Thursday, June 24, 2010

Traveling With Pets, Part Seven

Cats in Cars

No matter how well your cat walks on a leash, you will not be able to walk her like a dog at rest stops. Most cats do not want to leave the car in a strange place, but even if yours will walk with you, you will not be able to achieve the primary purpose of walking a dog at rest stops: elimination.

Now, let's all agree right here that your cat would be safer riding in her carrier for the entire trip, okay? But for an all-day trip it's just not feasible, so you have to balance safety against misery. If you have a SUV or van, there may be room for a large cage with bed, litterbox, and water dish. That's great. Unfortunately, most of us drive sedans.

Chances are if you are even considering traveling with your cat, he is an indoor cat. He is therefore litterbox trained, and as uneasy about using an outdoor latrine as you are. But even an indoor/outdoor cat will be too busy investigating new surroundings to take a comfort break before it's time to hit the road again. So if your trip is going to be more than three or four hours, you need to have a litterbox available in your car, and your cat must be able to get to it.

The litterbox itself is the easy part: a standard size box will fit on the floor of the back seat. Place it behind the passenger seat, and move that seat back far enough to hold it so it cannot slide around. Also brace a water dish on theback seat floor, but don't expect your cat to drink or worry if he doesn't. Most cats and dogs will neither eat nor drink in the car, but will be happy to do so once you either settle in a hotel room or arrive at your destination.

So, the big job before you start on that long trip is to make sure your cat can be safely allowed loose in the car. This is where all those short practice trips come in.

If you have someone riding shotgun, then things will be much easier--that person can be given the responsibility of preventing the cat from interfering with your driving. But what if, like me, you frequently drive alone?

If your cat is not in her carrier, she will have access to the front seat. It is sometimes possible to find an expandable gate to keep dogs confined to the back seat. That won't stop your cat--she will go under the seat to the front, and may choose to do so on the driver's side. Or she may squeeze between the seat and the door. Having your cat under your feet while you are driving is exactly what you do not want.

Don't bother with a gate even if you can find one, as it will only guide your cat to exactly where you don't want him. Instead, train your cat to understand that there is only one place in the car that he is not allowed.

Fortunately, most cats don't really want to ride in the crowded area where your feet and the footpedals are--but when they first ride in a car they may think it a good hiding place. Instead, provide your cat with a comfortable, familiar hiding place in the back seat. Put her carrier there, facing inward, with the door open.

Most cats, when given the choice, will not ride in their carriers but in the passenger seat, on the headrest or back of the front seat, or in the back window. The family cat we had when I was a kid rode in the back window, as did my Siamese cat, Soolin. Every couple of hours, though, she would jump up on the back of my seat and check that I was okay. She would only ride there for a few miles, then return to the back window. My current cat, Dudley, though, rides shotgun in the passenger seat.

Before you have to deal with a dangerous situation like your cat blocking the brake pedal, be sure that he understands the word "No." That is the one command a cat can learn--much easier to teach than "sit" or "stay." "No" simply means "Stop what you are doing," and should be taught from kittenhood.

Use whatever method works best for you--the nose flick, the squirt bottle--as long as it does not involve cruelty to your pet, and keep at it until a loud, firm "No!" always results in your cat freezing in his tracks. You should have this single control over all your pets that go out with you in public, dogs, cats, even ferrets. Being able to stop a panicked pet from dashing into traffic with a single word can save a life.

Yes, I know. Cats are cats, and the best behaved ones have times when they won't obey, no matter what. Don't let that stop you from teaching "No!" If it works when you really need it to, it will be worth the effort.

Once your cat understands "No," take her in her carrier in the car to a place where you can safely let her out inside the car--any place you would let someone learning to drive practice, like a school parking lot on the weekend. Let Kitty out of her carrier and drive around while she explores the car. Every time she tries to get on your lap or down at your feet, use "No!" to stop her.

Once you are sure that your cat understands where he is allowed to ride, and feels comfortable in the car, take him on some short trips on real roads. He should soon settle into a routine, and ride comfortably and safely.

Yes, it's a little harder to train a cat to ride safely in your car, but it will pay off in your being able to take your feline companion along for the ride.

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My posts on Travel and Cancer Survival begin here.

The series of posts on my trip to Japan begins here.

The journal of my trip to India and Nepal begins here.

The series of posts on my trip to Italy begins here.

Geezer-Chick's guest blog on York, England is here.

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