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Road Trips with Your Cat: How To Prepare For Long Drives

Nicole Cosgrove Profile Picture

By Nicole Cosgrove

road trips cat head out car window

Taking a nice long drive with your cat is probably at the bottom of your wishlist.

Chances are good that at some point you will have to travel with your cat. If you’re lucky it might be a quick trip across town to the vet or your Mom’s house.  But someday you may move homes and have to take an extended trip with your furry friend as your copilot. Hepper the cat has had to take many of these long drives with me. Together, we’ve spent almost 8000 miles in the car. That’s 13 days, 123 hours, or about 5,000,000 meows.

Also at least 13 unplanned poops, pukes, pees, and lots of drooling!

Road Trips With Your Cat

It’s not always just in a car that you have your cat. You might also take your cat on the bus, bring your cat on a plane, carry your cat on the train or possibly even take your cat on a boat! Each method of transporting your pet has its own particular issues. I’ve spent most of the time in cars with Hepper and have learned a lot from all the mistakes that I’ve made. Here are some tips and tricks to make traveling with cats easier, safer, and maybe even fun!

cat in carrier
Image Credit: Zossia, Shutterstock

Keeping Your Cat Safe

What would happen if your cat crawled under your brake pedal? Or if they slide out the window when you go around the corner?

These are scary thoughts but easily avoidable. Just put your cat in a cat carrier at all times when they are in the car with you. You would never put your baby on the seat without a seatbelt or baby seat, so why treat your cat any different? Containing your cat may also make them feel more secure, and they won’t have the desire to crawl into tight places under the seat or on your dashboard.

I use a large hard shell container for any drives over 30 minutes. Like this one on Amazon. For shorter drives, I use the soft-sided Hatch or Sleepypod brand carriers. Whichever style you choose, be sure that it is easy to clean! Poops, pees, and pukes are likely, so it’s best to be prepared.

For longer drives, I use the larger carriers so that my cat has more space to turn and change positions. Even stand up if she wants. It’s even big enough to include a small litter box inside. After cleaning out many “accidents” I’ve found that a litter box really helps!

How To Keep Your Cat and Your Car Clean

Every time I’ve taken my cat for a drive, there’s been something that I have to clean up. On a good day, it’s just some fur that got stuck on the seats, but I’ve had some epic poop, pee, and puke cleaning events! In my experience, cats usually have the need to “expel” after about 45 minutes in the car. That is good news for a short trip, but bad news for an 8 hour drive!

As much as it is a pain to slow your drive by stopping, it’s always best to find a safe place to pull over and start the cleanup, as soon as is needed.

Here’s some ways I’ve found to make this stinky process a little easier:
  • Make space to work. Move the carrier to the back seat so you have more room to clean. If you have a second carrier, you could move your dirty cat to that carrier, take time to clean the original, then clean your cat and put them back in. You could also put a towel down on your seat, clean your cat well, and then let them roam in the car (doors closed, windows up!!) while you clean the carrier. I’ve had neither option in the past and have had to just squeeze my hand in the door of the carrier and clean everything one bit at a time, which works well enough.
  • Tools for the job. Be sure to bring paper towels – microfiber towels also work great and don’t shred. Have a bottle of water on hand and maybe some sanitizing wipes (for you, not the cat!) to clean up after it’s all done. Don’t forget a plastic bag to store all the dirty, smelly items. If you have a small litter box in the carrier, you might not need a scoop, but you’ll want a small poop plastic bag to pick up the waste.
  • Refresh the carrier. Bring extra clean towels or pads to refresh the carrier. This will make your cat happy and more comfortable after having such a tough time already.

Related Read: How Long Can Cats Hold Their Pee?

After The Ride

After your journey is over and everyone is settled into the new location well, I will take some extra time to clean out my car and remove any traces of my cat (I have enough in my house, and don’t need more in my car!)

Tips for cleaning your car:
  • Small handheld vacuums work well to suck up any fur or dirt that is on your seats.
  • To remove smells, try sprinkling a small amount of baking soda on the carpet, then vacuuming up. Or these deodorizers might also be a good option.

Think Easier

Mindset – I get stressed because I worry a lot about the feelings of my fur kid, but in reality, their experience of a car trip is likely a lot different than I think it is. For all I know, Hepper’s meows are her way of telling me that she’s having fun and enjoying the sights. But of course, I just think that she’s miserable…

The thing to remember is that whether human or feline, we are all very adaptable, and if our health is good, and the temperatures are reasonable, we can survive a lot.

Breaking the trip into smaller segments may make the feeling easier, though, so you could plan on a 15 minute stop every couple hours. Find a nice place in the shade, turn off the car, and pat your cat. You’ll both enjoy the time to relax.

cat food

What About Food?

I always bring snacks and drinks for myself on a drive, so I assume it’s the best thing to do for my cat too, but this is not necessarily true. Your cat may not have an appetite from the stress or simply from the motion of the car.

There is a lot of contradictory info online about how long cats can go without food or water, and since we at Hepper are not trained Vets, we won’t tell you what to do for your cat. You should always ask your Vet for these kinds of questions! But, in the research I’ve done for myself, I’ve learned that water is more important than food – cats can go longer without eating, than without drinking.

I’ve decided that a drive under 8 hours is OK to not supply food or water for my cats if they are healthy and the temperature is normal. Hepper can sleep for longer than that, so by my estimation, she’ll be just fine. I do like to feed her wet food – which has more water content – before the drive and give her time to digest and use the litter box before I put her in the car.

You know your cat the best, and if you maintain the normal feed times, but with a break in between for the trip, I would expect that all would be fine. I have made the mistake of giving the cats calming treats before and during the drive, though – and they’ve immediately puked them up. The lesson I’ve learned is to keep all food and water details as close to the normal home routine, with no new flavors, and no surprises!

Make It Fun! 

Sometimes, your cat won’t have all these issues and may be a fun travel companion! They’re great listeners and will likely agree with anything you want to tell them. If your cat is vocal and likes to meow a lot, you could get them to join in for some Carpool Karaoke! Or if you prefer to just play some relaxing tunes on the CD: Through a Cat’s Ear: Music for Calming

Dogs In Cars

Dogs are our outside furry friends and unlike cats, they usually go everywhere with us. Car trips for most dogs are problem-free, and some woofers even like to ride around. Safety for your dog in the car is still a concern for all sizes. A quick stop or even a sharp turn could throw your dog onto the floor, against you, or even worse – out the window. Treat your dogs like your kids and friends – get a tested and approved dog safety harness that buckles into your seatbelt system.

Happy Travels!

A road trip with your cat may not be your favorite way to travel, but with some pre-planning, you can make the experience less stressful, safer, and maybe even fun! Be sure to check in with your Vet before your trip – they know you and your cat and will have specific advice for your situation.

And also, here are some of our favorite road trips to do in Scandinavia!

Do you have any good road trip stories?

Leave us a reply comment – we’d love to hear about your adventures!

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Featured image credit: Popel Arseniy, Shutterstock

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