Traveling with Your Cat: Preparations

 |  Jun 2nd 2009  |   42 Contributions


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If you've read Peter Gethers's trilogy of books on his travels with his Scottish Fold, Norman, you've probably harbored the fantasy of traveling the world with your cat. But unlike Norman, most cats aren't wild about road trips and are best left at home. If you think your cat is ready for travel, you shouldn't just jump in the car and hit the road; advance preparation will be key to your trip's success. Here are just a few of the things you should do before you vacation with your cat:


Determine if you really should take your cat with you.

Here are a couple of questions to ask yourself before you go:

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Is your cat a good traveler?
We all hate to leave our cats behind, but truly, most cats prefer it that way. Some cats are great travelers; others are definitely not. Unlike dogs, who are happiest with their people, cats are happiest in the place that they call home. If you've never traveled with your cat to anywhere besides the vet, I recommend a short test run before leaving on a two-week road trip. Take her along on a weekend getaway. This will provide both of you with a taste of what feline travel will be like. If she yowls herself hoarse screaming in her loudest "Call PETA I'm being tortured" voice on a short trip, you really should vacation without her. You'll both be happier.

Will you be sightseeing and traveling in warm climates?
If you'll be sightseeing, you may need to leave Fluffy in the car, aka the "death oven" while you do so. Even in fairly mild climates, the temperature inside a car can soar to fatal extremes in a short period of time, cooking your cat while you see the sights. Cracking open the windows offers little relief. So if you want to sightsee, leave Fluffy at home.

Even if you're not stopping for sightseeing, you'll probably need to stop for lunch. Drive-through is fine, but if you typically stop to have a sit-down lunch in a restaurant or diner when you're on the road, Fluffy will probably not be able to accompany you inside, and will need to stay in the car. If it's warm outside, this could pose a problem. So consider all of your vacation activities before you include Fluffy in your plans.

Where are you planning to stay?
Hotel rooms provide a fairly quiet sanctuary for cats (leave the do-not-disturb sign on the door so Fluffy won't escape), but if you're planning to stay with relatives, evaluate how secure and pleasant the environment will be for your cats. Will you be staying with family that includes a lot of young, raucous kids? If you are and Fluffy's not used to kids, this could be extremely stressful for her, and might provide her with opportunities and incentive to escape. Are there pets in the household where you'll be staying? This could also introduce stress and result in nasty altercations.

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Even if the family dog is the sweetest dog ever, if your cat isn't used to dogs, she could be freaked out by the encounter. Do her a favor and leave her at home.

If you're planning to stay at a campground or park, find out what the pet restrictions are beforehand. For example, pets are allowed in Yosemite, but they are prohibited in the lodges and cannot be left unattended. So you wouldn't be able to leave Fluffy in the car or RV while you have lunch at the Ahwahnee or tackle the Half Dome hike. This is another instance where it's better to leave your cat at home.

Research and Book Accommodations in Advance
If you'll be staying in hotels or motels along your route, you should be aware that pet policies vary, as do the costs of bunking with your cat in a hotel. Sometimes, there's simply a surcharge added. Sometimes, it's a cleaning fee which may or may not be refundable, and may be a one-time charge or a nightly charge.

For example, my cat Skeezix and I stayed at a hotel that required a $75 non-refundable cleaning deposit. If you're staying at a different place every night, and they all require similar deposits, a two-week trip could become prohibitively expensive. Shop around. Some places charge significantly more for cats; I've seen others that let cats stay free but charge for dogs.

Since policies and costs are all over the map, you can save a significant amount of money by doing your research... or by leaving Fluffy at home with a catsitter. We'll discuss accommodations later in this series.

Tag, Chip and Bell
If you've been reading The Cat's Meow for any length of time, you know how many lost pets have been reunited with their owners thanks to proper microchipping and tagging.

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The best tag is one that is part of a complete pet recovery service that provides not only your current contact info, but a link to a website that also provides your pet's medical info, out-of-area contacts, food restrictions and the like. For example, many people put their cell phone numbers on their pet's tags -- but what happens when you are traveling in remote areas with no cell coverage? If you have a tag like the Together Tag, you can provide multiple contacts to ensure that you're reunited as quickly as possible with your lost pet.

Microchipping is a back-up for tags, should your cat lose her collar. Before you leave on your trip, make sure that your contact info for your microchip is current. Microchip makers like HomeAgain make it easy; just log in to their website to update your profile.

A good bell provides an aural clue to your cat's whereabouts when she first goes missing so you can locate her before she becomes hopelessly lost. This is especially helpful if your cat isn't vocal or is frightened by her surroundings.

Tagging, chipping and belling your cat will reap benefits when you're back home as well. If money is an issue, check with your local shelters; microchipping is often offered at a deep discount through local shelters and humane societies.

Request Copies of the Cat's Medical Records
If you plan to cross state lines, you may need to have vaccination records and health certificates with you -- check beforehand to see exactly what each state requires. Even if you don't cross state lines with your cat, proof of her rabies vaccination will come in handy if she bites a stranger (not too far-fetched if your cat is stressed from travel). I bring along a vet binder, with all the cats' medical records in plastic sleeves within the binder. This comes in handy if your cat needs to be seen by a vet during your trip.

If you don't have copies of your cat's vaccination records, request them at least a week before you leave.

Flying with Your Cat? Prepare Ahead.
As part of our series on pet travel, we'll cover flying with your cat in depth. But there are a few things you'll need to do before you fly with your cat:

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  • Throughly research the airline's pet policy and charges. There is no industry standard, and they vary significantly. If you were (ugh!) planning to have your cat ride in cargo, many airlines will not permit pets in cargo during the summer months, or on legs where the temps reach certain limits.
  • Reserve your seat as early as possible if your cat is flying in the cabin. Most airlines limit the number of pets allowed in the cabin on each flight, so reserve your seat -- with cat -- as early as possible.
  • Check in with your vet before you fly. Many airlines require health certificates and vaccination records. Flying is usually not recommended for snub-nosed cats -- Persians and Himalayans -- because they could experience breathing difficulties, and your vet can advise you what to do. You may want to sedate your cat for the trip, but most vets recommend against it, so a quick conference with your vet can help you determine what's best for your cat.
  • Your cat carrier must meet airline regulations. If the cat is traveling with you in the cabin, there is a size constraint as well. If you have a large cat and a long flight, she might not be comfortable in a small carrier, so figure this out before you book the flight. Keep in mind that the carrier usually counts against your carry-on quota, so pack accordingly.

Buy and Test New Gear in Advance
If you've never traveled with your cat, you might need to buy travel gear to make the trip as comfortable as possible for your feline traveler. For example, car booster seats keep pets safely in their seats while allowing them to look at the world going by out the window.

Don't wait until the day before you leave to buy the new gear, however. Test drive it beforehand to ensure it's comfortable for your cat, fits your vehicle, and meets your expectations. That way, you'll have time to exchange it, if necessary, before you hit the road.

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The bottom line is, thorough evaluation and preparation are key to a successful trip with your cat. She may turn out to be a surprisingly good traveler, or she could ruin your vacation. In any event, if you do what's best for her, it will turn out to be what's best for you as well.

For more information on traveling with your cat, check out Catster's Forum on Cats & Travel.

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