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What to Pack When You're Traveling with Cats By Car

I live in northern Minnesota, and I drive with my cats a lot. Here's what I have with me in the car.

 |  Jul 8th 2013  |   16 Contributions


Where I live, towns, businesses, and homes are few and far between. In Northern Minnesota, anybody who has to get anywhere does a lot of driving. My favorite veterinarian is an hour away from me. I've also taken longer trips to a special veterinarian -- four hours one way -- when I needed holistic care for my cats. I end up driving a lot with my cats.

Today I had to make another trip to the vet, this time for Karma, who has a cold. Karma’s eye was red and she was holding it slightly shut. This set off alarm bells for me because my older cat Jamie had an eye ulcer earlier this year and lost an eye. So even though nothing looked awry, I took the time to get Karma in, and I’m glad I did. The vet put stain on Karma’s eye to check for ulcers (there were none). Eyes can get inflamed and red just from these colds, but the vet understood why I was worried. Karma was a tiny bit dehydrated -- sometimes congested cats don’t feel like drinking -- so the vet gave Karma some subcutaneous fluid. The vet called it a “backpack” because it’s given via needle over the shoulders and upper spine.

Having made many of these trips to my vet with my cats, I’ve learned to plan for as smooth a trip as possible. I've been fortunate to have cats on good behavior -- they ride well. But I still dread the idea of breaking down in the wilderness with one of my fur kids. I'd be more worried about them and their health than about me.

Where there are cars or trucks, there might also be antifreeze. Cat on a car by Shutterstock.com

Here’s what I include when I drive with my cats:

  • A cat carrier -- This is safest for the cat, and you. Even if you have a cat who sits nicely while you drive, put them in a carrier for safety in case of an accident, or to contain them. Close and latch the carrier door.
  • Plenty of rags -- Especially if you have a cat who gets carsick. Paper towels work, too.
  • A disposable bag -- For soiled rags or paper towels.
  • A container with soapy water -- I admit, I’ve never thought of this. After today, though, I was wishing I’d had this in the car to clean out the carrier so Karma could’ve had a nicer ride after she got sick.
  • An extra carrier -- If you don’t want to deal with cleaning a messy carrier. If the cat gets sick, clean her to the best of your ability, and put her in the second carrier.
  • A mobile phone in case you break down -- Especially if you drive in remote country like some of us do. It also helps to know where reception is or isn’t good along your route. Make sure you have a car charger, for your phone, in the car.

Don't get stuck in the middle of nowhere, unprepared, with your cat!

  • Built-in time for the trip -- In case you need to pull over and take care of your cat if she does get carsick or for some other reason. Plan ahead.
  • Food and water -- Primarily for longer road trips.
  • Any required current vaccination information -- If you’re crossing into another country where this might be required, for example.
  • Survival kit for bad weather -- I try not to do routine vet stuff in the wintertime, just because I don’t like traveling with animals when it is extremely cold out. I would be concerned for my cat if the car broke down in below-zero weather, for example. Of course, cold weather drivers usually have weather survival kits in their cars. If you’re going to travel with your animals in the winter, make sure they also have a way to stay warm if your car breaks down or you can't run the heater. Similarly, I try not to schedule routine vet stuff in the high heat of the summer if there is a chance my cat might have to wait in the car anywhere on that particular trip. A short amount of time in a too-hot car can be fatal to dogs, cats, and other animals, even if the windows are cracked open.
  • Rescue remedy or calming essence -- I have used this with some success and it seems to make a difference in calming cats who are nervous riders. Consult with your veterinarian or qualified professional about how to give this to a cat. If you use a holistic veterinarian, she may have additional suggestions about what can be given to a cat to make a car ride less miserable for your feline family member.

Karma rides quietly, but tends to get nauseous on longer drives.

What precautions do you take when you have to drive with your cats? What has worked for you, and not worked for you? Share your ideas in comments!

This is an expanded excerpt from Catherine Holm's new book Driving with Cats: Ours for a Short Time, a memoir of life, love, and the human/animal-companion bond, available at www.catherineholm.com

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