How to Take a Cat that Hates Cars on a Road Trip


… This content has been created as part of my involvement in Microsoft’s #WorkWonders Program …


There’s a reason dogs are the animal you most often see with their smiling faces up against a car window. While there are some cats that love to travel and happily hop into the car, most fall into the ‘what fresh hell are you driving me to in this thing?’ category.

Miss Kitty Fantastico falls firmly into the latter camp.

It’s not her fault. Since I picked her up as a rescue kitten the only time she’s been in a car has been to go to the vet, with the exception of the time I took her to stay in the Langham Sydney to see how she’d like a night in a five star hotel (she had mixed reviews of the experience).

So when I decided to move to the countryside for a mini tree change I knew that our girls’ road trip was going to present some challenges.

The drive would take seven hours, which with a dog could include lots of getting out to stretch our legs, a long lunch and some coffee stops along the way. But with a cat?

It was time to turn to the experts, and so I made a Skype date with Dr Katrina Warren and settled down to learn a thing or two.

Preparing Your Cat for a Road Trip

Katrina soon confirmed my theory that it can be difficult to travel with cats, as most of them just don’t like it.

Even though I’d have Miss Kitty in a cat carrier, Katrina stressed that it was important to make sure she had clear ID on her collar in case she managed to get away.

As I wanted her nice and close I was planning to have Miss Kitty riding shotgun in her carrier, with the seatbelt around her to make sure she was safe.

My cat carrier has mesh panels on the top and side and I thought it was a good idea to let her see what was going on, and that I was beside her. Fortunately Katrina set me right.

“You want to make her feel as safe and secure as possible, and she’ll get scared if she can see telephone poles and trees whizzing past.” Katrina explained. “You want to cover her carrier up, and put something comforting inside with a familiar smell.”

How to take Kitty Litter Breaks on the Road

One of my biggest questions about taking a long car trip with a cat was how do you take a kitty litter break without them using the opportunity to run for it?

It turns out the answer is simple, and involves kitty litter in the car.

“When you take rest stops, give them the chance to go in the car.” Katrina says. “Have some kitty litter in there and let the windows down just a little bit so they have some fresh air.”

“She’ll probably want to hold on anyway, but give her the option and offer her the litter box.”

Katrina says breaks are also the time to give your cat some water and a little bit of dry food along the way, but says it’s best to avoid a big breakfast in case they get car sick.

To Sedate or Not to Sedate Cats on Car Trips

After Katrina and I had finished our chat I paid a visit to Miss Kitty’s usual vet to update her on the move, and while I was there asked her about whether I should give Kitty something to help calm her nerves.

The vet explained that there are concerns that even though the cat may look calm after they’ve been sedated, they could actually be having a horrible time as they’re trying to cope with a strange new sensation in their bodies as well as the car trip.

Different cats react differently to sedatives and anti anxiety medication, but different cats also have varying degrees of stress when it comes to car travel.

It’s a conversation that every cat owner should have with their own vet to decide the best thing for their cat, but I decided Miss Kitty was going to miss out on a possible Hunter S. Thompson road trip experience and was going drug free.

When Miss Kitty and I Hit the Road

Moving house is emotional and stressful, and when the big day came and the moving truck was finally fully loaded and on its way, Miss Kitty wasn’t the only one who felt like having a bit of a wail as she got into the car.

Knowing I had a big move and a special road trip to do, the lovely folks at Renault had loaned me a Megane hatch GT-Line, which not only looked stylish but fit an impressive amount of my life into the back, especially after I put the back seats down flat.

The Megane’s sports seats not only gave me support, but also held Miss Kitty’s carrier snugly and kept the covering blanket in place. Meanwhile the passenger seat’s floor had an empty litter box, with some litter in a bag ready to be put in on our pit stop, along with her water bowl and a little food.

Even before I’d started the car Miss Kitty was starting to sing me the song of her people, and for the next hour or so she tried mixing it up, from loud howls of protest to plaintive little cries.

Hearing her cry made me want to just pull over and hug her, but I was on a freeway and we had places to go. So instead I chatted to her so she could hear me even if she couldn’t see me properly.

The conversation went a little bit like this:

“Miss Kitty, we’ve just turned onto the freeway. Your first freeway!” … “Your first time travelling over 100km an hour!” … “Your first time out of Sydney!”

By the time we were driving past her first vineyards after I took a wrong turn in the Hunter Valley she’d quietened right down and I was pretty much just talking to myself.

In the end, despite giving her the option to use the kitty litter and to have something to eat and drink, Miss Kitty had no interest in coming out of her carrier. She’d decided that was the place to be and apart from having a little bit of water wanted no part in anything else I was offering.

Rainbows on a Road Trip with Miss Kitty and Renault

As for me, I would normally enjoy stopping in little towns on a road trip but this time I wanted the journey to be over as quickly as it be could for her. Apart from stopping for some takeaway coffees and food to go, and quickly pulling over to take photos of beautiful rainbows (it’s a way to stop, revive, survive) we kept on that road and just after sunset we were in our new home.

If the trip had been longer, I would have found a pet friendly hotel to spend the night. If you’re facing that kind of journey with your cat, you should check out some of Katrina Warren’s cats in hotels tips in the piece I wrote about taking Miss Kitty to the Langham Sydney.

Settling Kitty into a New Home

As soon as I arrived at our new home I brought Miss Kitty insider in her carrier, set her down in the middle of the lounge room and let her out.

I had expected bolting behind chairs or under things, but after coming out cautiously she was happy to sit with me on the rug and accept lots of pats and attention.

After keeping her inside the house for a few days so she could get used to the idea of the new home, she took her first City Cat steps out onto a lawn. Well, after building up to it for a few more days and sticking to the more familiar concrete paving in the backyard at first.

As a travel writer there are of course times when I have to go on adventures beyond my own backyard, and when that happens Miss Kitty gets to hang out with a cat and house sitter.

And I get to keep tabs on her with Skype. I’ll admit up until quite recently I only thought of the free Skype to Skype calls when I thought of the service, but with my Office 365 I also get 60 minutes a month of free calls to landlines in 60 countries, and mobiles in eight countries. So I can be travelling around the world and my cat sitter doesn’t even need a Skype account for me to call for free.

Of course that doesn’t stop her hopping in my suitcase every time I get it out. But that’s a Kitty story for another day.

This content has been created as part of my involvement in Microsoft’s #WorkWonders Program

Amanda Woods would like to thank Renault Australia for allowing her to borrow the Renault Megane GT-Line. As usual all thoughts and opinions remain her own.

Looking for a hire car deal for your road trip? You can compare the different car companies through Wotif’s car hire portal.

If you’re heading on a road trip you may want to find out how to keep your personal mobile phone data safe in a rental car and a handy tip for telling what side of your car your fuel tank is on or check out my piece on doing a road trip to some of the deep south’s best music spots. And cat lovers may also enjoy finding out what it’s like to visit the Burmese Cat Village in Myanmar.

About the Author

As a journalist who loves to travel and is fond of a chat I'm oh so happy when I'm sharing travel tales and tips through my blog and on my weekly travel segment on Sydney Radio 2UE. When I'm not travelling or writing about it I can be found out and about with friends, curled up at home with a good book or watching an addictive tv show promising I'll stop after one more episode. Amanda on Google +

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  1. Great article. Learned so much and if I ever travel with a kitty, I’ll be sure to refresh my memory. Hope Miss Kitty is settling in nicely 😉

  2. Julia Sweet says:

    Loved your story. Hope Miss Kitty is settling in well.

  3. i recently had to do a 17 hour interstate trip with my kitty. I was reluctant to restrain her too much as I felt that would distress her too much, she doesn’t like to be contained much but I was also concerned about her escaping when I got out for petrol. I pretty much set the car up as a cat play space, I had her harnessed and in a lead that also prevented her from jumping on me whilst driving. I had her cat carrier in the back seat and covered so she could go in there is she wanted. Her litter box and food/water on the floor in the back and a comfy cushion on the passenger seat. She spent some time travelling on the back parcel shelf, some in her cat carrier but mostly just sat in the middle of the back seat.
    I did chose to sedate her. I gave it a test run to start and really wasn’t impressed with the results she was way too spaced out and there were w few times I had to poke he to ensure she was still breathing. I started the trip with no sedation and she was ok but 20 minutes into trip she let out a god awful wail and then my car filled with an awful stench. Stopped the car to find she has pooed on top of the carrier. At this point I decided that I would give her half the dose the vet had prescribed. After this she settled down and tolerated the ride. I think the issue was probably the first half hour of my trip was windy roads. The next 17 hours went without a hitch, I did try to let her out to stretch her legs at one stop but this scared the crap out of her. I chose to to the trip in one hit with loads of NoDoze as for her sake and mine wanted it over and done with.
    If and when I get another cat when is no loner with me I will be taking it in the car regularly as well as pay visits to other cat friendly houses to make it easier if I ever need to go away.

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