Should you travel with your cat or leave it home?

Should you travel with your cat or leave it home? - Cat in suitcase with their travel toys

Travel can be a rewarding experience that many cat owners wish to share with their feline friends. Before taking your cat on a trip, make sure you’re well prepared. Read on to learn what you should ask yourself in deciding whether you should travel with your cat, how to keep your cat safe when you travel, and what you should do if you leave your cat at home.

How can I decide whether to travel with my cat or leave them home?

Although some cats may be well suited to travel and there are times when you may not have much choice, changes in a cat’s routine or surroundings are usually stressful. The majority of cats are creatures of habit and prefer to stay in a familiar environment.

Many cats experience stress in response to disruption to their schedules and territories. Temporary feelings of anxiety can cause some unpleasant symptoms in your cat, although this does not mean they have an anxiety disorder. Ongoing stress can contribute to the development of an anxiety disorder or other medical conditions, however. New kittens, senior cats, or cats with preexisting health conditions may be more affected by the stress or change created by the demands of travel. If your cat is in an at-risk group, you may consider leaving them at home with a cat sitter, just to be safe

Start by asking if your cat will enjoy the experience. Even if your cat’s disposition makes them well suited to travel, you may find they make a difficult travel companion. Some of the questions you should ask yourself when planning to travel with your cat are:

  • What are your cat’s needs?

If your cat is sick or has an ongoing condition that requires treatment, traveling may complicate caring for them. Especially young or old cats may be more vulnerable to health upsets with the stress of travel.

  • What are the requirements for cats traveling to your destination?

Health certificates are required for interstate and international travel. Your cat should also be up to date on their routine vaccinations. Vaccinations may be required for certain destinations, types of travel, or to board your cat at any point during your trip. Be advised that health certificates may take weeks or months to get finalized, so it is important to do your research and start the process well in advance of your trip.

  • Does your cat get sick in the car/plane/train?

If your cat gets anxious or has motion sickness, it may make things less fun for everyone involved. If traveling with an anxious or carsick cat is unavoidable, talk to your vet about what options you might have to help ease the struggle. You and your vet may decide that over-the-counter (OTC) medication is the right solution for your pet. If so, convenient services like VetsterRx can deliver this medication directly to your doorstep, anywhere in America, in as little as one business day.

  • Is the nature of your trip cat-friendly?

Depending on where and how you are traveling, your trip may not be comfortable for your feline companions. For example, your cat may acclimate to a quiet, month-long trip in a cabin, while a weekend in Vegas may prove less accommodating.

How can you keep your cat safe when you travel?

Most of the time, traveling is quite safe for cats. For extended trips that will be a week or longer, traveling with your cat may make more sense than leaving them at home. Being away from home with your cat for several days allows them to get comfortable with a new environment and stay on their usual routine.

If you have to travel with your cat, here are some safety concerns to keep in mind:

  • Confirm your travel accommodations are pet-friendly before your departure.
  • Make sure your cat has up-to-date documents, including vaccine records and any necessary health certificates.
  • Keep your cat in their carrier during travel stops to avoid an escape.
  • Update your cat's ID tag to display the address you will be staying at on your trip. Make sure your cat’s ID is securely fastened to them at all times during travel.
  • Review the airline requirements for pets. Always call and check with the airline as the requirements can change at any time.
  • When traveling, you may choose to board your cat at a nearby location that may have different vaccination requirements. Make sure your cat is up to date on their recommended vaccinations and all mandatory ones for the region where you will be taking them, including any places where you will only be passing through.
  • Ask a vet who is knowledgeable about the area where you are traveling if there is anything you should be aware of while visiting. You can find a vet to speak to in a new location easily with Vetster.

When traveling, you also want to keep your furry friend comfortable. Here are some basic tips to keep in mind:

  • Don’t forget your cat’s bed, food, food bowls, water bowl or water, medicine, and collar with ID and rabies tags.
  • Bring your cat's litter box or a substitute. If using a substitute, take time to familiarize them with it before you leave.
  • Make sure your cat is comfortable with the carrier they will be traveling in before your trip. If your cat isn’t used to wearing a collar, being enclosed in a carrier, or riding in a car, this can be a lot of change to deal with at once — on top of being in a new place.
  • Never leave your cat unattended in the car as temperatures can rapidly become too hot or cold.

Something else to keep in mind when you travel with your cat is that many cats get sick when traveling. It is typically recommended to have your cat travel on an empty stomach, just in case. Before traveling, you can check if your cat has a negative reaction to being in the car or their enclosed carrier by simply placing them in it. Observe if your cat panics, vomits, or has a bowel movement before the car begins moving. If your cat does get anxious or experience motion sickness while traveling, you can book an online virtual care appointment to learn more.

What should you do if you leave your cat at home?

Many cats may be more comfortable staying home in familiar surroundings with a trusted friend or professional cat sitter while you enjoy your vacation or business trip. While there are times when you may not have a choice of whether or not to travel with your cat, if you do have the option, you should consider the benefits of using a professional cat sitter. A cat sitter can accommodate your cat’s normal routine and alert you if anything seems unusual. While a well-intentioned friend or family member may be a good option, a professional service has a contractual obligation to keep your pets safe according to the care instructions you agree upon. If you are using a cat sitter, consider doing a practice run, leave the sitter detailed instructions, and have an emergency plan in place.

Do a practice run

If possible, a practice run can allow your cat to meet the cat sitter and become familiar with them so the sitter isn't a total stranger intruding on their territory. You can also show the cat sitter the location of your cat's food, litter box, and any supplements, medication, and other items they need to know about.

Leave detailed instructions

Work out the details in advance. Don’t expect your cat sitter to know what your cat needs. Make sure your cat is scheduled to receive the attention they need by leaving detailed care instructions. Cat sitters can come to your house anywhere from once a day to overnight stays. Write out a list of instructions that includes all the details: feeding times, what to feed, treats, toys, litter box, medications, and anything else the cat sitter needs to know. Providing a clear set of instructions and expectations will give you peace of mind knowing that all of your cat's needs are being taken care of. Some pet sitters may also provide basic home-care tasks.

Have an emergency plan

Apart from leaving a list of emergency contacts for your cat sitter, make a plan for what to do if there is an emergency and your cat needs medical attention. Veterinarians need owner consent before treating a pet, so if you won’t be available to take that phone call in the event of an emergency, have a backup plan. Talk to your vet ahead of time. Leave a letter of consent to treat your pet, and possibly even a payment method. Talk to your sitter about your emergency plan so they are prepared.

Should I board my cat?

A veterinary clinic may offer a boarding facility and on-site medical care. It may be better to board your cat at a vet or a boarding facility, such as a cat kennel or pet hotel, if your cat requires a level of care that an in-home cat sitter is not able to provide. This may include ongoing care or medical attention. Some cats and kittens need to be checked on every few hours and it may not always be practical or possible to have a cat sitter visit your home this often or stay for the duration of your time away.

Is traveling with your cat the best idea?

Sometimes, traveling with your cat is unavoidable. When you are traveling for more than a week or have multiple destinations, such as a vacation or business trip, your cat's needs may not align with your desire to bring them along. If you’d like to ask a vet about traveling with your cat, book a virtual vet appointment with Vetster. A vet can review your cat's medical records, medications, and disposition, offer advice on traveling with your cat on an upcoming trip, and make recommendations for how to ease the stress of travel. Proper preparation to care for your cat while traveling will give you peace of mind so you can enjoy your travels.

FAQ - Should you travel with your cat or leave them home?

Does my cat need vaccines and documentation to travel?

Health certificates are required for traveling between states in the US and for international travel. International certificates may take more than six months to prepare, so planning ahead is essential. You should keep your cat’s vaccinations up to date regardless of whether your cat is traveling or not. However, some vaccines may be required for cats on certain types of transport or at boarding facilities. Required or recommended vaccinations may include those for rabies and feline distemper.

Do cats get car sick?

Many cats find car rides challenging and some may require medication for motion sickness or anxiety. Try going on a practice run with your cat in the car to assess their response to the experience. If they are drooling, crying, vomiting, urinating, or acting in an otherwise distressed manner, contact a vet who can advise you on the best options.

How often or how long should a cat sitter visit?

A cat sitter should visit your home regularly for a minimum of about thirty minutes once a day. This will give them enough time to check that everything is okay, feed your cat, refill their water, and address their litter box. However, some cats may require multiple visits for medication or even additional time just for attention. Young kittens should be checked on every few hours and elderly or ill cats may need additional checks too. Many cat-sitting services allow you to customize the depth of care your cat needs while you are away. A vet can help you to come up with a suitable schedule if you aren’t sure of your cat’s needs.

The Vetster Editorial Team is comprised of seasoned writers and communicators dedicated to elevating stories about Vetster, pets and their owners.

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