Whether you're moving to a new town or taking an extended vacation, embarking on a many-hour car ride with a cat is not always easy. Even if your cat regularly tolerates 10 or 20-minute rides to the vet's office, a long-haul adventure may be another story. Luckily, there are a few ways to make road trips easier on your feline companion.
Choose a Comfy Cat Carrier
Before you hit the road, make sure your cat carrier is a comfortable space for your cat. Carriers with solid sides--either hard or soft--are much comfier than those with wire sides since your cat can lounge against the sides of the carrier more easily.
Also make sure your carrier is large enough for your cat. Your cat should be able to turn around in the crate with ease, and there should be enough space for you to put water and food bowls inside the crate. Avoid excessively large crates as they may make your cat feel nervous and less secure.
If you purchase a new crate for your road trip, leave it open in the corner of the room for a week or two before the trip. Place your cat's food inside of it to encourage him or her to wander inside and get used to the new space. When the day of the trip arrives, make sure you put a comfortable pillow or towel down in the crate for some padding.
Let Your Cat Out For Breaks
If your trip is longer than two or three hours, then you're going to want to let your cat out for potty and stretching breaks along the way. The easiest way to do this is with a harness and a leash. If you have never had your cat on a harness before, purchase one a few weeks before your trip so that you can practice using it and ensure it fits properly.
A properly fitted harness should be tight enough around your cat's neck that only one finger can slide underneath it. Lightweight nylon harnesses are a good choice because they're durable and easy to wash.
Start by just taking your cat outside on a harness and leash for a few minutes at a time. Don't worry if he or she mostly lays there and does not want to follow you or play. When you are on the road trip, just being able to let your cat wander around a little in the grass at a rest stop is all you'll need. Plan on stopping every three or four hours. Make sure the areas where you take your cat out are quiet and secluded.
Talk To Your Vet about Calming Medications
Even the calmest of cats can become nervous and anxious when faced with a long car ride. And anxious cats can sometimes vomit or experience diarrhea, making the trip a challenge for the both of you. One of the easiest ways to ease this anxiety is with calming medications from your vet.
One common medication vets prescribe for calming during travel is called diphenhydramine. This is the same active ingredient found in Benadryl.
Your vet may recommend giving your cat a dose every 8 to 12 hours just before and during travel.
Do not give diphenhydramine to your cat unless your vet has specifically told you it is safe to do so. Your vet will need to calculate the appropriate dose for your cat, and there are some cats, such as those with high blood pressure and urinary tract problems, who should not take diphenhydramine.
If you follow the tips above, your cat should arrive at your destination relatively calm and content. Remember--traveling can be mentally exhausting for cats. Give your cat some space and alone time in the days following the trip so that he or she can relax and recover from the experience. Contact South San Diego Veterinary Hospital if you will be traveling soon. We'll make sure your cat is healthy and prescribe calming medications, if needed.