Traveling with a cat? 7 tips to reduce stress

August 26, 2023 - 5 min read
Cat in travel bag

Cats are creatures of habit. They find solace and security among familiar people and in familiar corners of your home. When they’re traveling, they may still have access to those familiar people—but not to the familiar corners. 

Change and disorientation aren’t the only problems.

In a car, plane, or train, your cat will be exposed to loud sounds and rumbling sensations that may grate on their feline nerves. And to top it all off, they’ll be confined in a carrier, that may make them feel a bit stir-crazy.

Here are some tips for making your cat’s traveling experience as comfortable as possible.

Consider your cat's temperament

You know your cat better than anyone else, so consider their temperament before taking them on a trip. How do they behave in unfamiliar situations?

Are they calm and adaptable, or are they cautious and easily stressed out? Understanding these traits will help you anticipate how they’ll react to different aspects of travel.

If your cat is naturally curious and adaptable, they might be more open to travel experiences.

(Despite that old grim expression, cats and curiosity can go together quite nicely.)

Even within the confines of their carrier, an adaptable feline may be intrigued by the sights, sounds, and scents of a car, plane, or train ride. These bewhiskered adventurers may not need too much stimulation or distraction during the journey.

But some cats are more cautious and easily triggered by unfamiliar situations and environments. These cagey kitties may need gradual exposure to travel-related sensations before taking a long trip.

Take your cat on a few practice trips

Whatever type of cat you have, if you're planning a long road trip, you might consider taking them on short practice trips first.

Just bring your carrier-bound cat into your car and gradually get them accustomed to longer drives. You can start with a trip around the block or even a stationary “trip” in an idling car.

Show us a successful kitty outing, and we’ll show you one that was well-prepared for. Here are some tips for preparing your cat for a trip:

Get a comfortable cat carrier

However you’re traveling, your cat will need to remain in their carrier at all times while they’re in a moving vehicle.

Choosing the right carrier is absolutely essential for your cat’s comfort and, even more importantly, their safety.

For car travel, a sturdy, well-ventilated carrier is best. Hard-sided carriers provide better protection from accidents or sudden stops.

Young Hispanic female cat owner sitting and waiting for her appointment with the vet. She has a beautiful gray cat in a cage.

However, soft-sided carriers are suitable for train and plane travel since they’re easier to carry and more flexible.

An excited Siamese cat pokes its head out of a cat carrier to look around alertly

Most airlines and train lines WILL let you take a carrier-enclosed cat on board, even if your cat isn’t an emotional support animal. Your carrier just needs to meet the applicable size requirements.

If you’re traveling by plane, make sure your carrier complies with the airline's guidelines. For example, here are American Airlines’ requirements for a pet carrier:

“Soft-sided collapsible kennels are recommended and can be slightly larger but still need to fit under the seat without having to excessively collapse the kennel. They must be secure, padded, made of water-repellant material, and have nylon mesh ventilation on three or more sides.”

Most airlines have similar requirements and may charge a fee to bring a pet onboard.

Be vigilant about your cat's safety

Whether you're traveling by car, train, or plane, your cat’s safety and comfort should be top priorities. In a car, your cat should always travel in the back seat. You’ll need to securely fasten your kitty’s carrier using the seat belt.

Cat peeking out of the transport box, traveling in the car

The last thing you want is for the carrier to start sliding or jostling; that could push your already-anxious kitty past their last nerve.

An attentive orange tabby cat wearing a black harness and leash is perched on a car seat, gazing out of the vehicle window at a park setting.

Top-notch cat insurance

Insurance for the beloved and be-whiskered

Enjoy peace of mind through all nine lives. ManyPets can reimburse you for your cat's accidents and illnesses.

An attentive orange tabby cat wearing a black harness and leash is perched on a car seat, gazing out of the vehicle window at a park setting.

On a plane or train, the carrier just needs to be able to fit under the seat (hence the soft-sided, collapsible kennels so prized by American Airlines).

In cars, make sure you keep the temperature comfortable; your cat doesn’t enjoy exposure to extreme heat or cold any more than you do.

Make room for a portable litterbox

A portable potty won’t be as pleasant as your cat’s regular litter space, but you’ll need to provide one.

Fortunately, there are many different types of portable litter boxes on the market. Some of them are made of foldable fabric, while others are made of recycled paper.

On longer trips, you should give kitty a potty break every 2-3 hours.

Domestic Cat Using Portable Litter Box.

Keep your cat hydrated

Always keep your cat hydrated. During a long trip, you can let your cat drink from a dripless water dispenser made specifically for travel. It’ll make your cat look like an enormous gerbil, but there’s no shame in that.

Food is trickier. Many cats are prone to motion sickness, and no one wants their feline travel companion to start vomiting.

As mean as this may sound, it’s wise to keep your cat’s stomach empty during short travel sessions. On longer trips, keep a bag of treats and cat food handy, but still keep the kitty feeding to a minimum.

Then your furry friend can enjoy a full meal when they’re back home. 

Bring your cat's favorite toys

Too much time in a confined space is enough to drive anyone batty (catty?). Pack a few of your feline friend’s favorite cat toys to keep them entertained!

Interactive toys like puzzles can provide the right kind of mental stimulation. You can also provide a blanket or bedding from home. Familiar items and scents can provide comfort and reduce stress.

Young striped kitten laying in a carrier on a bed

Ask your vet about cat sedation

If your kitty can’t travel without displaying extreme anxiety symptoms (like trembling, excessive meowing, or other stress behaviors), a sedative might be your last resort. Just remember, you MUST consult your veterinarian first.

Your vet will determine the right medication, let you know the correct dosage, and make sure you’re not giving your cat any meds that could exacerbate an existing health condition.

Your vet may prescribe one of the following medications to help your cat with travel-related anxiety:

  • Acepromazine 

  • Gabapentin 

  • Trazodone 

  • Alprazolam (Xanax)

Avoid giving your cat a sedative if possible, but if you can’t, you can’t. Some cats are especially unlikely to remain calm if the trip is long.

How pet insurance can help

At ManyPets, we know your cat is a housewarming housemate and furry family member. That's why we offer cat insurance to help you take care of them, whether you need coverage for illnesses or accidents.

And if you and your feline friend find yourselves traveling out-of-state (or in Canada!), ManyPets insurance will continue to cover your cat for up to 90 days!

David Teich
Lead Editor

David oversees content strategy and development at ManyPets. As Lead Editor, he focuses on delivering accurate information related to pet care and insurance. David’s editorial background spans more than a decade, including a pivotal role at Digiday, where he wrote content and managed relationships with media and tech companies. As an Associate Editor at Cynopsis Media, David wrote the Cynopsis Digital newsletter and interviewed executives and digital marketing experts in the TV industry. His background also includes film journalism. His diverse experiences in journalism and marketing underpins his role in shaping content within the pet care industry.