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Can A Cat Travel Without A Carrier In A Car?

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I’m sure we all have had our unique traveling experiences as cat parents.

Some of you might’ve moved across the country with your kitties peacefully exploring the change of scenery in the back seat. While others had to endure 20 minutes of back and forth mewing on their way to the vet.

For me, the struggles with traveling begin with the carrier, and if you’ve also experienced that moment of desperation you also may have wondered:

Can a cat travel without a carrier in a car?

Keeping a cat loose while driving can be extremely dangerous, and in certain countries and states illegal. A cat riding in a car without a carrier could become stressed and distract the driver, and even cause a car accident.

Let’s learn more about car safety when traveling with our feline companions, and why carriers are so important!

Can A Cat Travel Without A Carrier In A Car?

If you’re a new cat parent and you’re considering whether carriers are a worthy investment I implore you to get one. Veterinarians state that the first thing you need to do before traveling is getting the right size carrier.

Cat carriers are the best way to make sure your kitty is safe while traveling in your car. Whether you choose a soft-sided carrier or one made of hard plastic they all serve a key role in keeping your furry friend secured in their seat.

Just like you would expect your friends and family to wear a seatbelt when they’re traveling with you the same should be expected of your cat. That’s why many of the cat carriers come with safety loops that help attach them to the seat, so it doesn’t slide around the back seat.

Without a carrier, you’ll also have a difficult time carrying your kitty from your house to the car and then to the vet. While kittens are easier to handle, a grown cat will most likely freak out and make a run for it.

It’s important to note that vet clinics often have other pets waiting to be seen, and a free-roaming cat will most likely cause chaos. Even if your kitty is super chill, other animals might freak out instead.

Why Should You Keep Your Cat In A Carrier While Driving?

For most cat parents it’s understandable that traveling with a cat without a carrier isn’t a wise decision, but it’s still important to go through all the reasons that explain why that is.

Reason 1: To Avoid Accidents

The major problem that may arise when traveling with a kitty without a carrier is their unpredictable nature. And I’m using the word unpredictable very lightly since it shouldn’t come as a surprise that traveling in a car can be a stressful experience for most cats.

The car environment can have many triggering factors, like the beeping of a horn, strange noises, foreign smells and they can all cause different reactions.

When exposed to these triggers, some cats will cower at the back seat, others will look for a dark spot under the seats or move to your feet where the pedals are.

Then again there are those kitties that will begin to meow, hiss, or start running around the car, and I must emphasize that this can be the reaction of any kitty, no matter how chill they usually are.

While this might remind you of a scene from a comedy, the reality is definitely not funny. The chaotic and unpredictable behavior of your anxious cat will most likely distract you and you might make hasty driving decisions that can cause a car accident.

Being distracted by your car is a natural reaction since you’ll be worried about your kitty. And even if your kitty enjoys car rides, they might jump on your lap like they would at home and start distracting you with their kisses and obscure your view.

While displays of affection are great, the car isn’t the right place to display them!

Reason 2: For Your Cat’s Safety

Aside from causing a car accident your cat could simply injure themselves.

Cats are quite flexible so in their need to hide they can get stuck in a dangerous place inside a moving car. Your cat could get their paw stuck under the brake pedals and if they’re a kitten the damage can be even more severe.

If your cat starts running around like a madman, it could cause you to suddenly push on the brakes. This abrupt stop won’t affect you since you’ll be wearing a seatbelt but the cat or kitten might be thrown against the front glass and injure themselves.

Even if your cat doesn’t sustain a physical injury their mental state could suffer.

Cats don’t deal well with stress and as humans and other animals, they can easily associate certain places with bad experiences. This means that your kitty will most likely have a difficult time during future travels.

Some cats might develop coping mechanisms like overgrooming which in turn can cause other more serious illnesses.

Finally, another major issue is the task of loading your cat in the car itself. If you’re not using a carrier then this most likely means that you’re holding them in your arms.

In this situation, your cat might have a higher success rate of escaping. Even if you have a garage and you simply let your kitty enter the car on their own, they still can escape when you reach your destination.

It takes one open door for your kitty to run out, in which case they can easily escape into on-coming traffic or get lost in an unknown area.

All these unfortunate scenarios can easily be avoided if you keep your kitty in the safety of their carrier during the whole duration of the drive.

Reason 3: It Could Be Illegal

We all know that driving comes with a number of rules, and they are all there to keep us as safe as possible. Similarly, there are traffic laws that exist to protect animals and their owners.

For example in the UK, the Highway Code clearly states that pets should be restrained in case of sudden braking or an accident.

You also might run in trouble with your insurance company if they find out that any car damage or injury was caused directly or indirectly by an unrestrained cat.

The American Veterinary Medical Association also clearly states that “Cats should be transported in carriers.” But aside from veterinarians in America, different states also have different charges for animal cruelty, and transporting your cat without a carrier can be considered animal cruelty in certain places.

Animal cruelty laws are different from state to state as well as the fine or even imprisonment they can charge you with. According to the State of California “conviction of Cruelty to Animals is a Class 1 Misdemeanor with a minimum fine of $400, maximum fine of $5000”

Of course, each country is different, but just because it’s not illegal where you live, doesn’t mean your cat should travel without a carrier.

Thankfully there are plenty of laws that protect our furry friends, in many places, it’s also illegal or prohibited to leave your pet in a parked car unattended. These laws are there to make sure our cats are safe during car travels, as well as the carrier itself!

How To Make Car Travel With Your Cat Safer?

As we’ve established, a properly secured kitty is a safe kitty. But restraining a pet is not the only thing you need to do if you want to have a peaceful journey, especially if we’re talking about a long road trip.

So, let’s take a look at our list of preparations when you’re traveling with your feline companion!

Choose The Right Carrier

Of course, a carrier should be the first thing you need to consider before taking your cat on a car trip, whether it’s to the vet’s clinic, or for a family gathering.

When browsing for a carrier you’ll find that there are a lot of things to think about like, size, material, comfortability, a top-loading option, and the list goes on.

Since you’re traveling by car you might want to go for a carrier that has been crash-tested, like the Sleepypod Air-in cabin carrier that you can check here on Amazon.

Not only has this carrier been approved by the CPS, but it’s also airline approved in case you want to switch from car to airplane.

If you’re not sure what will work best for your kitty, the space in your car, and your own comfort then you can check our list of best cat carriers for car travel.

We made sure that the list is versatile and covers all the key elements of what makes a carrier car friendly!

ID Information

No matter where we go, we make sure to keep our ID in our wallet, or purse, and that’s especially crucial when we’re driving our car across the country. Well the same goes for your kitty.

When traveling with a cat or any pet we need to be prepared for the unexpected.

So, every time your kitty is out of the house, they need to have a cat collar on with an up-to-date ID tag, that includes your home address and phone number.

Microchips are also important in the off chance that your kitty manages to escape from your car. The chances of this happening are minimal when they’re traveling inside their carrier, but still, carriers can be faulty or tear and it only takes one stop and one open door along your journey to escape.

I always make sure to have my information also attached to my cats’ carriers along with their vet certificate, in case someone is concerned about my cat’s vaccinations, or if I’ll need to take them to the vet in the area I’m visiting.

Your Cat’s Basic Needs

If your car trip is a simple vet visit, then food or water won’t be necessary, but when it comes to long travels, especially if you’re moving from one area to another your kitty will need water and treats, or proper food. In some cases, they’ll even need a portable litter box to do their business.

You’ll need to make regular stops, especially if you’re riding alone, so you can check if they’re hungry or thirsty.

That’s why when planning your trip I’d suggest you plan your stops as well, so you don’t have to pull over in areas where there’s too much traffic. Loud noises can stress your cat out and some might try to escape as you try to feed them or change their litter.

First Aid Kit

Taking a first aid kit with you on a long trip is important for human emergencies, but if you’re also traveling with your fluffball then you’ll need to consider their needs as well.

A car aid kit could include, toys, extra bedding, their favorite treats, or even their grooming comb. Basically, anything that can soothe your cat’s travel anxiety.

For cats with health issues, you might need to take their medication, and for those of you who are traveling with more than one cat in the same carrier, you also need to be prepared for possible fighting or aggressive behavior.

And while it’s best to keep your cats separated, if a fight does occur, you might need to treat some scratch wounds, so make sure you also have vet-approved ointments.

Cleaning Supplies

If it’s your first time traveling with your cat then you need to know that some cats poop when scared. That’s why I’d suggest you use waterproof bedding to line the bottom of the carrier and don’t forget to bring cat-friendly cleaning supplies.

Enzyme cleaners are great for cleaning cat urine, but you also need to make sure the cleaning product you’re going to take with you is odorless and safe. Cats are sensitive to strong smells and a strong cleaner can increase their discomfort during travel.

The easiest way to clean your cat’s carrier when you’re on the road, are cat-friendly wipes, and make sure to avoid baby wipes or any wipes that we humans tend to use.

Choose The Right Temperature

There are more subtle ways we can turn a car trip into a breezy ride and part of it is the temperature of the car. To get it right you need to consider the material of your cat’s carrier, their fur, and the temperature outside vs in your car.

During the summer, a soft carrier might be too hot for your kitty so you’ll need to consider turning on you’re A/C accordingly.

When traveling in colder months I also try not to have the temperature too high, because the air can get too stuffy and unless the carrier has great ventilation, your kitty might overheat.

Excessive panting and difficulty breathing are clear signs that your kitty is too hot. So if you notice them mewing in protest and panting it’s defiantly a sign you need to turn up the cool air and perhaps give them some water as well.

Play Soothing Music

My last suggestion won’t make the journey of your cat safer, but it could make it less emotionally taxing.

There are plenty of cat music compilations like this one that can help your kitty sleep throughout the car ride.

It doesn’t even have to be cat music. It could be music your kitty enjoys listening to. My cats love Celtic music so I make sure to add a few Enya songs in the mix while we’re driving!

Are There Any Alternatives To Cat Carriers?

I know how frustrating a carrier can be. First of all, it’s not always easy to make your kitty love their carrier, and putting them inside can be a whole feat.

Many carriers can also be bulky and difficult to carry even if the distance to your car is a few feet away from your house.

So, are there any other safe options to transport your cat?

Disposable Carriers

Disposable carriers are usually made of cardboard, and they’re mainly used by certain shelters for newly adopted kittens and cats.

As most of you can imagine cardboard isn’t a durable or lasting material and it can easily cause an accident or a kitty jailbreak.

I mean if your cat can chew through your shoebox then they can chew and claw their way through a disposable carrier made of a cardboard box.

Kittens of course might not have the physical strength to do so, but cardboard can easily bend and sag with time creating multiple exit points. As I’ve already mentioned cats can soil their carrier when they’re scared so if it’s made of a cardboard-like material then it can easily tear leading to a runaway cat or kitten.

Similar one-use-only boxes or laundry baskets and pillowcases are an accident waiting to happen. First of all, they can tear, but they also can cause suffocation and severe anxiety for your kitty, and let’s not forget that there’s no way to safely secure them to your car seat.

Cardboard carriers can only be used as an emergency, and you’ll have to make sure they have enough breathing holes on the top and the sides. You’ll also have to line the box with a plastic bag and then cover it with a thick blanket so it doesn’t get wet.

Disposable carriers are in no way a carrier alternative for any trips, but especially long-distance car travels.

Seat Belt Harness

Many dog parents use a harness to secure their dog to the car seat, and some of you might wonder if this method could be used on your cat.

This is a complicated topic since not all cats like wearing a harness and many of them are flexible enough to escape a harness.

Of course, a cat harness isn’t the same we use on dogs, but I’ve seen enough cats on the internet turn liquid to get out of their harness and make a run for it.

If your kitty has no issue wearing a  harness and they’re chill about outside sounds then you might give it a test drive around your block. But most cats can be unpredictable, and a scared cat can distract you even if they’re secured to the back seat with a harness.

That’s why I think a carrier is a much safer option than the cat harness, especially for long trips. But even a trip to the vet can push your kitty’s limits and in time they might start associating the harness with unpleasant experiences instead of your mutual walks along the park.

What About A Sports Bag?

Another thing I’ve stumbled on is pages suggesting sports bags as a way to transport their cats.

This isn’t an option you should take because sports bags aren’t designed to carry a pet. Not only they might not be able to withstand your cat’s weight, but they don’t have enough or any ventilation to offer sufficient airflow.

If you’ve had a bad experience with carriers or your kitty doesn’t like them then you either need to find a cat carrier that works for you and use positive training to make your kitty feel comfortable in their carrier.

Closing Thoughts

Traveling with your kitty can be a wonderful experience but having them roam free inside your vehicle is a recipe for disaster.

And while I understand that for some of you carriers can be a nightmare, they are the safest alternative to cat travel.

More so, carriers don’t have to be something you and your cat dread. Simply choose a top-loading carrier and turn it into a positive place and not some boogeyman you take out of the closet every time you need to travel.

Now tell us, what carriers have made your car travels a great experience!