Plenty of cat parents dread the moment they have to travel with their feline companion, and the longer the road trip the scarier it may seem.
And even if you can’t relate to this experience, the truth is that no matter how peaceful your kitty is during a car ride, they all have their limits.
So, how long can a cat ride in a car?
You’ll need to consider your cat’s personality, health, and age. Most cats can stay inside their carrier for long hour drives as long as you take breaks every 2-3 hours to offer them water, food, and the opportunity to use the litterbox.
All cats are different of course, and many factors can make a long car trip tolerable, even if it lasts the entire day.
So, let’s take a look at how cats handle long car travels.
How Long Can A Cat Ride In A Car?
It’s obvious that most cats are way more comfortable staying at home, but if they had to travel on a long journey, I’m pretty sure the car would be their first choice of transportation.
Unlike airplanes, trains, or boats, cars usually don’t involve other people, especially strangers. Instead, your cat is secured in their carrier in a closed environment where they’re surrounded by your scent and your presence.
The sound and smells of the outside world are also less intense especially with the car doors and windows sealed shut. That being said, a running vehicle will still be a stressful environment, and that can affect your cat’s tolerance.
In theory, as long as your kitty has their basic needs met, like water, food, and litter box they can travel for an extended period of time.
Of course, no one wants to be crammed in a small carrier, especially cats that are considered territorial animals, but unfortunately, if you have to travel for many miles until you reach your destination then there’s not a lot of options.
But the good thing about traveling by car with your feline companion is the fact that you can make long trips more bearable. First of all, you have the freedom to stop when and where you need to preferably every 2-3 hours as the AVMA suggests.
You can take a break by parking in a quiet spot and reduce the extra noisy engine by turning it off. Once you make sure the doors are secured you could even take your kitty out of the carrier so they can stretch, eat and drink water.
You can also take a few minutes to pet your kitty and help them calm down. Depending on how long your trip is going to be I’d suggest you also give them some time to use the litter box.
Once you feel that the kitty is relaxed, you can place them back in the carrier, secure the locks and continue on with your trip.
It’s important to remember that each cat will react to road trips differently, but it’s also understandable that sometimes cat parents don’t have a choice but to take their kitty on a long drive, either because they’re moving from one state or country to another.
For some people who live in a secluded area, a four or six-hour-long trip might be a simple vet visit.
No matter the reason, cats are adaptable creatures, and they can get through a long trip if you make sure they have a comfortable and preferably large carrier, and their basic needs are covered.
How Long Can A Cat Stay In A Carrier?
It’s not unusual for cats to spend the majority of their day in one room or even their favorite spot in that room, so you might think it’s not that different from a carrier. But there definitely is a difference because when it comes to carriers it’s not your cat’s choice to spend a whole day driving in a car confined in a small space.
Even if they tend to stay in one area of your house, they still have the freedom to roam, they can eat whenever they want, drink water, and go to the bathroom.
Of course, while driving in a car you need to keep your kitty inside their carrier, but during long trips, some of you might be able to make a stop at a hotel during the night or take a break to safely let your kitty out of the carrier to stretch inside your secured car.
But what if there’s no opportunity for hotel stops, or your kitty refuses to leave their carrier while you’re still inside the car?
For some cat parents, there is no other choice but to keep their kitty in a carrier for an extended period, until they reach their final location.
The best way to make your cat’s stay in a carrier more tolerable especially during a prolonged time is by choosing a large size carrier or crate that has enough space to satisfy these basic needs.
If you’ve also taken the time to train them to view their carrier as an extension of their territory and a safe space then your cat could stay in it even during a possible 10-hour drive or longer.
After all plenty of people have to fly internationally and those trips can take over 10 hours, and usually, you have to be at the airport a few hours before your flight.
How Long Can A Cat Go Without A Litter Box?
One of the major things that can determine the amount of time a cat can stay inside their carrier is the availability of their litter box. Unlike dogs, our kitties use their bathroom whenever they want to, and this makes it difficult for cat parents to know when that is.
That’s why you need to have an understanding of how your cat’s bladder and bowel movement works.
This way you’ll be able to prevent possible toilet accidents, but also have an idea of how long it’s safe for them to go without a litter box.
According to Petmd “most cats will poop about every 24-36 hours,” and according to DVM360, “healthy adult cats produced an average of 28 ml/kg of urine every 24 hours.”
This of course can vary slightly from cat to cat and can be determined by several factors. Preventive Vet explains that kittens usually use the litter box more often than adult cats, but this also has to do with how much food and water your cat has been consuming before and during the road trip.
Certain medical conditions like inflammatory bowel disease, hyperthyroidism, and chronic kidney disease among others can also affect your cat’s litter box visits. If your kitty is on certain medication, they might also need to poop or pee more often or not.
Depending on your cat’s size the amount of poop or pee could also vary, and since they don’t do both duties at the same time this means that you can’t hope that they’ll hold in their litter box needs for a day because it suits us.
Even if your cat might be able to hold their poop and pee it doesn’t mean they should, especially since you have the option of using a portable litter box when traveling by car.
It’s also a question that only your veterinarian can answer because they know your cat’s weight, their age, their medical history, and what’s generally safe for a cat.
It’s possible that even when presented with the option your cat might be too stressed to use the litter box, that’s why staying in a hotel room overnight should be an option if you’re traveling for two days.
You’ll also need to monitor your cat’s litter box use when you’ve reached your destination, some might end up going multiple times while others will need more time to de-stress before they start using it again.
But once they’re acclimated to the new area, they should be able to go to the toilet. If you notice your kitty not using the toilet they might be constipated, especially if they weren’t drinking enough water during the trip, so you should take them to the vet for a quick check-up.
Can You Leave Your Cat In A Carrier Overnight?
Keeping your kitty in a carrier overnight isn’t necessarily advised unless it’s your only option.
Since cats are crepuscular animals some might get bored by having to spend their active hours confined in a carrier. Others might simply spend all the overnight trip sleeping in their carrier or crate.
Either way, you need to make sure that your cat has available food, water, and a litter box in their carrier or they can access these things during your nighttime breaks.
Are Long Car Rides Bad For Cats?
Car travel isn’t necessarily bad or good for your cat, but it’s something we owners have to go through. There are however certain things that can make a long car ride tolerable or a complete nightmare.
Most cats don’t like change so being inside a carrier in a moving vehicle is definitely a major change from their usually cozy environment. But cats have different personalities, while some will spend the whole ride huddled in the corner of their carrier other more curious cats will try to look at the outside world through the mesh windows of their crate or carrier.
The longevity of the car ride can also determine how your kitty will feel physically and mentally. If they have food, water, and a litter box, and enough room in their carrier to stretch and stand upright, then a longer trip with appropriate breaks can be tolerable.
The cat parents that take time to get their cats accustomed to their carrier and car, will usually have better results, and their cats most likely will tolerate a longer journey.
If you don’t take the time for short stops your feline companion might end up feeling abandoned and scared. My cats usually spend their time sleeping during car rides, but they will begin to complain if I don’t talk to them.
You also need to make sure the temperature in your car is feline friendly because overheating can cause dehydration which can also affect their litter box usage, during and after the trip. If your cat hasn’t used the litter box during a long ride then holding in their pee or poop can cause a health issue like a blocked bladder, or a urinary tract disease.
That’s why it’s important to monitor your cat’s litter box visits after you’ve arrived at your destination. If you notice them straining to poop or pee then you need to contact your veterinarian to make sure they’re not suffering from a medical condition.
Longer rides are not easy, but they don’t have to be bad!
Can Cats Get Car Sick?
Whether it’s flying or traveling by cat our cats can experience motion sickness.
According to T. Mark Neer, DVM, “the principal cause of motion sickness is a problem in the inner ear, which has connections to the brain stem. Fear of the vehicle may be a contributing factor in cats, and signs may occur even in a vehicle that is not moving.”
Aside from vomiting and diarrhea, Tammy Hunter, DVM, states that other signs of motion sickness in cats are excessive vocalization, pacing, and restlessness, but some cats might express their discomfort by being quiet and inactive. You may also notice them licking their lips and even drooling. Of course
Usually, cats can get car sick if they haven’t been accustomed to traveling or they take only one or two trips a year. Since motion sickness in our kitties is usually caused by stress, the best way to help them feel better while driving is by helping them overcome this anxiety.
This means spending time training your kitty to associate the carrier with something positive, by offering treats, and turning it into an extension of their territory when they’re at home.
Tammy Hunter also suggests withholding food for 12 hours before traveling to reduce nausea, while keeping them hydrated throughout the whole ride. Of course, it’s always best to consult your veterinarian for advice or possible medication before the trip.
How Can You Keep Your Cat Calm During A Long Distance Car Ride?
As we’ve already established it’s important to make traveling pleasant for your kitty especially when it’s going to be a long trip.
So, let’s see how you could achieve that!
Make Preparations Before Traveling
As I’ve already mentioned, getting ready for a big trip can’t happen in one day, at least not for your kitty.
Usually, kittens are easier to train, but for those of you who are late to the party don’t worry, this doesn’t mean grown cats can’t be trained, they just need a bit more time.
Summer Street Cat Clinic suggests that you need to “Allow your cat at least a month before traveling to get accustomed to the carrier.”
First of all, don’t keep your cat’s carrier hidden, instead place it in their favorite room, or the area where they like to hang out most. I’d suggest you turn it into a cozy bed, and cover it with their favorite blankets.
Use toys and treats to lure them in and if they still feel uncomfortable you can try keeping it with the top completely removed or open.
Once your kitty feels safe in their carrier you can try closing the openings and moving them around the house. Use treats to make them feel safe, and when you feel that they’re relaxed enough you can start by taking the carrier to your car.
You don’t have to drive it, simply let them stay inside for a while so they can take in the smells and sounds. When you feel your kitty is ready, you can drive around your house and see their reaction.
Perhaps they get nauseous, or they became vocal. You can also find the right temperature for them and perhaps you’ll have more opportunities in your area to make frequent stops and give them a treat for their good behavior. Once you feel that your kitty is acclimated, you could also introduce them to the portable litter box.
By taking a few days to repeat these steps you can learn how to monitor your cat’s behavior and you’ll have a better idea of what you can expect on the big trip.
Always use A Carrier
I know that we’ve been talking about carriers throughout this whole article, but it’s important to make it 100% clear that you shouldn’t let your kitty travel without a carrier or a crate.
A loose pet is definitely a recipe for disaster!
They might distract you while you’re driving which can lead to a car accident or they might injure themselves as they try to find a hiding place.
Carriers are the best and safest way to transport a cat, since they’re designed to keep them safe, and they can be attached to the car’s seat belt for extra protection!
Make The Carrier Comfortable
Larger carriers that you can secure to the back seat are the most comfortable choice for long trips. These carriers will have enough space for your kitty to walk around, stretch and lay in any direction they please.
A great option with these features is along with a list of reviews from parents that had to move across the country with their feline companions.
This carrier also made it into our list of best carriers specifically for car travel, but if you want to see more options you can just click here!
Aside from picking the perfect carrier for your fluffball you also need to make it perfect. This can be done by lining the bottom with a cozy blanket that they love to knead.
Make sure they have their toys in there as well to keep them busy, but most importantly don’t forget to offer them water and food if the trip is long distance.
I’d also suggest you get disposable litter boxes that you can simply throw out after each use.
If you want to learn more tricks on how to teach your kitty to like their carrier Jackson Galaxy, the famous cat whisperer also has some useful tips!
Use Catnip & Treats
Catnip doesn’t work on all cats, but if it does on yours I’d suggest you give them some during the road trip. This way they’ll stay calm and will be able to tolerate the whole experience better.
According to Heather Hoffmann, DVM, “for cats that have a positive experience with catnip, it can help reduce anxiety and even relieve pain.”
My cats prefer toys infused with catnip, and they will usually rub their faces against these toys until they doze off.
Aside from catnip, to create a positive association, between your cat their carrier, and traveling you could also reward their good behavior with treats. If the trip isn’t too long, or your kitty doesn’t seem to want food, treats can be a great alternative.
This way they won’t get too hungry, and they won’t need to use the litter box for longer.
Make Regular Car Stops
To keep your cat calm, but also to have an idea of how they’re coping during this trip you need to take breaks and check up on them.
Stopping in a low-traffic area, every 2-3 hours, to see if your cat is panting, or whether they need food, water or a bathroom break can help them feel seen and loved.
Travel With A Friend
Another great way to alleviate your cat’s travel nerves but also your own is by asking a friend, your partner, or a family member to join you.
A person who your kitty is familiar with can help keep an eye out and see if your kitty needs anything. They might even offer to drive for you instead, so you can stay at the back seat with your cat and keep them company, give them water or pet them when they need it.
A friend can also mind your kitty when you need to fill up your car with gas or run to the bathroom, since leaving your cat alone in a vehicle can be dangerous, and in some places it’s illegal.
Even with another driver, it’s important that you don’t remove the cat from the carrier unless the car is parked and there are no exit points from where your kitty could escape.
Choose Pet-friendly Hotel Stays
No matter how flexible cars can be when traveling with a pet you still need to consider your cat’s personality, because not all of them can handle a long car trip, or tolerate their carrier overnight.
Some cats might refuse to eat, drink, or use their litter box while they’re on the road, even when you’re parked.
So, if you have to travel for more than a day then consider staying in a motel for the night. I’d suggest you check what hotels are pet-friendly along your trip route and book a room for the night.
In the hotel room, you’ll have to make sure that the place is escape-proof, and that there are no narrow places where your kitty can hide.
When the inspection is done you can put their litter box out, as well as their food and water, and then let your feline companion explore the room itself.
They’ll most likely feel scared in this new environment so they’ll need some loving attention from you but try not to push them too much.
I’ve only had a similar experience once in my life when I had to travel to another city. I thought my one cat at the time, would not come out of their carrier, but in the morning before checking out of the room I saw that my kitty was sleeping next to me and he used the litter box during the night.
Since my cat was already anxious placing him in his carrier was quite easy, but that overnight stop definitely helped make the rest of the trip more peaceful for us both!
I think cats have quite similar needs when traveling, and while we don’t need toys, we definitely need comfort, a few bathroom breaks along the way, and a good car atmosphere.
Similarly, our kitties need their litter boxes, a safe and spacy carrier, but most importantly they need us to pay attention to their feelings.
Not all cats can handle long car rides, that’s why there are hotels where you can stay the night, or if possible you can even leave your kitty with a cat sitter back at home while you’re visiting your family.
Now it’s your turn to tell us how well your cat can handle a long car ride. Are they reluctant like mine, or do they enjoy the occasional change of scenery?