumping the gear shift thus, putting the car in drive. And never leave toxic fluids where they could get into them.
If you’re RVing with your cat (or cats), simply fire up your RV onboard generator to turn on the air conditioner. If it’s cold out, simply make certain you turn on your propane and run your furnace. Your cat deserves to be comfortable and loved at all times.
When you and your cat arrives at your destination
Once you get to your destination, let your kitty out of her cat carrier and show her to the litter box. Break out her favorite food and allow her to eat her meal. In a soft voice, praise your cat for being a good kitty (even if she wasn’t). And give her cuddles and love. Reassure her that she’s your #1 (even if you have multiple cats).
Final thoughts on taking a road trip with cats
We hope these travel tips for cat owners help prepare you for your next road trip adventure with your cat (or cats!). If road travel doesn’t appeal to your cat after a few attempts, don’t force them. You and your cat will become stressed and your relationship may sever. Some cats just can’t or won’t adapt to vehicle movement or the stress from not being in one place.
Realize that cats are NOT dogs. Nor should they be expected to be like dogs. Some cats take to road trip travel quickly while others may not want anything to do with riding in a vehicle. In other words, just let them be cats.
Check out this story of ‘who found who’; a heartwarming journey of a couple of road travelers and a cat on the run!
More articles about RVing and traveling with CATS
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