Traveling with Cats in Car Long Distance – The Cat Mama

Posted: January 21, 2018 by Anita

traveling with cats in car long distance

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traveling with cats in car long distance
Gigi making the journey via my daughter’s lap

Man, traveling cross-country with cats can be stressful! Traveling with cats in car long distance can be straight madness if you’re not prepared.

So, here’s my story.

I agreed to help my daughter, son-in-law and 2 cats move from Kentucky to their new home in Florida.  I absolutely love road trips and was looking forward to it.

I mean what could go wrong?

traveling with cats in car long distance

Well, the movers were late.  Not everything in their house was packed so the movers weren’t able to take everything.  We ended up packing the car to the brim with a TV, pillows, extra rolls of toilet paper, etc.

“…okay, where are we going to put the cats?!  Let’s put the pet carrier together…”

“…oh, we haven’t used the carrier in 2 years. How do we put it together?  Oh God, can someone youtube how to put this carrier together?”

traveling with cats in car long distance

“Hey, this carrier is supposed to hold 2 cats…they don’t look comfortable.  Man, is this how to travel with a cat in a car?”

“Wait, I forgot the pads to place in the bottom of the carrier.  Oh my God, we have to unpack the car to get the cats in there….”

Yeah, it was midnight. The trip to Florida will take 10 hours.  Everyone, including the cats, was stressed out and barely on speaking terms. And we haven’t left yet.

traveling with cats in car long distance

Let’s just say the journey wasn’t any better either.

Traveling with Cats in Car Long Distance: How to get organized

traveling with cats in car long distance

The best way to travel with a cat is to get organized.  Here are some suggestion to get you started:

  • Make two lists,  one for you and one for the cats,  of things that you will need for the trip.
  • Make deadlines to get things done and hold yourself accountable. Think about what should be done to make the trip easier for the cat and for you.
  • Don’t forget about the car.  Make sure maintenance is up to date.
  • Then come up with a contingency plan should the first plan blows up. When traveling long distances with cats, anything could happen.

So be prepared for all possibilities and be flexible.

Click here for a free checklist

Buy the right cat travel carrier

Click here to see the best cat carrier for car travel  

  • Make sure the carrier is large enough for your cat to move around comfortably. Look for a carrier that’s more like a cat travel cage rather than one made for air travel for cats
  • Test out the carrier well before the move just in case you might have to exchange it for a better option.  Make sure you know how all the bells and whistle works.
  • If you are moving multiple cats, it might be better to purchase separate carriers for each cat. However, this depends on how well your cats get along and if you have the best car for traveling long distances with multiple cats.  I will explain what I mean later.

traveling with cats in car long distance

Traveling long distance with cats – Prepare for the journey

  • Prepare a cat travel bag with snacks, cat food, litter pads, and baby wipes.
  • Place small bowls of food and water in the carrier.
  • Prepare the carrier with a couple of items that the cat is familiar with such as its favorite toy and a comfortable blanket.
  • Set up a travel litter box for cats with a litter pad.   Even though your cat might not have the desire to go potty during the trip it’s best to be ready – just in case. Be sure to pack extra litter pads and travel cat litter boxes.

See my recommendation for the best disposable litter box for travel – click here.

traveling with cats in car long distance

  • Leave the carrier out weeks before the move so your cat can get used to it. Place kitty’s favorite treats inside the carrier.
  • On the day of the journey, spray a cat pheromone inside the cat carrier.
  • Allow the cat to mosey on in the carrier under its own steam. Close the door of the cat carrier once the cat is inside.
  • If applicable, wash, rinse, and repeat for 2nd cat.

traveling with cats in car long distance

Prepare the car for the cats

  • Don’t overcrowd the cats and their carrier inside the car.
  • Make the cat’s space inside the car priority number one.
  • If possible, don’t pack anything else but the cats inside of the car.
  • If it sounds like I’m repeating myself it’s because I believe this step is important.  Less clutter in the car means a more zen, anxiety-free space for you and your cat.
  • Be sure to place cats/carrier in the car right before driving off.

Want to know the best car for traveling long distances?  Read Consumer Reports, “Best Vehicle Choices for a Family Road Trip“.  

traveling with cats in car long distance

Calming cats for travel – cat sedative for traveling in the car

Cat sedative for travel?  Some cats are going to be stressed and irritated no matter how feng shui you make your car and the cat carrier.

Medicine to calm cats for travel might be something you might have to think about in order to keep everyone safe during the trip.

If you’ve had your cat for a while and taken a few trips in your car to the vet you will know whether sedating your cat is a good idea.

Cat sedative means easing your cat’s anxiety via medication.  This easing of anxiety can range from chilling your cat out to your furball getting sleepy enough to take a catnap.

 Cat tranquilizer for travel – how to sedate a cat for travel

First, discuss sedating your cat with your vet. This is very important. Do not try to self-prescribe medicine for your cat.

The vet can prescribe the right sedative and dosage based on their knowledge of your cat. Or at least ask your vet for recommendations for over-the-counter cat sedative.

  • Administering meds to a cat isn’t easy.  You might need help with the process.
  • Wrap your cat in a towel, small blanket, or pillowcase.  This is to protect you from getting scratched.
  • With a firm grip, lightly squeeze the jaw to open your cat mouth.
  • Push the pill into the side of your cat’s mouth.
  • Gently grasp the jaw with one hand and stroke underneath the chin with the other hand.  This should activate the swallowing action in your cat.
  • Stay in this position for a few then release your cat.  Once the cat starts to chill, assist the cat into the carrier.
  • Take off on your journey.

traveling with cats in car long distance

How to travel with a cat cross country

I recently had my own experience of traveling from Chicago to Jacksonville with my cats by car.  My initial plan was to place them in separate carriers.  Clara would go into the Necoichi Portable Cat Cage in the back seat of my car.  Shrek would go into the Sherpa Pet Carrier in the seat next to me.

As soon as I drive off from my son’s home in suburban Chicago, Shrek takes a big crap inside of his carrier.  All the while, Clara is meowing mournfully; clearly unhappy with her arrangement as well.

Recommendation: the Sherpa Pet Carrier is more suited for air travel with cats.  Click here to check the latest price for the Sherpa Pet Carrier.

traveling with cats in car long distance

Time to make a quick decision or this trip is going to be hell for both me and the cats.  I decided to place both Shrek and Clara in the Necoichi Portable Cat Cage.


The portable cat cage was large enough for both cats with plenty of room for them to sprawl out and enjoy their bowl of kibbles if they should get hungry.  I lined the portable cage with So Phresh Quilted Potty Pads (click here for the latest price from Amazon) just in case there were any spills or accidents from the cats. Silence ensued in the car.


This portable travel crate for cats was a stress-saver for both me and my two fur babies.  I hardly heard a peep out of them the whole trip.

Road Traveling by Car with Cats

My trip was about 15 hours in total.  I stopped in Chattanooga after about 8.5 hours of driving and we stayed in Americas Best Value Inn/Lookout Mountain.  I was able to give us all a break from the road.

traveling with cats in car long distance

It was also a great opportunity to get to know Clara and Shrek again.  We hadn’t seen each other in 5 months.  It had to be terrifying for them to be torn from their home in Chicago by someone they barely remembered. I took this time to feed them.  Shrek had been experiencing stomach upset since switching cat food last year.   I decided to switch cat food (yes while in the middle of a road trip) to the same food my daughter’s cats are currently on; Iams Proactive Health Original Adult Dry Cat Food and set up disposable litter boxes.  I used Kitty’s Wonderbox disposable litter box and the best cat litter for odor control; Fresh Step Ultra Unscented.

After an amazing rib dinner from a rib joint by the name of Hillybilly Willys BBQ, I, Shrek, and Clara settled down for the night.  The next morning we’re off on the rest of our journey to Jacksonville.

Other great articles from the Cat Mama:

Do you love to travel?  Check out my travel blog  “The Social Tourist”.