Preparing your cat for life on the road has become increasingly popular in recent years.
What if you have a kitten or a cat? Don’t despair.
With training, your cat will take to nomadic travel and, with patience, grow to love it.
As with most challenges, preparation is critical. How to prepare your cat for full-time travel on the road will see you going the right way to love cat travel.
Plan, prepare, be flexible.
The journey is the reward.
How to prepare your cat for full-time travel on the road
- Confirm with your vet that your cat is healthy
- To ensure safety keep all identification up to date
- Gather supplies you will require and start using them now
- Start training kitty immediately
- Address cat anxiety ready for cat travel
How to prepare your cat for full-time travel on the road – download our free checklist
How to confirm your cat is healthy for cat travel
Confirm your cat is healthy for travel before embarking on your new adventure.
Adventure can be fraught with uncertainty when it comes to accessing pet health care and preparing for unknown issues.
For this reason, you will want to organize as best you can before you hit the road.
If you have a regular vet, ask for a printout of your cats’ medical records.
Buy a binder and put the medical records and relevant papers into it, for instance, the adoption or ownership papers, your cats’ chip number, where the cat is registered, a list of any medication your cat is on, and de-sexing documents.
This ensures the information is on hand in case of an emergency or a trip to a new vet.
If you haven’t done so already, start regular flea, tick, and heartworm medication such as Bravecto Plus 3 in 1.
These products can be purchased from your vet.
Ticks are a massive problem all over the world. In some areas, a tick bite can mean a death sentence due to tick paralysis.
It is crucial to put a reminder in your calendar to ensure your cat remains protected.
How to keep cat identification current while traveling
Keep all cat identification current while traveling including the details on your cat’s chip.
If you haven’t had your cat chipped, then you should do so before beginning travel.
If you have decided to travel full time, make sure you have a family member or friend who will allow you to use an up-to-date address for your cat.
A chipped cat will be registered with a national or state organization.
If it is a state organization, take the time to register nationally as well, thus ensuring your cat is traceable throughout the country.
It is vital your cat wear an engraved tag. It should include two phone numbers and the cat’s name.
Always best to use multiple phone numbers as you never know what the circumstances may be when someone picks your cat up.
Consider using the phone number of a trusted friend or family. This could be the difference between life and death for your cat in the event of an accident.
Engraved tags are easily purchased online or in many pet stores.
What are the supplies required for traveling with cats?
Supplies required for traveling with cats are some that you will already have, some perhaps not.
Some, like your litter box, may or may not be appropriate for life on the road.
That is up to you to decide. We touch on some supplies to consider and why.
Why do you need treats?
Because you will likely need to train your cat to walk on a leash and adapt to life on the road.
This is where treats come in. They will help make this a much more manageable process.
Yes, you can train a cat. It just takes patience and perseverance.
All cats are different, which means it will be up to you to know what your cat considers to be a treat.
Some cats hate fish, any sort of packaged cat treat, or catnip but go crazy for cooked prawns.
If your cat is like ours and is picky, cut up prawns and freeze them to use as a positive reinforcement when training.
Hopefully, you are lucky and have a cat that likes packaged cat treats. Much easier.
At the time you make the decision to travel and train your cat, treats should be used for training purposes only.
Don’t tell your kitty this advice came from us. We will deny we said it.
Start using the water dish you will be using when traveling.
A water fountain is perfect if you are traveling in a caravan, but you will still require a fold-up water bowl for hiking or when you are out.
Always carry water for your cat, even if it is like our cat and never drinks water.
You never know when thirst might happen. We are still waiting.
Use a ceramic food dish because, at times (when safe to do so), you may want to let your cat loose if accompanied by a responsible (they can be challenging to find) adult.
When you want her (the cat) to come back, clink a spoon to the side of her dish.
With ongoing training, you will be surprised at how well this works.
Start this process about 6-months before hitting the road. Every meal, tap the side of the dish.
It did not take our girl long to learn that the clink meant first dinner.
We don’t do it for the second or third dinner.
This is a great recall tactic in the event your cat is loose outside.
You may feel this is not something that will happen, but one successful dash for the door can mean freedom for kitty.
Many cats are near impossible to catch if they are enjoying their freedom.
This type of recall in your training arsenal will be valuable at times like this.
If you plan to let your cat have a bit of freedom whilst on the road, we recommend not feeding kitty before she is released.
A hungry cat is much easier to herd than a full cat.
That is the long story of why we recommend you use a ceramic dish.
The litter box
Whichever litter box you are going to use in your travels, start using the same one today in your home.
The litter box carries scents that your cat identifies with. Change over to a sieve-type litter box with biodegradable litter.
It is odorless, and the litter can be disposed of anywhere, even in the forest or a garden.
With a sieve-type litter box, the litter falls through the sieve to a tray underneath.
When the bottom of that tray is covered with litter, it traps all of the dirty litter and odor.
Check out our video on how the sieve litter box works.
We used a covered tray because our cat is quite large and needed to have the sides to guide her to stay within the lines. We did take the cat flap off because she doesn’t like it.
This system uses a lot less litter as you do not clean out the entire box often.
The result is substantial savings over time and requires you to carry less litter which is a bonus when space is at a premium.
Harness & leash
Start training with the harness inside the house. Some cats take to them immediately; most don’t.
When you put the harness on, many cats refuse to walk and turn into a pile of jelly.
Don’t despair. It is a normal reaction, and they will find their legs eventually.
Use persistence and many treats, and eventually, you will succeed in crossing the room without kitty falling on the floor in a display of distress only fit for a queen.
After weeks of practice, you will graduate to walking with a leash.
Walk a few feet, stop, walk a few feet, stop. It is slow and painful but so worth it.
You will get to the point where she walks on a leash with confidence.
To date, we have not yet found a harness that our cat cannot get out of if she wants to. Or, it could just be our girl.
What we have learned is that the cat can only back out of the harness.
This is important to know because if you stay behind your cat while putting slight pressure on the harness, she cannot back up.
Slight pressure is also the secret to leading your cat.
We are currently testing new versions and will update when we have success.
Check out our harness and leash reviews.
A Marco Polo Collar is a tracking device that allows you to track your cat.
It is brilliant, does not require cellular service, and really gives the owner peace of mind.
It has saved our bacon a couple of times and is critical for cat travel.
We suggest you buy lint rollers (you will thank us for thinking of this) in bulk as you will need them in times when you are required to be presentable.
If you are anything like us, when living life on the road, having to be presentable comes up at the most unexpected times.
We use them, not just to de-hair ourselves, but also use them on the lounge and our vehicle seats to keep hair to a (who are we kidding) minimum.
Cat brush or glove
If your cat is a short hair, a glove may suffice. If your cat is medium to long hair, a brush will be required as well.
This may be something you already have at home, but do yourself a favor and buy one if you don’t.
There is something about living in a confined space with a cat that translates to hair covering everything at an alarming rate.
Most kitties enjoy the massage anyway.
We do not recommend a typical cat carrier. Instead, we urge you to consider a backpack.
It is versatile, and once your cat sees it as a safe place, she can enjoy the freedom and comfort a backpack offers.
This might include hiking, outdoor cafes, walking through malls, sitting on the beach, or picnicking under a tree.
Kitty can be safely curled up in the backpack whilst you all enjoy the great outdoors.
Check out our backpack reviews article.
We used the backpack to put kitty in and out of the car.
Once again, consistency is key which is why we do not recommend letting your cat jump in or out of the car on her own.
She must get into the backpack first and be lifted out of the car. It is all about creating habits.
Most backpacks are not built to keep kitty restrained if you are in an accident.
For this reason, we do not recommend you use the backpack as a carrier in your car.
Keep Kitty restrained in the vehicle
It is not an option to leave your cat unrestrained as it is dangerous.
If you are in an accident, your cat will become a flying hazard. If you are hit directly in the head by the cat’s body, it could kill you and the cat.
As well, cats can get under your feet, restricting access to the pedals causing you to lose control.
Here are some options to consider.
If you choose a soft carrier, look for durable and breathable fabric and a functional zipper.
Spaces that are confined by a cloth that does not breathe or have durable mesh heat up fast.
You will want to ensure kitty has enough room to be comfortable when standing or lying down.
This is important as kitty will likely spend long periods in the carrier.
- Handles & straps
Ensure that the carrier straps or handles that are attached to your seatbelt are strong enough to withstand an accident.
If your cat is on the larger side (like our cat), there could be a lot of pressure exerted on the straps in case of a sudden stop.
Seatbelt attached to a harness
If kitty travels better outside of a carrier, please use a seatbelt that attaches to a harness for safety’s sake.
Do not ever attach a seatbelt to your cats’ collar.
If you are in an accident, the cat will likely choke to death or break its neck.
A booster seat is easy to attach to your existing seat belt, and most quality booster seats will have a safety belt that attaches to your cats’ harness.
Please remember never to attach a safety belt to kitty’s collar.
Consider a metal cage
A dog cage (shhh, don’t call it that in front of the cat)
A small metal dog cage ticks all the boxes for quality, size, and strength.
Cats are curious creatures, which is why many prefer to see out of the windows.
Build a wooden box that raises the cage allowing the cat unencumbered views out the window or a very comfortable space to have a sleep—kind of like traveling in a castle.
How to train your cat for travel
To train your cat for travel, start now.
Even if you don’t have a firm timeframe, start training the day you decide to become nomads.
You can thank us for this advice later.
Training takes patience, so it is best to start at the beginning and conquer each step before moving on to the next step.
The first step starts with turning kitty into an indoor-only cat. If you already have one, congratulations.
You are ahead of the game and move on to the next step.
If not, then we offer some tips to help with the transition to indoor only.
Transition to indoors
If your cat traditionally spent time roaming free outdoors, then you will need to start transitioning her to indoor only.
This is not an easy change for the cat or for you.
Nobody likes their freedom taken away, especially a cat.
It is a necessary evil as when you do travel, your cat must be comfortable to spend time indoors.
Like any training, it is best to start slow by restricting the time your cat spends outdoors.
Cut the time down on a steady basis until the cat is rarely outside.
At this point, you will want to start leash training so you can take kitty out for walks.
An indoor cat is much more appreciative of walks on a leash than a cat who has freedom, so you will want to take some of that freedom away to help you with the harness and leash training.
When the cat is leash trained, it is time to cut off outdoor access replacing it with daily walks.
Harness & leash training
Measure twice before buying a harness. To find the harness that is best for your cat, take time to read our article on harness types to consider.
We have also supplied a review of top harnesses to consider.
Car travel, like all other training, is an essential part of the process.
Often cats experience car travel when they are on their way to the vet. Not exactly a positive experience.
As soon as kitty has become familiar and happy with her carrier, backpack, and harness, it will be time to add car time.
How to reduce cat anxiety
Reducing anxiety in cats is very important as there are times when we could all use extra help for nerves and anxiety (the cats, not yours).
Fear and anxiety can be hard to spot in your cat.
Excessive vocalization, grooming, appetite change, soiling, hiding, aggressive or destructive behavior can all be signs of anxiety.
When commencing travel, you are likely to experience at least one of these symptoms.
As a responsible pet owner, it is up to you to alleviate anxiety as soon as possible.
Feel free to skip to our extensive article on cat anxiety which discusses the use of pheromones and other tips to help kitty with their stress.
If your kitty is afraid of storms, you might already have a Thunder Jacket (also called a Thunder Shirt) and therefore understand the magic in their ability to calm a cat immediately.
If not, then you may want to invest in one to help on high anxiety days. They are amazing.
It is advised that you take the thunder jacket off every couple of hours to give kitty a rest from it.
About 10 minutes is sufficient rest before putting the jacket back on. Please do not leave the jacket on for long periods of time.
It is only meant to be used during storms or high anxiety times.
How to prepare your cat for full-time travel on the road? – Common questions
Can I just let my cat roam around in the car while we drive?
Please, please, do not let your cat roam free when the car is in motion.
It is dangerous for both the cat and other travelers in the vehicle.
The cat could get under the driver’s feet, blocking access to the brakes or accelerator.
In the event of an accident, your cat will become a projectile.
The result for the cat would likely be catastrophic, but if kitty hits another occupant in the head, it can result in horrendous injuries or worse.
What are my options if my cat just won’t put up with traveling?
Give it time. We mean, really give it time.
Training any pet is time-consuming, and the number one reason why kitty won’t put up with traveling is that not enough time was given for kitty to get used to each new activity.
That said, not all cats will travel. Cats (like people) have different personalities, and some cats won’t ever take to life on the road.
If you believe this is your cat, there may be options for you.
If you still own your home, perhaps a house sitter will work for you.
Some people who housesit professionally will take care of your cat like she is their own.
If you are traveling long-term, the house sitter may even be willing to pay (reduced) rent in return for living in your house and looking after your pet.
Another option may be a family member or friend who is willing to take your kitty in for the term of your nomadic travels.
If you decide that rehoming kitty is the only option, please weigh up the stress of a new home for your cat vs. traveling with the only family she has ever known.
Sometimes the anxiety of travel may win out.
How long can my cat hold urine?
Most cats can hold urine for up to 12 hours.
That said, it is not very comfortable to have to hold it when you desperately need to pee. The same goes for your cat.
This is why we recommend a litter box in the travel vehicle as well as in the caravan.
That way, you have most of the bases covered, and kitty will not have to hold it for extended periods.
My cat can hold it for hours. Do I really need a litter box in the car?
I will share our experience. We didn’t start with a litter box in the car.
For the first three months, everything was going well as we made it a habit to stop for a break every couple of hours.
Then one day, after traveling for only an hour, Neko started to meow.
We were about 15 minutes from our destination, and the road had narrowed with deep ditches on both sides as we snaked through farming country.
The only safe place to pull over would have been a driveway, but they were few and far between.
With only her harness and leash, I worried that if I lost control of her in someone’s driveway,
I could end up losing her to private property. And many farms have dogs.
I decided it was too dangerous to use a driveway for my poor kitty to use the bathroom.
Neko became louder and was now showing signs of obvious distress.
As I turned off the main road, a pull-out came into view. Although it was a couple of minutes to our destination, I decided to pull over.
Just as I parked, she let loose. Feces flew to every corner of her cage, all over the luxurious round bed that she loved, and even leaked over the edges.
She, too, was covered as she had no place to go.
When she finished, I pulled her bed to one side in the cage, jumped back in the vehicle (as I choked on the stench), and proceeded to our destination.
It is the first and only time I ever lifted her out of the car by hand and let her loose (unleashed) in an unfamiliar area.
She ran up a mango tree where she settled on a branch to clean herself off, leaving me to clean out her cage.
There is nothing like meeting the person we were about to housesit for with “Do you have a bucket of water and a garbage can? Sorry, but we have a bit of a mess here.”
The poor lady rushed to put her dog inside (in his own yard), so my cat could take the time to clean herself off.
That was the last time we traveled without a litterbox in the car.
Hopefully, this story answers your question.
Can I leave my cat in the caravan when we are towing?
No. No. No. It’s not safe. Caravans can really sway when being towed, and kitty may end up being thrown around.
It is often noisy in a caravan when it’s towed, not to mention lonely. Also, caravans can get very hot or cold when being towed.
If you are in a motor home (no towing required), please have a travel cage for your kitty to reside in on travel days.
It is dangerous for kitty to travel unrestrained.
We just got a kitten. How long before we start training?
Congratulations. We believe you should start training as soon as your kitty has become comfortable in his new home.
That can range, but for most kittens, this process takes 2-4 weeks.
Once the kitty has settled, it is time to get that harness on and start the training process.
Our travel plans are two years out. When should we start training?
Now. Start right now. Yay that you have a couple of years to train kitty for life on the road.
Much more comfortable than the six months (we are last-minute planners) we had.
The longer you have before becoming nomadic, the better for kitty.
We have three cats. Can we take that many on the road with us?
Yes, you can. In the short term, you have more training, but in the long run, having multiple cats may be beneficial as they tend to play together, sleep together and comfort each other in times of stress.
Cats are not linear, so why would training a cat for travel be linear? It won’t be.
Some cats may take to travel like a fish takes to water, but most won’t.
It is more likely that leaving familiar territory will not be a welcome event for your cat.
In many cats, it will result in sheer terror. Don’t despair.
With preparation, training, and repetition, fear can be tamed in most cases.