Some cats are better travellers than others. While one kitty might panic and lash out at the mere sight of a cat carrier, another may simply delight in travel and thoroughly enjoy the open road. The calm, collected British Shorthair is generally one of the easiest breeds to travel with, although there’s a great deal of variation between individuals. In this article, we’ll look at different types of travel and share some tips on how you can make any trip stress-free and enjoyable for you and your cat.
Whether you’re planning a quick weekend away with your British Shorthair, a fortnight-long road-trip or even a transatlantic flight, the key to a successful journey is preparation. By doing your homework in advance you can avoid a lot of problems.
The first thing you need to do is to acclimate your cat to the mode of transport you’ll be using. If you’re taking her by car, get her used to taking short drives before moving on to longer ones. The same goes for trips by bus or train. This will help your cat to stay relaxed when it’s time for her epic voyage; the sounds, smells and sights will be familiar and less likely to induce distress.
While I’d normally discourage the use of food treats as rewards for a British Shorthair, this is the perfect time to break out some (small) snacks. Once you’ve acclimated her to trips of two hours or so, you can plan the trip around her regular mealtime so she connects the experience of travelling with a tasty bowl of her favourite cat food. British Shorthairs love to eat; if you can get her to associate travel with food, she’ll be much happier about the whole process. Ideally, you should start the process well ahead of time — at least a few weeks, if possible. These trial runs will help you identify any problems your cat might have with travel.
Motion sickness in Cats
A very common issue is motion sickness, which might not always be easy to spot on short trips. Even if your British Shorthair doesn’t actually vomit, she may still be in a lot of distress if she gets travel-sick. If your cat begins crying and doesn’t stop after a few minutes, motion sickness may be at fault. Other signs that your cat has motion sickness include excessive drooling, rigid immobility or signs of fearfulness and anxiety. Your cat may also lose control of her bowels or bladder if she is feeling very sick. You should ask your vet about remedies for motion sickness when you take your cat for her pre-trip checkup. Try the remedy out before the main trip in case it doesn’t work or causes an adverse reaction. In some cases, your pet may do better on a different mode of transport; cats who get sick on buses or in cars are often fine on a train, for example.
It’s vital to consult your vet ahead of any trips, especially if you’re going to be travelling internationally. Your vet can help you by providing the vaccinations your cat may need and by addressing any health issues that could impact your pet’s fitness to travel. Your vet may be able to give you valuable tips on travelling with your cat.
As well as treatments for motion sickness, some veterinarians may recommend a sedative to help keep your pet calm on a long trip. This could be something as simple as an over-the-counter antihistamine; for very anxious cats, however, a vet may choose to prescribe something stronger. Sedatives should be a last resort when non-medical solutions don’t work. You should discuss your options carefully and always try out the sedative at home. That way, you can see how it will affect your cat and make sure she doesn’t have any adverse reactions. It would be much harder to tackle a bad reaction to a sedative on a long train or plane trip than at home.
Make sure you know where you can get emergency veterinary assistance while you’re travelling. Find out if there’s a vet near your destination and make a note of any vet’s offices along the route.
Preparing your British Shorthair’s carrier
Take some time over choosing a cat carrier. For a one-off trip such as a change of address, her usual carrier will probably be fine as long as you’re not going to be on the road for more than a few hours. Make sure that any carrier you choose meets the requirements for the train or airline you’re travelling with. I like Mr. Peanut’s Airline Approved Carrier, which is sturdy, comfortable and meets most airline requirements.
Preparing your cat’s carrier or cage and ensuring that your cat is happy to enter it is important. If you introduce the carrier suddenly, without giving your cat time to get used to it, you’ll have problems. Take a soft towel or a small pet blanket and lay it on your cat’s bed or favourite sleeping spot; this will pick up the cat’s own familiar scent and pheromones. When placed in your cat’s carrier, the blanket will make it feel like home.
If the carrier is big enough, consider placing her whole bed inside (remember that you will probably need to wash it thoroughly afterwards). Encourage your cat to enter the carrier voluntarily by placing your cat’s food dish inside so she needs to duck in there to eat.
This gets your cat accustomed to the feel and smell of the carrier, while also associating it with food in her mind. Here the famous British Shorthair appetite will come to your assistance once again — this breed will go quite a long way for a snack. If your cat enjoys catnip, deploy a pinch or two in the carrier. On the day of travel, make sure your cat has a favourite toy in her carrier.
Preparing your British Shorthair for car trips
If your British Shorthair will be travelling by car, get her used to your car just as you would a cat carrier. Starting a few weeks before your trip, start giving your kitty some car time every day. Allow her to sniff around inside the car with the door open so she can easily leave (you may want to do this inside a closed garage so she doesn’t run off). Place her bedding on the seat, bring her into the car, shut the door and spend some time in the car with her. When you feed her, take her out to the car and place her food-bowl on the floor of the car. Suppertime is car time now.
If your cat likes catnip, drop a pinch on the floor or the seat where you plan to strap her carrier – I use catnip in spray for better results. Once she’s happy and confident in the car, you can start taking her for the trial journeys mentioned previously.
If your cat is really unhappy when you try to drive her around, it’s often because she’s not accustomed to the car. Give her more time to get used to being in the car, in or out of her carrier. Keep a supply of the really good treats that she gets at no other time. Start with a trip to the end of your drive and back, then around the block, and so on until she’s really calm and confident in the vehicle.
Some vets and pet owners recommend spraying carriers, and indeed vehicles themselves, with a pheromone spray such as Feliway. I’ve seen mixed results with this — it seems to work very well for some cat but not at all for others. I would strongly recommend trying the spray at home before your trip to see if it has any adverse effects. Some cat owners report that their pets interpreted the pheromone as scent marking by an unknown cat and responded with scratching or spraying, neither of which will be fun on a long journey. If you already use these sprays and your cat gets on well with them, then, by all means, spritz the carrier and your car before the cat gets in.
If you plan to travel regularly with your British Shorthair cat, harness training her will be tremendously helpful.
Cats, in general, are disinclined to accept a harness and lead — but the highly trainable British Shorthair can be induced to put up with, and even enjoy, being walked in a harness.
The mistake many people make is to thrust the harness on the cat and start dragging her around by the lead right away. It’s very important to let the cat get used to the harness before you even start trying to put it on her. Leave the harness and lead by her food bowl or cat bed so it picks up familiar smells and she gets used to having it around.
Progress to draping the harness loosely over her for progressively longer periods, then fastening it, then attaching the lead and finally walking her on the lead. At every stage, you should allow your cat to become completely comfortable before moving on to the next step. A harness-trained cat can easily be removed from the carrier and allowed to stretch her legs without fear that she’ll run off and get lost. Some cats are very frightened of new places but others are wildly curious and will thoroughly enjoy a quick stroll around the rest stop, bus depot or railway station. A good harness and lead also give you something to grab hold of if your cat somehow works loose from her carrier when she’s not supposed to.
Consider in advance what you’re going to do about the litter-box issue. If your cat is travelling in a large enough cage and you don’t expect a rough trip, you might think about placing a small litter-box in there with her. If not, make sure the carrier or cage is well-lined with old newspaper and that all the items in it can easily be washed. You can keep the litter-box outside of the carrier provided you’re planning to provide access as soon as possible after the trip is over.
Arranging accommodation and transport
Don’t assume that your airline, railway or bus company will automatically allow your cat on board, even if she’s safely ensconced in her carrier. The rules vary between companies; even if you’ve previously travelled with her using Airline A, Airline B may have a very different policy. Some companies have hard-and-fast rules banning pets or will insist that your British Shorthair travel in a baggage compartment, etc. Be absolutely certain of the policies and regulations currently in effect before you book your tickets and double-check everything before you leave. This is especially important if you’re travelling abroad with your British Shorthair cat; you will need to check the regulations surrounding animals brought into your destination country as well as the requirements for your airline, train, local bus etc.
The same goes for your hotel or other accommodation. You must make absolutely certain that you will be allowed to bring your cat or else make alternative arrangements for her to stay somewhere else. If the hotel does allow pets, find out what their requirements are and if they make additional charges for bringing your cat with you. Your cat may be allowed to stay in your suite but some establishments will want her to stay in pet accommodations on site. Check first and, if at all possible, find reviews and recommendations from other cat owners who’ve stayed there before you.
On the day of travel
It’s finally time to set off on your adventure. Feed your British Shorthair cat three to four hours before the trip; this will ensure that she has time to use her litter-box but will help prevent her from getting either nauseous or hungry on the road. Help your cat burn off some energy before the trip by taking her for a walk (if she’s harness trained) or simply engaging her in some vigorous play.
Your cat should run around as much as possible before the trip so she’s relaxed and ready for a nap before she goes in her carrier, so break out the teaser toys and be prepared to get a little out of breath yourself. Make sure her carrier is stocked with comfy bedding, a toy or two and maybe a treat for the road. Administer any anti-nausea or sedative medications as indicated by your vet, ensuring that they have time to work before the trip starts. When carrying your cat outside, you may want to cover her cage or carrier with a blanket; nervous cats can fret when they see and smell the unfamiliar outdoor world.
What to pack
Bring along your British Shorthair’s favourite toys, bed and blanket. Take food; in this one instance, I would suggest dry food as it’s easier to transport, although pouches are also fine. Tins can be tricky to manage as the food will spoil once they’re open. You will also need food and water bowls; plastic or paper is okay as long as you dispose of them and don’t re-use them as they can harbour germs.
Bring a small litter tray, kitty litter, a scooper, odour-elimination bags and preferably a container with a lid to store them in until you can get to a bin. If you have space it’s a good idea to bottle some water from your own tap and bring it along — unfamiliar water may smell off-putting to your cat and could even upset her stomach.
Don’t forget her tags, medication and vaccination records. The latter item may be required on some journeys — for example, if you’re travelling between states in the US or if you’re getting on a plane. Your cat should have an identifying collar and be microchipped.
Travelling with British Shorthair cats on the bus or train
Be advised that many long-distance bus or coach lines ban all animals other than trained service animals (as distinct from untrained “emotional support” animals, which are usually prohibited). You will not be allowed to board the bus with your cat so don’t try; you will be turned away no matter how cute and well-behaved your British Shorthair is. Some smaller local bus lines will permit you to bring your cat if she’s properly secured in her kitty carrier; do contact the bus company first to check. Ideally, you should be able to place your cat on your lap in her carrier, or potentially on the seat next to you. The next best thing is to place her in a dedicated baggage area at eye level and sit nearby, although this may be difficult to arrange.
You may be able to take your cat on a train. This varies greatly between companies; some have weight restrictions or won’t allow your pet to travel on longer trips. There are often specific requirements about the carrier you can use. Some operators will want you to pay a surcharge for your cat while others will include the carrier as part of your normal baggage. Many operators now require vaccination records for animals travelling on their trains so make sure you have up-to-date documentation with you.
Under no circumstances should you try to sneak your cat onto a bus, train or another mode of transport without permission. It’s all too easy for her to be discovered, in which case you’d be thrown off the bus. Worse yet, she might get out of her carrier and find herself trapped amid wildly shifting bags and cases in the baggage compartment. Find a better way.
Travelling with British Shorthair cats by plane
The first question people usually ask is “Is it safe to fly with my British Shorthair?” The answer is “yes”, as long as you’re careful and well-prepared. Many airlines allow small animals such as cats to travel with their owners in the cabin on a lot of flights; you will have to buy your cat a ticket just as if she was a human, as she’ll be taking up a seat. Avoid placing your cat in the cargo hold — this should only be considered if you have several cats or a very vocal and aggressive one (highly unlikely with this soft-spoken, well-behaved breed). If you’re planning a very long flight, it’s a good idea to take your British Shorthair on one or two shorter flights ahead of time so that both of you can get used to the proceedings.
Give your cat the opportunity to use her litter-box before you leave for the airport. Don’t remove her from her carrier once you get there unless you have her in a harness with a secure lead, as an anxious cat can easily run off and get lost in an airport. Ensure that she’s wearing her collar and has everything she needs in her carrier. I would avoid placing snacks in her carrier as cats should not eat on aeroplanes.
Do NOT let your British Shorthair go through the X-ray machine at the airport. The carrier may go through if security staff insist; the cat should be carried carefully through the metal detector (hang onto her lead as she may take the opportunity to bolt). Cats in crates must not go through the X-ray machine — speak to the check-in staff about where to drop off the crate and where to pick your British Shorthair up at the other end.
Your British Shorthair’s carrier should fit under the seat in front of you or on the seat next to you. Check on your cat now and again but don’t interact too much — she needs to stay calm and quiet in her carrier until the journey is over.
Travelling with British Shorthair cats by car
In many ways, cars are better than planes and public transport for travelling with your British Shorthair cat. When you transport your British Shorthair cat by car, you can control more of the variables. It’s also much easier to bring all your kitty’s equipment with you if you can pop it in the boot. I’ve never had any real problems training my cats to travel in the car; after they were accustomed to it, they seemed to actively enjoy car trips.
Your cat should travel in the car with you (never in the boot!), in an appropriate carrier that is firmly secured to the car seat. In the event of a sudden stop or an accident, her carrier should not shift or (perish the thought) be thrown off the seat. You can obtain suitable carriers from pet stores or online. The one I like for car trips with a cat is the Sleepypod Mobile Pet Bed & Carrier; this can be securely fastened using your car’s own seatbelts and converts into a pet bed when you’re not travelling. If your British Shorthair is on the larger side you might need something a bit more capacious.
Travelling with British Shorthair cats by RV
Much of what we’ve discussed with regards to cats in cars go for trips in a caravan or RV. Your cat must be properly secured in her carrier when the vehicle is in motion. The difference here is that your kitty will need to be out of her carrier when you’re not on the road. Acclimate your cat to the RV as described for cars; let your cat explore inside it at her leisure, place her bedding on the seats, give her her meals in the RV. Take her on progressively longer drives and get her used to being strapped into the seat in her carrier.
Things can get a bit trickier when you come to park your RV and open the door. Be very careful that your cat is in her carrier with the latch closed, or in her harness with her lead held by a person or secured to something inside the RV. Even the best-behaved cat may run off and become lost in a new and unfamiliar location.
To give your cat some space while still keeping her secure when people are entering and leaving the RV, it’s not a bad idea to invest in a larger pet crate where she can have more room to move about. This should be large enough to allow your British Shorthair to stand up, turn around and stretch out to her full length. Her bed and litter-box can be placed in the crate with her. I prefer a crate with lots of visibility rather than one that only has a grille at either end. For instance, there’s the !RIS Pet Wire Dog Crate, which is spacious enough for a hefty British Shorthair cat and lets her see everything that’s going on.
Arriving at a hotel with your British Shorthair cat
You will, of course, have checked and double-checked that your cat is welcome at the hotel and found out what services are available to help her stay comfortable and feel safe during her stay. In general, you’ll probably be keeping her in her carrier when you’re not around and letting her out to play when you’re in the room.
Don’t immediately take her out of the carrier or leave her alone as soon as you arrive. Instead, give her some time to get used to the room from the safety of the carrier. Talk to her and let her see you; feed her a treat or two to help her feel happy and secure. If your cat is one of those who responds well to pheromone therapy, spray the room or plug in the diffuser.
Once your kitty seems settled and relaxed, you can start introducing her to the room. I would strongly recommend putting your cat in a harness to do this; even the stolid British Shorthair can sometimes overreact to being in an unfamiliar space and run off to hide somewhere. Being a cat, of course, she will manage to teleport herself into the least accessible spot in the room. You don’t want to spend your first night trying to coax her out of the bed-base or down from the wardrobe. Let her walk around on the lead and have a good sniff at everything so she feels at home.
If you’re just popping out of the room for dinner or a dip in the hotel pool, it’s probably okay to leave your British Shorthair in her carrier for an hour or two, especially if you play with her and give her lots of attention first. You might want to put something over the carrier to help her feel relaxed.
Leave out the Do Not Disturb sign and consider putting a note on your door to alert housekeeping staff that there’s a cat in the room and remind them not to open the carrier. Your cat will not mind too much if you leave her alone for an afternoon or even longer, provided she’s not too cooped up; if you’re going out for a day’s sightseeing, it’s not fair to leave her in her carrier or cage. British Shorthairs are tremendously independent cats and do very well when left to their own devices. That said, it’s a good idea to ensure that your cat has plenty of familiar items around if she’s going to be on her own.
Give her plenty of attention and play with her for at least 15 minutes before you leave. If nobody will be staying near the hotel suite to check on her, shut your cat in the bathroom with her litter-box, food, bed and other goodies. The bathroom is a nice, quiet place with a floor that’s easy to clean in case of accidents and little or no upholstery for her to claw if she gets agitated. Put a note on the door to let housekeeping know that there is a cat loose in the bathroom and not to open the door in case she gets out. Some very pet-friendly hotels may even offer cat-sitting if you’re lucky.