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Guest post from thefluffykitty.com.
If there is anything we’ve had to learn when it comes to traveling with our cat Yoda, it’s how to manage stress.
Traveling is stressful, even for humans. So when it comes to cats, it’s important we take extra steps to ensure that:
1.) Our cat is as stress-free as possible and 2.) We are stress-free as well.
Whether it is traveling with cats in the car or in the cabin of the plane, there are a handful of ways you can take the stress out of traveling with cats.
In this article, we share our best tips on how to mitigate stress in cats and how to better prepare for your trip in order to avoid you, or your cat, from getting stressed at all.
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8 Ways to Reduce the Stress of Traveling with Cats
1. Plan well in advance and get organized
I can’t stress this first step enough! Planning your trip in advance is key to avoiding any potential upsets and stressful situations (at least as much as possible). We can’t foresee any trip delays or perhaps a bladder incident in the carrier, but by getting organized we can most definitely be prepared in case something stressful were to happen.
For us, the most important thing to plan in advance is Yoda’s documents. This includes, but isn’t limited to, his health document (in case of flying), his vaccinations, and rabies certificate.
Mostly, vaccination and health documents pertain only to air travel. But in the case where you are crossing country borders (like we did from the US to Canada), you’ll still need the country’s pet immigration requirements. For Canada, that was only proof of a rabies certificate.
As you can see, depending on where you travel will determine what documents you need to travel with your cat. And knowing this requires planning and getting organized. (And not to mention a whole lot of patience!)
2. Practice traveling together in small, yet significant ways
Many people who are just starting to experiment with pet travel will often overlook this crucial step. They wait until it’s the big day. The big move. The big flight. But that often means that either you, your cat, or both, aren’t well-adjusted to traveling together yet.
When we are about to travel with Yoda somewhere, we let him know. We start taking him out more, on small trips, in order to ease him back into the rhythm of travel.
Because let’s face it, most cats love routine! And Yoda quickly falls into his own comfort zone once we settle into an apartment for a few weeks or months. He gets used to the space and the stability, until at one point, he starts losing his knack for travel.
Side Note: If you have a trip scheduled just for the vet, your cat will most likely need to travel by car. But by ONLY taking your cat in the car to go to the vet, you will have seriously hampered your cat’s ability to be stress-free for future car trips. Now every car ride your cat will be in fear of going to the vet. Don’t let this happen! Go on separate small trips with your cat.
Action: Take your cat on small trips to help acclimate them to travel. Go on small car trips around the block, go to the gas station, etc. You get the idea.
Result: By doing this, we were amazed at how much less stressed Yoda seemed during our big travel days. And even more impressive, after a few weeks living in a van, Yoda stopped getting scared at huge trailer trucks passing us on the road, which showed us it really is all about small doses of exposure over a longer period of time.
3. Treat the carrier like a place of rest, not a prison
The mode of transport for your cat is just as important as anything else.
Your cat needs to feel safe and comfortable in their carrier in order to travel stress-free. Otherwise, they’re just expecting a traumatic vet appointment or a death sentence and will react and behave accordingly.
Cats who adjust well to carriers are much more likely to lie down and sleep. Cats who hate their carrier will constantly meow. And riding in a car, or going through airport security with a freaked-out cat, is definitely stressful for all those involved.
How to choose the right carrier for travel:
- Make sure it is large and spacious enough for your cat to stand up, turn around, and lie down.
- Preferably, this carrier should not be the same carrier you transport your cat to the vet in.
- The carrier should be well-ventilated and soft-sided (better for airlines).
- Associate the carrier with something positive as part of positive reinforcement training. Feed them next to it, reward treats inside the carrier, etc.
We use a carrier for trips to the vet, and also for plane travel. Then we use Yoda’s travel cat backpack to go on fun trips, like hiking and road trips.
4. Show up early at the airport if traveling by air
Another important thing to remember to reduce stress when traveling with cats is to show up early. Doesn’t matter what it is, just arrive ahead of time!
This is particularly crucial for traveling with cats by air. Many airlines will require you to arrive at least 3 hours before your flight if you are traveling with a pet, 2 hours if it is a domestic flight.
You never know what stressful situations could arise — traffic, delays, long lines, missing papers, etc. If one of these should happen, you don’t want to be strapped for time when traveling with a pet as that makes everything much more stressful.
It’s best just to take your time and go slow.
5. If you’re stress-free, your cat is more likely to be stress-free, too.
By going slow, you will be less stressed.
We all know that last-minute panic feeling of almost missing a flight, train, bus, or what have you. And that’s exactly the feeling you want to avoid having. Because if you feel like that, it’ll rub off onto your cat!
Cats are sentient beings, they know when we are stressed. So whenever I am in the airport, for example, I go extra slow. I walk slowly. I carry him slow. I gently pick him up and down. If not, it will be quite a bumpy ride for Yoda and he is much likelier to get fussy about it.
6. Make sure to provide food and water access during the trip.
When Paul and I travel with Yoda, we like to have all of our “ducks in a row” so to speak. We better have everything on our list checked off twice.
With that said, it can be easy to overlook the cat basics when traveling. Access to food, water, and a litter box. Though we rarely travel with a litter box for short trips, it can be useful, actually necessary, for cats with sensitive bladders.
Luckily, Yoda is an easy-going traveler. He doesn’t meow on planes, trains, in buses or cars, he just knows he is traveling and tries to sleep it off.
Nevertheless, we always ensure Yoda has adequate access to food or treats, and water. In the plane, I’ll pour some of my water in his pop-up silicone bowl and tuck it inside the carrier. If he isn’t feeling like drinking on his own, I’ll put some on my fingers and let him lick it off.
7. Reduce the amount of travel time as much as possible.
This step should really be a part of your travel planning, but it is important enough to have its own header.
When planning your trip, consider your pet first. It might feel bizarre to literally plan your trip around your cat, but it’s what is necessary in order to reduce their stress. Cats just want to get out of the carrier and back somewhere safe.
So when looking at flight times, look for either direct or 1-stop flights only. Though two transits might be cheaper, it’ll be so long for your cat to stay in their carrier.
8. Provide frequent breaks.
I find it very helpful to let Yoda have several breaks outside of his carrier when traveling.
In the airport, I will take him to the bathroom and open up his carrier. I’ll also pick him up and stretch him out, give him a little massage, and let him sniff around (with me always a foot away).
By giving frequent breaks, it helps divvy up the total travel time and can reduce the amount of stress your cat feels. It’s also nice for us too, and a good way for us to take the stress out of traveling.
In the car, we will plan several stops on the road and let Yoda use his litter box, have a small meal, or go for a walk outside on his leash.
I always stick my hand or arm in Yoda’s carrier and give him very gentle rubs. I always notice a slower pace in his breathing when I do that. Try it!
Traveling with cats CAN be stress-free with a little preparation and planning
We get asked all the time, “Is it easy to travel with your cat?” and most people are shocked when they hear us reply with a, “Yeah! You just got to plan a little extra.”
Knowing your cat’s limits and personality can also go a long way into successfully planning your travels. Let them lead, and respond to them whenever they are stressed!
About the Authors:
Brittany and Paul are the owners of the The Fluffy Kitty, a travel + eco-conscious blog inspired by their adopted cat Yoda, who has taught them that a life of travel with cats is possible (and extremely rewarding!). Brittany, Paul, and Yoda have now lived in 7 countries together, road-tripped across North America in a 1990 van, and are currently residing in a small beach town in Mexico.
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