How to Road Trip With a Cat
Lessons learned from 4,500 miles on the open road.
Is it possible to road trip with a cat?
A few months ago I asked myself this question. Since we just returned from a 3,000 mile road trip with a cat and two kids in the back seat, I wanted to record our experiences. It actually went better than expected, with just a few challenges to overcome.
When we decided to take our cat on a road trip, I couldn’t help but wonder — are we crazy? Cats are notoriously bad travelers so even though our cat is super social and easy going, I did a ton of research before we decided to bring her along.
Eventually we decided to bring our cat on the road with us because:
- We weren’t sure exactly how long we would be gone.
- Our trusted house sitters/caregivers were not available.
- Our cat is super social and needed more interaction than a daily drop-in would provide.
- Even with supplies and pet fees, bringing her with us was the least expensive choice.
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One of the biggest challenges I faced is that there’s just not a lot of information out there on how to travel with a cat.
Most of the articles I found were recommendations to ask a vet for kitty valium as a sedative. While I might consider that for a travel-resistant cat on a cross-country move, we would only do that as a last resort. While we haven’t needed to use it, I’d probably start with this more natural remedy instead.
After a ton of research, I finally decided to buy these two items a few months before our trip:
The first thing I bought was a sturdy, soft-sided pet carrier.
Apparently most cats feel more comfortable in a soft carrier rather than a hard crate. I would have preferred this carrier, but the ‘giant’ size was too large for our vehicle.
This is the pet carrier we ended up getting — I love that it comes with an extra bed pad in case of accidents. It was smaller than I liked, but it fit our 9 lb cat adequately for short periods of time — it worked especially well for transporting her in and out of hotel rooms, and to keep her contained in the vehicle during our bathroom breaks.
I also ordered a kitty holster cat harness. It wasn’t cheap, but the reviews sold me on it being the most reliable option. We measured our cat according to the instructions before ordering and the harness fit perfectly. It came with a brochure on how to harness train your cat, which was very helpful.
Initially, our cat was not a fan. The first few times wearing it she flopped over on the floor and refused to move. This would have surprised me, but I knew to expect it from reading the reviews on Amazon.
We had her practice wearing it for a few hours every day and gave her lots of affection each time. Within a few days she was much more comfortable wearing the harness. Eventually we added some carrier time in the mix, to get her road trip ready!
Of course, there were a few other essentials to bring along.
For a travel litter box we ended up using a shallow plastic bin with a snap-on lid and a few inches of her normal litter. I purchased a new litter scoop for the trip. We carried both, plus food and dishes in a duffel bag for easy transport in and out of hotel rooms. This set up ended up working really.
On the road with a cat — how we made it work:
We took our cat on a short day trip a few weeks before our real trip, just to see how she would do. After a few loud complaints, she curled up in her carrier and napped the rest of the ride. This definitely gave us of peace of mind about the real trip.
We traveled in a crew cab pickup with two kids and the cat in the back seat. The cat carrier ended up fitting best on the floor right behind the center console. This position allowed every person in the car to reach the carrier, which was really nice! It also gave her a break from the whizzing scenery and a cozy cave to hide out in.
We kept the cat in her harness and on a leash at all times in the vehicle for safety. This allowed us to keep her safely contained when she roamed around. She was never allowed in the driver’s area, but spent a lot of time in all the other laps. We zipped her into the carrier for every stop, and by the end of the trip she would climb into her carrier when it seemed like we were getting ready to stop. (Smart kitty!)
It might sound strange, but we only offered food and water once we stopped for the night. From my research it seemed like this was the best choice to avoid motion sickness and nausea. When we got to our hotel room the cat stayed in her carrier until we had the litter box, food, and water set up in the bathroom.
I would close the door of the bathroom, let her out, and stayed in there with her until she was relaxed enough to use the litter box. She adjusted to this routine quickly and didn’t seem to have any problems with dehydration, nausea or bathroom accidents.
After she used the litter box, she was allowed to roam free in the hotel room. She loved being out of her harness, and able to explore! Any time we needed to leave her in the room, we shut her in the bathroom for safety. This kept her from darting out the door when we returned.
A few minutes before we were ready to head out in the morning we would put on the harness and zip her in the carrier. It turned out to be a pretty simple, easy routine.
Traveling with a cat is possible.
We successfully traveled 3,000 miles with two kids (6&5) and a cat in the back seat. Just like traveling with kids, a road trip with a cat is a little more work. For us though, it was totally worth it!
We spent about $50 for the harness and carrier, and $110 for pet fees. ($100 was the pet fee for our week at a vacation rental.) 3 of our 4 hotel stays were at La Quinta Inn & Suites, which has a fantastic pet policy. We were so impressed after our first stay, we ended up seeking them out for the rest of our trip.
Taking a road trip with our cat was something I never expected to do. Really, who does that? But it turned out to be a good experience overall. It’s also nice to know we have everything we need to safely and comfortably travel with our cat, whether it’s to the vet or cross country.
Update: Just a few years later we used this exact same method on our cross-country move, adding 1,500 more miles to our cat’s travel experience. Turns out, she’s still a really great traveler.