What’s the Fur-deal with Traveling Cats? How to Keep Kitty Calm on the Road


Is it stressful for cats to travel? This is a question many cat owners ponder when moving or going on vacation. As cats are known to be creatures of habit who like their familiar surroundings, it’s understandable to worry about how they will handle transitions to new environments. However, with proper preparation and care, cats can adapt to travel relatively well. This article provides an overview of signs of stress in cats, tips for reducing travel anxiety, and when travel should be avoided. By understanding the effects of travel on cats, owners can make informed decisions that prioritize their cat’s health and happiness.

Normal Cat Behavior

Cats are natural hunters and their behaviors reflect their predatory instincts. According to nidirect.gov.uk, most cats are playful, sociable animals who enjoy playing with toys, people, and other cats. They express normal behavior through activities like exploring, hunting, climbing, scratching, and marking territory.

Cats need opportunities to express natural behaviors like scratching, climbing, playing, exploring, and hunting. As suggested by unionlakeveterinaryhospital.com, healthy cats will exhibit behaviors like sitting in high places, napping in sunny spots, and stalking prey or toys. Kittens especially need ample play time and socialization.

According to cathealth.com, normal play behaviors include pouncing, chasing, rearing up, boxing, and hunting activities like staring intently at “prey.” Cats also need opportunities for exercise like climbing towers or perches. A lack of appropriate outlets for natural cat behaviors can lead to stress and other issues.

Signs of Stress in Cats

Cats exhibit both behavioral and physical signs when they are stressed. Changes in behavior that may indicate stress include hiding more often, acting aggressive or clingy, having changes in appetite, and inappropriate urination or defecation outside the litter box (PetMD).

Stressed cats may excessively groom themselves, leading to bald spots or irritation. They may also vocalize more through meowing, growling, or other sounds (Blue Cross).

Other physical signs include dilated pupils, tense body language with a hunched posture, and increased swallowing or lip licking. Cats may also breathe more rapidly when stressed. All of these are indicators your cat is not feeling comfortable or content in their environment (Cats Protection).

Preparing for Travel

Proper carrier selection and familiarizing your cat with the carrier are two key aspects of preparing for travel. According to PetMD experts (https://www.petmd.com/cat/care/8-tips-traveling-cat), choose a sturdy, well-ventilated carrier that is large enough for your cat to stand, turn around, and lie down comfortably. Avoid plastic carriers which can seem isolating and insecure. Introduce your cat to the carrier in a positive way by placing blankets or toys inside, feeding them treats near it, and rewarding calm behavior.

Dr. Gary Richter advises getting your cat accustomed to the carrier in the weeks leading up to the trip, so it becomes a safe zone rather than something to fear (https://www.countryliving.com/life/kids-pets/g39036501/tips-for-traveling-with-a-cat/). Take short drives around the neighborhood and praise calm behavior during the ride. Bring along familiar bedding and toys during these trial runs. The more you can associate the carrier with positive experiences beforehand, the less stressful your cat will find travel day.

During the Trip

Once the trip begins, it’s important to keep your cat as comfortable as possible in their carrier. Make sure their carrier is secured in the vehicle so it doesn’t slide or tip during transport. Speak calmly and reassuringly to your cat, and avoid sudden braking or fast turns that could upset them. Keeping the carrier covered or placing it on the floor of the vehicle can also help limit external stimuli and prevent motion sickness.

Be sure to offer your cat small amounts of water every few hours during the trip by providing a spill-proof bowl or bottle. Do not offer food during transport, as eating could upset their stomach. Take periodic breaks to allow your cat to stretch, urinate, and relieve stress. Set up a small litter box and let them out of the carrier for 10-15 minutes if safe to do so.

Try to keep noises, music, and conversations in the vehicle at reasonable levels to prevent sensory overload. Spraying Feliway pheromone spray in the carrier can also help keep cats calm during transport (source). Avoid leaving your cat alone in a hot or cold vehicle, and check on them regularly to ensure they are not showing signs of excessive stress or motion sickness.

Arriving at Destination

When you first arrive at your destination with your cat, it’s important to allow them adequate time to acclimate to their new surroundings. Cats can be very territorial, so moving to a new location can be incredibly stressful and disorienting for them. It’s best to initially keep your cat confined to one room, such as a bathroom or bedroom. This allows them to get comfortable with a smaller space before introducing them to the entirety of the new home.

Bringing familiar items from home can help ease the transition. Place their litter box, food and water bowls, toys, scratching posts, and bedding in the room. You may also want to use synthetic feline pheromones like Feliway to help create a comforting environment.

Spend time in the room with your cat when you first arrive, playing with them and providing affection. But also allow them alone time to explore at their own pace. Cats can take anywhere from several days to several weeks to adjust to new surroundings. Be patient and let them set the timeline. Over several days, slowly open the door to allow access to more of the home. But if they seem overwhelmed, scale back access until they are ready.

By confining your cat initially upon arrival, it allows them to adjust on their own terms. Rushing the process can cause undue stress. Let your cat become fully comfortable before giving them free rein in their new home.

Special Considerations

The age and health status of a cat can impact their ability to handle stress from travel. Older cats often have anxiety dealing with change and may find travel very difficult. According to one source, “Senior cats take longer to adjust to new places and new situations” (https://petraveller.com.au/blog/top-tips-for-flying-with-an-older-cat). Underlying health issues may also be exacerbated, so a veterinary exam is recommended prior to travel to identify any concerns. Cats with heart disease, arthritis, or other conditions may struggle with travel stress. Additionally, cats with anxious temperaments tend to have more difficulty dealing with travel changes. Patience, planning, and veterinary guidance can help mitigate risks for senior, ill, or anxious cats.

Alternatives to Travel

If traveling doesn’t seem suitable for your cat, there are some good alternatives to consider. Finding someone to watch your cat while you are away can help reduce the stress for both you and your pet.

One option is to hire a pet sitter to stay in your home while you are gone. A good pet sitter will follow your routine for feeding, playtime, litter box cleaning, and any medications needed. Having a familiar person in your cat’s normal environment can help minimize disruption and anxiety. Make sure to find an experienced and trustworthy pet sitter with good references.

You can also look into boarding your cat at a pet care facility. Reputable boarding kennels have separate cat boarding areas to avoid stress from dogs. They will feed your cat, clean litter boxes, and provide socialization. Be sure to visit the facility first to check cleanliness, space, and staff attentiveness. Give them your cat’s vet records, food preferences, and any care instructions.[https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/travel/alternatives-to-flying-with-your-pet–and-how-to-stay-safe-when-you-cant-avoid-it/2018/04/26/ae6107f6-426b-11e8-8569-26fda6b404c7_story.html]

Either option allows your cat to stay in a familiar environment and maintain their routine. This can help reduce anxiety compared to traveling to an unfamiliar destination.

When to Avoid Travel

While many cats can handle travel reasonably well, there are some situations where it’s better to avoid bringing your cat along for the trip.

Highly anxious cats or those with severe motion sickness may become extremely stressed by travel. According to PetCoach, cats already prone to anxiety, hiding, or inappropriate urination at home are likely to have these behaviors exacerbated by travel stress. It’s kindest to leave severely anxious cats in their normal environment.

Cats with illnesses should stay home to continue medical treatment and avoid potential health crises while away. Travel can worsen conditions like kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, and heart problems. If your cat has a chronic medical issue, consider boarding them where they can receive proper care.

Extreme hot or cold weather makes travel precarious for cats. The American Veterinary Medical Association warns against leaving pets in vehicles in hot or cold weather even for short periods. Extremes of temperature can quickly become dangerous and even fatal. If traveling in very hot or cold conditions, it may be safest to leave kitty at home.


In summary, traveling can be a very stressful experience for cats. To reduce anxiety, it’s important to prepare properly by getting your cat accustomed to their carrier, bringing familiar items from home, and keeping to normal routines as much as possible. Medication prescribed by your vet may help for long trips. Ensure your cat has proper ID and is contained securely during all legs of the journey. Stop frequently on road trips for litter box breaks, but avoid taking them out of the carrier around unfamiliar animals or people. Cats tend to travel best when they have one person they trust caring for them. With preparation, patience and the right considerations, you can make travel less stressful for both you and your feline companion.

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