By Alex McCoy, Contributing Writer, Owner of Fit Travel Life
One concern voiced over and over again by prospective travelers is, “Can you travel with a pet?” It may seem like a daunting task to move an animal every three months but for most people leaving a furry companion behind is not an option.
When I started as a travel nurse my husband and I had one cat, Autumn. Our cat is the sweetest, friendliest cat in the world—until she gets into a vehicle. She would meow tirelessly, try to scramble under our feet, or dig her claws into our leather upholstery and hang on tight. Trips home from grad school were miserable if we had to bring her along, so we were more than a little leery of taking her on a 9-hour drive to our first travel assignment.
Luckily, we have found these five tips make traveling with a homebody cat much less stressful. Car rides are quieter and our travel buddy is much happier when we arrive at our destination.
1. Make a safe space for your pet in the car
We initially tried letting Autumn roam, but since she would not settle into one space. She would put herself in danger if we had to turn or brake suddenly, and she would also try to climb under our feet by the pedals.
Now she rides in a small wire kennel complete with a litter pan. We bring foil pans to fill with litter and throw them out at the end of each day.
This tip was confirmed by our veterinarian when our dog was getting carsick. She explained that pets actually feel safer in a slightly confined space, and having too much room to roam can stress them out more.
2. Bring some of their favorite items along
Packing all of your belongings into your car is daunting, but save a little room for a few special pet items. Although we have tried to keep cat hair off of our fuzzy blankets, letting Autumn snuggle up with one when we get to our destination instantly calms her and is worth a little extra lint rolling.
However, I would not recommend putting these items inside the kennel. When pets get anxious, they are more likely to have accidents or be sick, so save the special items for when they are out of the car so they don’t get ruined. Also, make sure to bring an old towel to line the kennel in the car.
3. Figure out if they need breaks or if you should “power through”
If you are moving a dog, they will need to stop for bathroom breaks every few hours just like a human. However, if your pet is especially anxious you may be better off taking shorter breaks and focusing on getting to your stopping point quickly.
As a rule, we do not book hotel rooms until we are on the road. When we feel like we have a few hours left, we will take a moment and decide on a destination for the night and then book a hotel. This way you are not locked into a specific time frame if something comes up or it has been a more stressful day in terms of dealing with your animals.
4. Keep your voice calm and soothing
Maintaining a calm voice can be hard as frustration mounts. Autumn meowed for 4 hours straight during a trip and it was extremely difficult to maintain my composure. You simply have to remind yourself that if you raise your voice or seem frustrated, your pet will respond in kind and their behavior could likely get worse.
Worst case scenario—turn up your radio to help drown out your pet’s noise. This can help keep you sane and let them express their frustrations.
5. Don’t be too worried if they don’t eat well on the road
Our kitty never misses a meal. Ever. However, when we are traveling and staying in hotels she usually goes on a short hunger strike until we are settled. Luckily, the longest we have traveled with her is just over 30 hours, so she is able to settle back into her routine without getting malnourished.
If your pet does not normalize in their eating patterns after a day or two of adjusting to their new surroundings, make sure and get them to a veterinarian so they do not get dehydrated or sick.
Traveling with an anxious pet can seem impossible at first. It definitely takes more work than bringing a companion that loves car rides, but it is doable. Some extra patience is required, and a few more details will have to be planned ahead of time. Regardless, as someone who has traveled with their own anxious pet for over a year, I can say that the extra time and effort has been worth it in the long run.
Alex McCoy currently works as a pediatric travel nurse. She has a passion for health and fitness, which led her to start Fit Travel Life in 2016. She travels with her husband, their cat, Autumn and their dog, Summer. She enjoys hiking, lifting weights, and trying the best local coffee and wine.
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