How to Purr-serve Your Sanity While Riding in Cars with Cats

by Sam Casteris

Looking to take your cat on a road trip? Well buckle up, Moe, and let me share my story and give you some tips to succeed. If you go in unprepared, riding with a cat in the car can be harder than doing hopscotch on crutches. But if you’re smart and learn from my mistakes, it should be as easy as playing whack-a-mole with a sledgehammer.

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Patches deciding his bed had to be between the driver’s seat and my shoulders

A couple months back I decided to take a road trip with my Mom’s cat, Patches, down to Mexico so I could get myself a wife and find Patches a little kitty sombrero or something. (Actually, I was just driving across Idaho to help my Mom move to another town, but the previous story is more fun.) I hadn’t taken him on a road trip before and figured he might be uncomfortable in a moving car like most animals, so I tried to make him more comfortable. Here’s how I did it:

1. Fish-Scented Air Freshener

I hung up some air freshener. But holy Toledo, was that a bad idea! The overwhelming scent might as well have been catnip, because Patches was bouncing around the car like he was hearing “Helter Skelter” for the first time. Not only that, but the scent overtook me as well. Have you ever been to a fish market before? It’s awful. If you’re going to get an air freshener to relax your cat I would recommend something more soothing like jasmine or topsoil. Anyway, I chucked the thing out the window.

2. Things on a String and Dramamine

Most cats are either hyperactive or have motion sickness when they’re stuck in a car for long periods of time. Use anti-motion sickness medications to help settle the stomach and prevent the sometimes-prolific drooling that occurs in a nauseous cat. Most medications used to prevent motion sickness are very safe antihistamines and many cats eventually will travel without the aid of medical assistance. Just in case, bring a roll of paper towels.

But what if your cats aren’t sick, they’re possessed! Salivating, panting, whining, jumping from front seat to back, swatting at non-existent butterflies and trying to cling upside down to the roof of the car are common characteristics of the hyperactive feline traveler. Like any self-respecting person, I have a pair of fuzzy dice hanging in my car, but I didn’t want Patches up on the dash while we were making our detour, so I hung the dice from the weird clothing-hook-thing all cars seem to have by the door and took off. That was enough to keep him preoccupied until he needed a nap.

3. Heated Seats and Cardboard Boxes

Honestly, the seats put Patches right to sleep and kept him from trying to climb up on my shoulders. It was a win-win. If you don’t have a car with heated seats, I definitely recommend creating a small cat bed full of familiar blankets to calm them and coax them towards nap time. I don’t know what it is about cardboard, but it relaxes any cat while keeping them hidden and I highly recommend it. He looked so peaceful there, all curled up in sleep.

In all, Patches and I made it in one piece (somehow). We successfully moved my Mom’s house from one small town to another, and no one was harmed. Patches had a nice nap and I didn’t drive off the road. And it seems like transporting cats in cars is a trending topic! Even Carmax is on the cat-carrying bandwagon these days. What about you? How do you transport your felines?

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image via carmax

Sam Casteris is an avid traveler and aspiring travel writer. She writes creative pieces about travel, informational articles for other travelers, and guides to make travel as stress-free as possible. Her home base is in Phoenix, AZ. If you would like to learn more, visit samcasteris.contently.com.

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15 thoughts

  1. I’ve never purposefully let a cat loose in a car, but one of my oldest did escape on the ride to our new house. I think we had him in a box and he got out, LOL. Now we always transport in cat carriers. I’m not brave enough to try letting them out!

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  2. Oh God what a story! I would have been so bummed missing a flight. I absolutely hate having to get my cats to take tablets. I remember taking my cat to the vet once and watching how easily she got my cat to swallow a pill (I suppose they have lots of experience haha). I tried to copy her tactic but am only ever successful half the time lol

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  3. Man, don’t know if I could risk a cat loose in the car lol. Only had one experience traveling with a cat and that was on a plane when my friend asked me to bring her daughter’s cat out to L.A. (as an airline reservation agent, I could travel free on standby). Had to drug the cat but it refused to cooperate and we engaged in a battle of “You’re swallowing this pill! / No, I’m not!” Missed the damned flight and had to go the next day.

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    1. Oh God what a story! I absolutely hate having to get my cats to take tablets. I remember taking my cat to the vet once and watching how easily she got my cat to swallow a pill (I suppose they have lots of experience haha). I tried to copy her tactic but am only ever successful half the time lol

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      1. Yes, I’d watched my friend give the cat a pill before and it looked relatively easy. Luckily that cat loved me. Still, I was worried it was getting annoyed enough to nip me.

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  4. Our Gracie always, always, always gets carsick. It doesn’t matter if the road is as straight as A to B, or as curvy as a coiled snake. Once she hoarks, though, she’s fine for the rest of the journey.

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  5. Loved your post, Sam! I’ll pass on to my friend who’s taking her cat (with husband and son) on holiday from Wales to Morocco.
    I’d also say that it’s dangerous to have a cat loose in the car, especially if you’re on your own. Years ago I picked up my mum’s cat from the cattery. He made so much fuss that I let him out of the carrier. He got onto the floor by my feet and in the way of the pedals, so when I came to use the brake it was a bit tricky. Needless to say, I hauled him out and dumped him on the back seat before we hit anything.
    But when we emigrated to South Africa almost 8 years ago my cat, Luna, travelled ‘first class’ with British Airways, but that’s another story.

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    1. I’ve heard you can get these special ‘cat sock’ things, where the cat sits in a secure bag with it’s head out so it can look around but feel secure as some cats get super stressed out by carriers – but for the life of me I can’t find them online! I really want to hear Luna’s first class story!

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