With summer in full swing, some people will pack up the cat along with their clothes, beach towels, and summer novels and head off for vacation. Although few cats actually enjoy traveling, for some cats this is a mild inconvenience, while for others it is pure torture for them and for their co-travelers. Cats who yowl loudly or who experience vomiting, urination or defecation while in the car or plane are miserable and are no fun to be around!
There are some cats for whom motion sickness is the inevitable result of any form of travel, but for many others, simple preparation and conditioning can maximize their chances of a smooth and low-stress travel experience. This preparation can also make veterinary excursions much less stressful as well.
First of all, cats must be in a carrier to travel safely, but the carrier should not be relegated to the basement or garage for most of the year. Your cat's carrier should spend most of its time in a quiet corner of your house and contain a comfortable towel or blanket. Hopefully your cat will come to see the carrier as a cozy den where he can curl up for a nap occasionally. Throw some treats in from time to time to increase his chances of seeing it as a familiar, positive place. Once in awhile, close the door while he's in there, pick up the carrier and take him for a walk around the house. If he stays calm, graduate to taking him for short car rides around the block. Your chances of having a calm traveler are even higher if you start this process when your cats are kittens and get them used to traveling at an early age.
For any crate travel, make sure your cat has an absorbent and comfortable layer at the bottom of the crate, such as a towel or fleece. It can be helpful to use 2 layers, as long as they don't take up too much space, so that if the top later gets soiled, you can pull it out and discard while leaving your cat another layer to lay on. Feliway spray or wipes can also help to calm your cat while he is in the carrier. Feliway is a synthetic cat pheromone, which is a chemical scent marker that cats leave behind when they rub their faces on objects that belong to them to reassure themselves. This product is readily available in pet stores and online. Some cats do best when they can see where they are going, but many cats are quieter and calmer if you cover the carrier with a towel or blanket. Cats like to hide, and being in a dark covered space makes them feel safer.
For those who need to take a cat on an airplane ride, it is even more important that your cat be used to his crate or soft-sided carrier since they will spend a long time inside. It is always safest to travel with your cat in the cabin of the airplane, but if you have to bring multiple cats or you are traveling internationally this will not be possible. Always check with your airline before traveling to make sure your carrier meets their specifications and about which documents, such as health and rabies certificates, they require. This will help avoid a last-minute trip to the vet for health verification or an overdue vaccine.
If your cat will be with you in the cabin, you will need to take him out of the carrier at the security area so that his carrier can go through the x-ray machine. It can be nerve-wracking to hold on to a frightened, possibly struggling cat in a crowded place. Some people find it beneficial to get the cat used to wearing a harness prior to travel, which will gives an extra "handle" to hold on to while trying to restrain the cat.
If you are traveling internationally, make sure you thoroughly research your destination country's requirements for animal importation. These can be complicated and may involve placing a microchip, making sure that his rabies vaccine falls within a certain time period, having a rabies antibody titer checked, and last-minute deworming and flea/tick treatments within 24 hours of travel. You may need to start the process as much as 6 months in advance, so make sure you do your homework. In many cases, using the services of a company that specializes in transporting animals internationally can save you many headaches, as they are experts at navigating the paperwork and customs requirements.
We rarely recommend drugs to make travel easier, but you can talk to your veterinarian about options if your cat is extremely fearful or carsick. Some options your vet may offer include antihistamines to make your cat drowsy, a mild sedative, or an anti-nausea drug.
With preparation, you can travel with your cat without both of you becoming frazzled and frantic. Happy trails!
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