National Pet Travel Safety Day was on Jan. 2, and it always surprises me how many things people don’t consider when driving their cats somewhere. But then, I didn’t think about some of them either until I began driving Summer to cat shows, events, and even short trips to the pet store. It occurred to me that there was a lot I could be doing to make sure Summer’s trips were safer. If you think car safety isn’t as important for your cat since you only drive her to and from the vet clinic, guess again — most accidents happen within a 25-mile radius of home. So I’m going to share some tips with you that you should keep in mind, whether you’re driving your cat to get her annual booster shots, or moving her across country.
1. First and foremost, your cat should be wearing a collar or harness that has an ID tag with your phone number.
It’s important for her to have your contact info on her if she escapes from the car. Microchipping is good, but not everybody checks for that, and if your cat is found on the street by a stranger, it would be much better if the person could call you directly rather than taking your cat to an animal control facility.
2. Always put your cat in a carrier when you are traveling.
Letting your cat loose in the car while you are driving is recipe for disaster. A frightened or nervous cat (and most cats are frightened or nervous in the car) will seek somewhere dark and closed in for protection. One of those areas happens to be under your feet, where the brake and accelerator pedals are. If he crawls under a seat, it may be difficult to get him out. Even if there are two of you, with one person driving and one holding the cat, it’s still not safe.
3. The safest place for your cat’s carrier? The back seat of your car.
The problem with putting the carrier in the front is that if you are in an accident and the airbags deploy, it could injure or even kill your cat. Many carriers can’t withstand the impact of an airbag, but even if it could, an airbag on top of a collision would be extremely traumatizing for a kitty. The best place in a car for children is the back seat — same for your cat.
4. Buckle up that carrier!
Pull the seatbelt through the handle and fasten it securely. Some of the newer carriers even have seatbelt slots. You don’t want that carrier to go flying if you have to stop suddenly.
5. When it comes to carriers, smaller and tougher is usually better.
As I mentioned earlier, cats feel more secure in enclosed, dark places. Most would rather have that for travel than a large space to move around. A hard-sided carrier is better also because it offers more protection. If you will be on the road for several hours, consider a larger carrier or kennel so you can put in a litterbox for your cat. Not all cats will use a litter box in the car, however. Summer does, but your cat may not. If your cat won’t use a litter box inside a kennel, keep one handy anyway and make several pit stops to see if she’ll use it outside of the kennel.
6. Always take your cat with you when you need to leave your car.
Even if the temperature outside is comfortable, it can get dangerously hot in the car — and a cracked open window won’t offer enough relief. I always take Summer with me when I need to use the restroom, and on longer trips, I usually order drive through meals. I won’t leave her in the car while I’m in a restaurant. If she is traveling in a larger enclosure, I keep a carrier handy for taking her in and out of the car.
7. For longer trips, pack a travel kit for your cat, including first aid supplies, treats, toys, a small litter scoop and pet wipes.
Also keep paper towels handy — you never know when you’ll need to do a cleanup!
This seems like a lot, but it’s not really. Preparation is key, and the rest of it become routine. I can tell you that from experience – and so can Summer.