Travelling with Cats – Car or Plane

Cats are not the easiest of pets to travel with. They are very much creatures of habit and tend to prefer the familiarity and safety of their home. Where possible, it is always better to leave your cat either at home with a sitter or at a boarding cattery. However, sometimes travelling is necessary, either a family moves home or decides to take an extended trip and would like to take their cat.

If you are travelling/moving interstate, it may be worthwhile flying your cat instead of driving it. Many airlines are equipped to transport cats in safety approved carriers. Or if you would prefer, you can hire the services of a freight company who specialises in cat transportation.

Whatever the reason for your cat travelling, make sure he is microchipped so that if he manages to escape, he can easily be reunited with you. Have a second contact, in the event that you can not be reached.

If you are travelling with your cat, you will require a cat carrier. They come in all shapes and sizes. It is a good idea to get your cat used to being in a cat carrier prior to actually transporting him. A useful method is to leave the carrier out, with a blanket, some treats or toys and let your cat explore himself. As he becomes familiar with the carrier, shut the door for short periods of time.

Cats who do not travel well may be lightly sedated before travel. Your veterinarian will be able to advise you on this.

Do cats get motion sickness?

Yes, some cats are affected by motion sickness. Typical symptoms include drooling, vomiting, defecating, excessive vocalisation.

Desensitisation may help your cat overcome travel sickness. Slowly acclimatising your cat to travel. To do this, you will need to start out by leaving the cat carrier out in the home with a familiar blanket and one or two cat toys and treats. Allow your cat to slowly explore the carrier, with the door open. He may want to sleep in it or just sit and observe the world. Once your cat is used to and comfortable in the carrier, shut the door, for short periods of time. Next introduce small car trips. Just a quick drive around the block but gradually increase the length of time. This can also help if your cat associates car trips with the veterinarian (which is not always the most pleasant experience they will encounter). If the cat learns that not all car trips mean a trip to the vet, they may relax a little.

Other tips to help make the trip less stressful may include spraying the carrier with Feliway prior to travel. You may also want to place an old t-shirt of yours in the carrier so your cat has a familiar (and safe) scent. Some cats also travel better if their carrier is covered over.

Sometimes even with the above methods, your cat will continue to suffer from motion sickness. If this occurs, try withholding food for 3 hours prior to your trip. You should continue to give your cat access to fresh, drinking water however.

Your veterinarian may be able to prescribe your cat anti-anxiety or anti-nausea medication to help.

Short distances:

From time to time you will need to take your cat to the vet. Most cats don’t enjoy this trip but will accept it, especially if it’s happened since the cat was a kitten. However, some cats find even travelling short distances stressful and may vocalise or go to the toilet. It is a good idea therefore to acclimatise your cat to using it’s cat carrier so that if and when it is necessary to transport your cat, he is familiar with being confined and there will be less stress all around.

If your cat is a really bad traveller, you may want to consider choosing a vet who does home visits. However, this is not always possible, especially in emergency situations. Routine checks and vaccinations are fine, but if your cat is injured or requires specialist tests, they will have to visit the veterinary surgery. This is why it is always a good idea to acclimatise your cat to the carrier from a young age.

Long distance (flying or driving):

If you are travelling long distance, for example moving to another state/across the country, you may decide to fly the cat or drive the cat yourself. Flying has the benefit of generally being faster and may be preferred if you are travelling thousands of kilometers away. Airlines have various rules and regulations in regards to flying cats, these may include minimum age, the cat must not be aggressive and in good health.  Most airlines will require that the cat be placed in a special hold, but some will allow the cat to travel as hand luggage (check with your airline first). When flying with cats, planning ahead is important. You must book your cat in ahead of time.

However, you may prefer to drive your cat. Again, a sturdy cat carrier will be a requirement. NEVER have your cat loose in a car, it is a danger to you, your cat and other motorists/pedestrians. The carrier should have a blanket which is easily washable in the event of accidents.

Make sure your cat has access to clean, fresh drinking water and food. Never place a cat in the boot of a car. The carrier should be placed either on a rear seat, or the back of the car in the case of a station wagon. Make sure there is plenty of ventilation around the cat.

NEVER leave a cat unattended in a car, even in the carrier. The temperature can quickly rise (within minutes), leading to heat stroke and possible death.

Overseas travel:

If you are travelling abroad, your cat will require a “pet passport”. The cat will be required to have it’s full vaccinations, including rabies (Australia requires a blood titre test before entering the country), be microchipped and in many cases, treated for worms. Again, there are specialist companies who can assist you with shipping a cat overseas.


Travelling the country in a motor home is becoming more and more popular and many cat owners take their pet with them. As the cat will be spending a lot of time on the road, a large but collapsible dog cage is a suitable method of keeping your cat confined, but not too cramped. It should be large enough to accommodate a litter tray, food and water bowls and a cat bed. The carrier should be placed or secured so that if you need to brake suddenly, or take a sharp corner, it won’t tip over or move.

Training your cat to walk on a leash can be helpful, so that when you do have stops, your cat can stretch his legs without the risk of him escaping.

Additional tips:

  • Have a first aid kit in your car for your cat. This should contain antiseptic, bandages and bandage tape, cotton balls, clean old towels, scissors, thermometer, pet insecticide, flea and worm treatment, sterile gauze.
  • A travel kit should also be packed and contain. Old clean blankets, food and water, wipes (to clean up accidents), plastic bags (to put garbage in), cat harness, spare blankets.
  • If you are staying in a hotel, make sure that they allow cats at the time of booking. You don’t want to be refused upon arrival.
  • Cats should be secured safely when travelling in the car.
  • Make sure your cat is out of direct sunlight when in the car. Use a window visor if necessary.
  • If you are staying in a hotel, an ID tag with the number of your hotel is recommended in addition to your microchip. Obviously if your cat goes missing and you are not home, you can’t be contacted (unless you have provided a mobile number). This is just an extra level of safety.
  • When you arrive at your destination, do not let your cat outside unless he is on a harness. He is likely to be quite stressed and will probably run away should he be given the chance. Keep them confined to a quiet room with their food and water, and a bed or the carrier you transported him in.

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