In March of 2021, we set off on a cross-country road trip from Virginia to California, taking our beloved cat, Fitzgerald, along with us! During that time, we’ve driven over 7,000 miles and spent more than 120 hours in the car with our furry friend. While taking a cat on a long distance road trip has its challenges, it’s absolutely doable! In this article, we’ve compiled everything we’ve learned from many hours spent in the car with Fitzgerald. We hope these tips will give you the confidence you need to hit the road with your feline companion!
Our Story: Taking a Cross Country Road Trip with our Cat!
If you know me (Sarah), you likely know that I am a total sucker for animals – cats, dogs, horses – I love them all. When I’m not traveling, I spend my spare time fostering kittens for the SPCA. In fact, many of the pictures you’ll see in the post are of my foster kittens. And if you know the two of us, you know that our cat, Fitzgerald (aka Fitz, Fitzy, Ger, Ger Bear…), is our pride and joy.
And so, when the global pandemic hit and we found ourselves working remotely and contemplating a long-term cross-country road trip, there was never a question that we were taking Fitzgerald with us.
From Virginia to California
In March of 2021, we got rid of most our belongings, packed up what was left, subleased our apartment in Virginia and hit the road: California bound! We drove from Virginia to St. Louis in one day, then to Denver the next.
After spending one week in Denver to break up the road trip, we continued to Southern California. Over the span of that first week, we drove 2,653 miles and spent over 40 hours on the road, all with our cat!
A long-term road trip
Since driving across the country the first time, we’ve decided to make life on the road our permanent lifestyle and haven’t settled down yet.
Needless to say, Fitzgerald has gotten pretty used to long car rides and changing homes, and we have learned a ton about how to make him most comfortable and stress-free in the car. All in all, he’s traveled more than 4,400 miles and spent around 68 hours in the car with us!
In this article, we’ve outlined 11 tips that we use to ensure taking our cat on long distance road trips are stress-free every time! We hope you’ll find our tips helpful for road tripping with your cat too!
Tip | About to head off on a long road trip? Check out this list of our favorite songs about travel and adventure and refresh your playlist before you hit the road!
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11 Tips for a Taking a Cat on a Road Trip
Without further ado, here are the 11 tips we’ve learned from long distance travel with a cat in the car long-distance road tripping with Fitzgerald.
We hope these insights will help keep you and your feline companion stress free on the road!
- Try to stop as little as possible
- Get your cat a collar with tag for traveling
- Bring a familiar comfort item from home
- If possible, make one long trip rather than several shorter trips
- Create a “safe space” in the car for your cat to retreat to
- If your cat is especially nervous, try feline anxiety medication
- Try letting your cat roam free, but always pack a cat carrier just in case
- If you must crate your cat, leave the carrier out several days before your trip
- Pack your cat’s litter box, filled with clean litter
- Take away your cats food the night before the trip
- Set up a small, quiet place for your cat to rest at your final destination
Please note that these tips are based on our own personal experience road tripping with cats. All cats have different personalities and may react differently in the car! We are not veterinarians – please consult with your cat’s vet about the best way to travel with your cat in the car.
1. Try to stop as little as possible
When you first get in the car, your cat will be nervous (no matter how relaxed he/she normally is). However, most cats will settle in after a few minutes of adjusting to their surroundings and the motion of the car.
Each time you stop, there are new sights, sounds, and smells for your cat to take in, and he/she may become unsettled all over again. To minimize your cat’s stress, try to make as few stops as possible.
Pack snacks and lunches, fill up on gas the night before and only stop when absolutely necessary. In general, cats don’t like change, so trying to create a consistent environment is key.
2. Get your cat a collar with tag for traveling
My biggest fear when hitting the road with Fitzgerald is that somehow he’ll escape at a gas station or rest area and be lost forever! A bit dramatic, I know, but cats are so sneaky and it’s easy to imagine him getting startled and darting out the door.
I got Fitzgerald a collar and tag with his name and both our phone numbers engraved on the tag, and it gives me serious peace of mind to know that if he somehow gets lost, we at least have a solid chance of getting him back.
- For an extra layer of protection, attach a tracking device (Apple Airtag or Tile) to your cat’s collar.
Tip: You can get an inexpensive collar and engraved name tag super easily at most pet supply stores.
3. Bring a familiar comfort item from home
Fitzgerald has absolutely loved this old, raggedy orange blanket since he was just a little kitten. At home, he’ll knead, or “make biscuits,” on it all the time before he naps. It’s definitely his favorite comfort item (or security blanket, if you will)!
Whenever we road trip, we bring this blanket and make sure he has a comfy spot to curl up with it. If your cat has a favorite toy, blanket, bed, etc., it’s a great idea to bring with you! A little hint of familiarity from home can bring some comfort to your cat in a new environment.
Side note: When cats “make biscuits” like Fitzgerald does, they are replicating the act of nursing, and it’s typically because they lost their mother too early as a kitten.
4. If possible, make one long trip rather than several shorter trips
Let’s say you’ve got a 12 hour drive coming up. You may think it’d be best for your cat if you split this long drive up into two shorter 6 hours drives, stopping for the night along the way. In our experience, however, it’s actually better to just go for the full 12 hours at once.
Cats hate change, and one long drive means less change than 2 shorter drives. Typically, the most stressful parts of the road trip are getting into the car and settling into a new place at your destination.
Taking several shorter trips means more adjusting to the car and more adjusting to temporary new homes when you stop.
5. Create a “safe space” in the car for your cat to retreat to
This is especially important if your cat is a “hider.” Set aside a comfortable space in the car for your cat to retreat to when he or she gets scared.
We typically pack Fitzgerald’s cat carrier and leave it open with some toys and blankets during the car ride in case he wants to curl up in his own little “safe space”. He ends up spending most of his time in the car lounging inside the carrier.
6. If your cat is especially nervous, try feline anxiety medication
You should only try medication as a last resort. Many cats will be perfectly fine in the car without medication, as long as you take appropriate steps to keep them comfortable.
But if your cat is particularly anxious, it may be a good idea to talk to your veterinarian about anxiety medication to keep them calm in the car.
7. Try letting your cat roam free, but always pack a carrier just in case
We’re very lucky that Fitzgerald has a laid-back demeanor, and we’re able to let him roam free in the car. He typically spends his time in the car either sleeping on our laps, perched up on our piles of stuff looking out the window, or curled up in his carrier.
If your cat is laid back in the car, you may want to try to let them roam free, at least to start out. Having some space to move around will make your cat happier, and hopefully, mean less whining.
It’s a good idea to test this out with a short trip, and whether it’s a good idea for you depends on your cat’s personality. If you are traveling alone, it’s best to keep your cat in the crate since you will have no one to help you in the event that the cat starts to become a distraction.
That being said, safety should always come first. If your cat starts to try to get under your feet or becomes a serious distraction to your driving, it’s better to be safe and crate them. Always pack a cat carrier or small crate just in case, even if you don’t think you’ll need it.
8. If you must crate your cat, leave the carrier out several days before your trip
If you plan on crating your cat, it can be helpful to leave your car carrier out in your home a few days prior to your trip. Put some of your cats favorite toys, blankets, or bed in there and let them get used to being in the crate before the trip.
Doing so will give your cat some time to adjust to life in the crate and reduces the chance they will freak when it comes time for your road trip.
9. Pack your cat’s litter box, filled with clean litter
Cat’s have an amazing ability to hold in their urge to go to the bathroom. That being said, sometimes the urge can be overwhelming and your cat will need to use the litter box on the road, particularly if you are road tripping long distance. Make sure their litter box is accessible in the car so they can relieve themselves if nature calls.
Most importantly, make sure the litter box is clean before you leave! You do not want to be stuck in the car with a dirty litter box for hours.
The smell of clean litter can be overwhelming on its own! We recommend getting a covered litter house with a door, if you don’t have one already, to help contain the smell and reduce the likelihood of any litter spills.
10. Take away your cat’s food the night before the trip
Your cat might be mad at you for taking away their food, but trust us, it is not as bad as a puking cat at the start of a road trip.
Our cat, Fitzgerald, usually does great on road trips but both times we’ve forgotten to take away his food, he has thrown up within an hour of being in the car. The first time we were lucky and he made it to his litter box. The second time, he barfed all over Matt’s legs in the passenger seat. Not fun for felines or humans!
To reduce the chance of any pukey cats, take away their food before going to bed the night before your trip. They may whine at first but they will be okay, and you will definitely be thankful when you have a barf-free car ride!
11. Set up a small, quiet place for your cat to rest at your final destination
How you introduce your cat to his/her new environment is just as important (if not more!) to your cat’s mental health as how you handle the car ride.
Like we’ve said, cats do not handle change well so giving them time and space to adjust to new surroundings is super important. They will also likely be tired from a long and stressful journey in the car.
Once you get to your final destination, it may take some time for your cat to warm up to their new surroundings. This is perfectly normal. Try to make them feel as comfortable and safe as possible by setting up a quiet place for them to rest and adjust.
Road trip packing list for your cat
To help you prepare for taking your cat on a long distance road trip, we’ve summarized the most important items to pack:
- A favorite item from home: make sure you have something available in the car that reminds your cat of home and brings them a sense of comfort. This can be anything – a favorite toy, blanket, pillow, bed, etc.
- Cat carrier: for moving your cat to and from the car, and just in case you need to contain your cat while driving.
- Collar and leash with name tag: for moving your cat to and from the car, and just in case your cat gets loose.
- Litter house (with a door): so your cat can use the bathroom while in the car if necessary, without spilling litter everywhere.
- Comfortable bed or blanket: If you are traveling with a fully loaded down car, make sure you have a comfortable spot for your cat to relax.
- Anxiety medication: if needed, talk to your vet
- Treats! But only for after you arrive at your final destination (Fitzgerald’s all time favorites are Temptations Shrimpy Shrimps)
- Scratching post: At home Fitzgerald loves his scratching post with hammock. Even though its a bit bulky, we always bring it with us on road trips because it means he won’t scratch up furniture at our Airbnb/hotel/short-term rental. 100% worth the space it takes up!
Other Useful Resources
Planning a road trip? You may also be interested in the following resources:
- Road trip | 59 Best Songs About Travel and Adventure
- Road trip| Complete List of Road Trip Camping Essentials
- Road trip | 27 Highlights of Our Life on the Road in 2021
- Road trip | The Ultimate 1 Week Arizona and Southern Utah Road Trip
- Road trip | How to Plan an Epic Utah National Parks Road Trip
- Road trip | Texas to California: 14-Day Itinerary
With the right preparation, you can ensure that both you and your cat have a low-stress and safe road trip experience. Let us know if you have any questions as you get ready to hit the road or other tips you use to make road tripping with your furry friend a breeze.