Travelling with your cat

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Most cats are not particularly happy travellers - they are usually bonded strongly to their own territory and feel very vulnerable off home ground. The rewards of staying with the family 'pack' or the potential of exploring or walking somewhere new at the end of the journey do not excite the average feline in the same way as its canine cousins.

If you wish to take your cat on a train/car or air journey you will have to ensure they are safely and comfortably secure in an appropriate carrier and is kept confined at the end of the journey, at least until they have become bonded to the new territory. Of course you get the occasional cat that travels frequently with their owner and does not panic or run off in a new environment, however, these are few and far between. 

Travelling by car

It can be very dangerous to have a cat loose in the car - not only could they cause an accident by becoming entangled with the driver, but if a window or door was opened or an accident occurred, your cat could escape and become lost.

You will need to invest in a carrier that is strong and easy to clean should they urinate, defecate or become sick during the journey. Also consider the weather you will be travelling in - both your present situation and the likely temperature of your destination. If it is likely to be very hot then use a basket which allows good air flow - if it is going to be cold then one which can provide draft-free warmth while still allowing good air flow. Place the carrier where it will be secure if you have to brake suddenly but where there is good air flow - i.e. not underneath lots of other luggage in the back of the car. Do not put your cat in the boot and take care with the rear of hatchbacks - ventilation may be poor and they may overheat. You can secure the carrier behind one of the front seats or use the seat belt to make sure they are held securely on the seat. 

What's all that noise about?

Your cat may meow initially or even throughout the whole journey - speak calmly and reassuringly but resist letting them out of the carrier. The noise will probably drive you mad but they are unlikely to be suffering; just voicing their dislike of the situation! Eventually the constant motion and noise of the car will probably induce them to sleep or at least to settle down. Check on your cat regularly, especially if the weather is hot - don't underestimate how rapidly the temperature inside a car can rise - bear this in mind if you stop for a refreshment break and leave your cat in the car. Put the car in the shade and leave windows open - if it is very hot take a picnic and eat nearby with the cat secure in their carrier outside the car or with all the doors open. Heat-stroke can be a killer.

Travelling by train

Obviously if you are travelling by train you will need a very secure carrier which your cat cannot possibly escape from, but one which is also light enough to carry. You may want one with a solid base in case they urinate so that it does not soil the railway carriage. Line with absorbent paper and material and take spare bedding too. You will probably be able to keep them in the carrier on your lap depending on the type of train and the space available. 

Travelling by air

If you intend to travel by plane with your cat then you need to plan well ahead. You may have a choice of airlines and how they can transport your cat may influence your choice. Most airlines do not allow cats to travel with their owners and have to travel in a special part of the hold that is heated and pressurised.

Most cats do travel well but it is not recommended to send a pregnant cat or kittens under three months old. Also note that not all flights are licensed to carry animals so they may have to travel on a different flight to you.

If possible book them onto a direct flight so there will be no need to be disturbed for transfer, this will also prevent any problems associated with waiting around in a very hot or cold country. This may also affect the timing of the flight you choose. The International Air Transport Association Standards say a container must be large enough to stand up and turn around in with ease - check with individual airlines on what they need. For details of the current situation with the Pet Passport Scheme contact the address and website addresses below. DEFRA (formerly called The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries & Food), Animal Health (Disease Control) Division, 1A Page Street, London, SW1P 4PQ.

Tel: 020-7904-6204 (Quarantine section)                               

Arriving at your destination

When you arrive, place your cat in one room and make sure they are secure, comfortable and cannot escape. Offer water and a little food although they may not be interested in eating until a little more settled. Do not let them go outside for at least a week and make sure they are identifiable if lost. Withhold food for about 12 hours so that they are hungry and comes back to you for food when you call. Gradually let them explore further and use food to ensure they do not go too far and returns for regular meals. 

Using the carrier

For cats the production of a carrier usually means a trip to the veterinary surgery so they are often not too keen to get into it! Take time to let them become accustomed to the carrier or travel crate well before the journey.

Make it a pleasant place to be - feed cat treats inside it and make a cosy bed of familiar smelling bedding which can be used on the journey. Leave the door open and encourage them to go in and out and to sleep in it. Then, when it comes to the actual journey, they are at least familiar with the immediate environment.

If you have more than one cat it is better to give them separate carriers which allows better flow of air, more room and less chance of overheating. Even the best of friends may become stressed during a journey and behave in an uncharacteristic, agitated way with each other; separate carriers will prevent any injury. If they can at least see and hear each other they may be comforted by that.

Withhold food for about four to five hours before the journey in case they are sick while travelling. Offer water up to the time you leave and again during the journey if possible. You can buy bowls which attach to cages so they don’t during the journey and are easy to fill without opening the cage should there be a delay during the journey.

 Ref: Feline Advisory Board -

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