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Cats are notoriously bad at road-tripping. They’re not at all like dogs, who love sticking their heads out the window and lapping up some fresh air (and maybe a few bugs). When I made the trek from Phoenix to San Francisco to relocate for my job, all I had was a moving truck with a small passenger cabin and very little space for not one, but two cats.

Needless to say, I wasn’t as prepared as I should have been. Of course, I did the best I could to keep them comfortable and safe, but there’s only so much you can do when you have no idea what you’re doing. That’s why—in case I ever have to do this again—I want to do it the correct way. Cathy Bosley, a certified feline training and behavior specialist at Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab, Utah, gave me the rundown on how to properly travel with your feline, whether it’s a short trip or a cross-country move.

RELATED: Which of these outrageous hotel pet perks are fur real?

Cat in open suitcase

Prep your cat for the move

“The key here is time,” says Bosley. If you know you have six months to move—rather than just a couple weeks — it’s much easier to get your furry friend adjusted. But no matter the time frame you have for your move, there are steps you can take to prepare your cat.

For example, leave moving boxes out for a day or two so your cat can sniff around and figure out that something’s changing. Leave their crate out for a couple days, too—and when they walk past it, leave a treat in there so it becomes a more positive than negative experience for them. When it comes to their crate, make sure it’s always a comfortable environment for them. Throw in their favorite blanket, along with a couple toys and a few treats, so it becomes a safe retreat more than an intimidating carrying cage.

Then, “Acclimate them to the car,” says Bosley. “When they see the carrier, they think they’re going to the vet.” She advises putting them in their crate and driving around the neighborhood for a short period, then rewarding them with a treat. This helps create a more positive response when it comes time for your cat to get into the car.

Visit a veterinarian

It’s always a good idea to get a vet check-up for your kitty, especially before a big event like a move. See what your veterinarian suggests when it comes to keeping your cat calm. Ideally, you should avoid sedation—especially because during longer moves, the sedative will wear off anyway.

Fortunately, there are more natural ways you can calm cats on the road. According to Bosley, Bach Flower’s Rescue Remedy for pets, which is affordable and often used by shelters, helps calm down your kitty just by adding it to their water. Other soothing remedies include lavender oil (make sure to use small amounts since the scent can become overwhelming) and calming pheromones.

cat laying on table in hotel room

Ensure “pet-friendly” hotels are budget-friendly, too

Fortunately, thanks to travel web sites like Orbitz, you can easily find pet-friendly hotels (just check the “pets allowed” box under amenities on the hotels search page). But while there are plenty of hotels that’ll let your four-legged friend stay with you, beware of extra fees, especially “per-pet” fees. Some pet-friendly hotels charge significantly more just for having an animal with you, so the advertised nightly price isn’t exactly accurate if you have a cat or two in tow. Call hotels in advance to see what their policies and pricing are. Pet-friendly Motel 6 allows two pets per room free of charge!

Bosley offers this additional hotel tip: “Border off areas where your cats could hide, like behind the headboard or under the bed,” she says. This might seem counterintuitive since it’s in their nature to hide in new environments, but it can be a gigantic pain to get them out from under or behind the bed when it’s time to head out.

ALSO: Traveling with a cat isn’t always rewarding but traveling with Orbitz Rewards is—join for free today!

Only feed a light meal right before the trip

This one’s pretty simple. Before you and your feline friend hit the road, feed them only a light meal and make sure they’re hydrated. Of course, you should bring plenty of food and water with you for the car ride, but your cat will be nervous and the last thing you need during your road trip is to clean up a pile of vomit. (It kind of ruins the fun road-trip vibe, you know?)

cat getting fresh air outside

Let your cat run free
OK, maybe not exactly “free,” but it’s important to let your cat out of the car every once in a while so they can get some fresh air. If your cat is leash trained, all the better. If not, at least bring their crate outside and let them get some sunlight and fresh air for a few minutes before getting back on the road. It’ll be good for everyone’s sanity.

striped cat sitting in open crate

Plan on flying? Talk to the airline first.
Firstly, flying with a cat is inadvisable. If you thought driving with a cat is tough, imagine what flying with one will be like. Not only do you have to crate your cat and carry them through the airport, but security will actually have to take your cat out of its crate per TSA protocol. If your cat’s skittish, it might be pretty difficult getting her back into that crate—not to mention, it’s just plain scary for her.

If your only option is flying with your cat, call your airline first. See what their rules and protocols are. Do you have to have a certain sized crate? Will they be able to be carried on the plane with you or will they be in the cargo pit with all the luggage? Either way, it’s not a great experience for your feline, but it’s your job as their parent to do all you can to keep them safe and comfortable.

Pet-proof your new address
One of my cats likes eating plastic shopping bags. Why? No idea whatsoever. But obviously, I can’t let her do that, so I keep the bags locked tight in a drawer so that she doesn’t go haywire and eat an entire grocery store trip’s worth.

The point is, once you’ve moved to your new locale, you need to cat-proof your place before your cat even steps inside. “At least cat-proof one room and keep them in there until you’ve finished the rest of your house,” says Bosley. This means locking up chemicals, things they can choke on and yes, even plastic shopping bags.

white cat being held by vet

Establish a new veterinarian
Just as it’s important for you to find a new primary care physician upon moving to a new locale, it’s also key to find your feline a new veterinarian as soon as you can. Do some research—whether it’s online or talking to new neighbors—and find a vet office that’s open for emergencies 24/7, just in case. Once you’ve narrowed one down, set up an appointment so your cat can meet their new doc, and if necessary, get vaccinated too.

Get your cat’s tags updated
Every cat parent knows how feisty and fast their feline can be. Should your cat bolt out the front door, it’s important that they have updated tags in case they run a little too far. Once you’ve established your new address, get tags with updated information to put on your cat’s collar. That way, if someone finds them roaming far from home, that person can locate you and return your precious fur ball. If your cat isn’t already microchipped, set up a quick vet appointment to get it done. This is especially important if you’re going to let your cat outside, but a good idea even if you aren’t.

Make sure your cat has pet insurance
Insurance? For cats? Absolutely. Just as humans need health insurance in case something goes awry, so does your feline. And just like it’s exorbitantly expensive to see a doctor if you don’t have medical insurance, it’s the same for your cat. Look into reliable pet insurance in the unfortunate event your cat gets hurt or sick. And the earlier, the better. The younger your cat is, the less expensive your pet insurance premium typically is—for the life of the policy.

So is traveling a long distance a good idea with all cats? “Some cats— definitely not all—do love to travel, but mostly when they’re in an RV where they have the comforts of home,” says Bosley. “I traveled across the country from Chicago to Utah, and out of my seven cats, two thoroughly enjoyed the trip, but the other five just hunkered down and waited the trip out. In fact, one of them was extremely nervous and meowed the entire trip. That made for quite a long trip.”

I know how that goes. If you have the choice, it’s better to keep your kitty at home and hire a sitter for your road-tripping escapades. For example, services such as Rover offer screened pet care for cats, as well as other animals, at reasonable rates. But if you must travel with your cat, know that they’ll be okay if you follow Bosley’s sage advice.

Megan Pantak is a copywriter and licensed car insurance agent for Esurance. She began her Esurance career in 2012 selling auto policies then changed teams to become one of their star writers. She spends her free time trying to force her cats to snuggle with her.

Tagged: Feature

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Megan Pantak

Megan Pantak

Megan Pantak

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