As you start planning your travel for the holidays, you may be trying to figure out what to do with your fluffy friends.
One thing is certain: cat’s don’t like change… of any kind. And we’re fairly certain they don’t care if ‘tis the season.
Whether you’re planning a weekend getaway, boarding your feline for several days, or taking a road trip with Fluffy in tow, here’s how you can make the process as gentle as possible on your four-legged babies.
Let’s start with the good news. For most cats, a peaceful, quiet house with no other living things roaming about is heaven. Cats enjoy calm, stress-free environments. So the idea of leaving your cat home alone overnight while you go on a quick weekend getaway may not spark any objections from the peanut gallery (meow).
Preparing Your Home
Start by closing up any doors to rooms you don’t want your cat to go unsupervised. Especially if this is your first time leaving your cat home alone and you’re not sure if he’ll have a bit of separation anxiety, put anything you wouldn’t want scratched in a closed room. Some cats whip out their claws and go to town to relieve stress, while others cope by taking an extra nap. You never know, so play it safe.
You can also keep your cat happy while you’re away by leaving plenty of toys out. Sprinkle some catnip in a cardboard scratcher (like this one) and toss a few jingle balls around the room so the little guy can get some exercise if the mood strikes him.
If you’ll be gone for two days, leave three days’ worth of food out. This ensures your furry friend is covered just in case something delays your return home - like bumped flights, missed trains, or any number of winter blunders. If you don’t have an automatic pet feeder, leave several bowls in different parts of your home so your cat can get some exercise and enjoy a little hunt while you’re away. Wherever there’s a food bowl, leave a water bowl, too.
The last stop on your way out the door should be the litter box. Make sure your cat is left with a clean litter box and plenty of litter. If your cat’s box is soiled before you go and if your cat is the picky type, he may decide to stop using the box after a few more deposits. You probably don’t want to come home to any unwelcomed “presents” on the rug, so take 3 minutes to scoop the poop.
If at all possible, recruit a friend, family member, or neighbor your cat has met before to check in on your little one halfway through your trip. Your cat will welcome a little attention and you can rest easy knowing Fluffy hasn’t burned the house down out of spite.
Best Case Scenario
Leaving your cat home alone in a well-prepared environment may actually be the best possible option for short trips. The alternatives involve bringing your cat with you, which can be extremely stressful on your cat, or boarding him. While boarding may seem like a viable option, it’s actually a pretty unpleasant scenario for felines.
Cats aren’t inclined to socialize with other cats. In fact, they’re naturally territorial and a bit paranoid. They’re more likely to think that the cat in the kennel across from them wants to kill them and take over their world than to want to make friends. Putting your cat in an unfamiliar place with several other cats, strange noises, and peculiar (to your cat, anyway) people is going to be more stressful than a 48-hour stint of silence at home.
If you’re planning a trip out of town for more than a couple days, it’s time to recruit some help. The best option for your cat is to have a trusted person the cat is familiar with serve as temporary guardian. Ask a friend or neighbor to stop by your house once or twice per day to feed your cat, fill his water bowl, clean the litter box, and give him some lovin’.
Prepare your home just like you would for a weekend away (see above) and leave the number of your vet for your wonderful cat sitter just in case. While your cat isn’t likely to do more than chill on the couch all day, all parties involved will feel better knowing what to do in case of an emergency.
Though your cat will miss you while you’re gone, he’ll feel much better in his own space and be grateful for the normalcy.
If you absolutely have to, boarding your cat is an option, but should be a last resort. Your cat will need to be up-to-date on all of his vaccinations before his stay. If possible, choose a facility that caters only to cats as most pet hotels and veterinary clinics who offer long-term care often house dogs and other animals that may freak your furry friend out.
When preparing your cat for his multi-day sleep over, stock him up with plenty of memories from home. Familiar toys, blankets, and even small beds can be taken to boarding facilities to make your cat feel more at home. Bring his usual food, as well, and be sure to tell the boarding facility staff about his feeding routine. As creatures of habit, cats appreciate being able to stick to their fine-tuned schedules.
Along for the Ride
Start by getting a cat carrier a few days or (even better) weeks before your trip. Let your cat explore it, rub all over it, even sleep in it if he wants to. The more familiar the carrier smells during your journey, the better.
Quick and Easy
If you absolutely have to travel with your cat, aim to make the trip as quick as possible. Flying is usually the best option and one your cat will happily vote for over a long car ride. Be sure to check with your airline regarding their policies when it comes to pets and travel. Many airlines have specific dimension restrictions for cat carriers and you may need to get a special plane-friendly one.
Most airlines nowadays let your cat travel in the cabin with you on the floor in front of your seat. If your airline makes animals stay below in the cargo hold, consider switching airlines. This can be extremely stressful for your cat and you’ll likely be just as anxious wondering how your baby is doing the whole flight.
Before your flight, check with your vet. Some airlines require proof that your cat is healthy and vaccinated before letting him board. Your vet may even be able to prescribe a mild sedative that will let your little guy sleep through the whole ordeal. If you want to ditch the drugs, opt for natural calming remedies like pheromone wipes or a calming collar.
The Long Road Ahead
Sadly, cats aren’t fond of road trips for the most part. Since your cat is a fan of routine and prefers to be safely nestled in his own territory, a road trip is one scary scenario after another. A moving vehicle, constantly changing environments, hotels, unfamiliar smells and sounds - all of this adds up to stress for your cat.
If you do have to take your cat in the car, you’ll want to make it as boring a trip as possible for him. If you’ll be traveling for six hours or less, leave your cat in the carrier until you stop. For trips longer than six hours, you’ll need to bring a few disposable litter boxes for your cat so he can do his thing on the road.
Anytime you interact with your cat - whether it’s to feed him, offer him water, or let him use the litter box - it should be when you’re parked and all the doors and windows are closed. Letting your cat roam about the car while you’re driving can only lead to disaster. You never know when your cat may get spooked and decide to claw the driver, so it’s best to just avoid any mishaps and keep everyone calm.
Always take your cat to and from the car in his carrier. To avoid any tummy upset, let your cat skip breakfast before you hit the road. He’ll be happier with an empty stomach and will be able to relax with a meal in the evening once you’ve stopped. A call to your vet for some gentle sedatives may also be a good idea if your cat is prone to anxiety.
No matter how long you’re traveling or where your cat ends up during your trip, remember to give him lots of love. Blankets and toys that smell of home will always be welcome. If your cat is the cuddly type, the day before your trip wear a shirt that you can give your cat while you’re apart.
While your cat may seem like an overly confident king of the castle at home, traveling can really throw him for a loop. Since cats are prone to stress-related illnesses, minimize the anxiety factors as much as possible and you’ll both be much happier for it.