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An owner’s experience:
‘Travel on public transport at quiet times’
Cat owner Kelly Russell often had to take her three cats, Zingi, Twinky and Bobo, with her on the train when she visited family in Essex and Suffolk. It was a three-hour round trip and involved several changes across busy London stations. She did so armed with two cat carriers, as Zingi and Twinky were happy to be kept together. ‘But if you have more than one cat, separate those who don’t get on, so they’re not in a small, confined space together for a prolonged period of time,’ she says.
Kelly always travelled off-peak and made sure to get a seat at a table. ‘That way, I could put both cat carriers in front of me, so they’d be reassured by my presence,’ she explains.
‘The other passengers were often bemused by the sight of a small lady travelling with all these cats,’ says Kelly. And there was one particular trip that stands out for its absurdity: ‘We were resting on a bench at Liverpool Street station, when a pigeon suddenly flew up and peered into the cat carriers,’ says Kelly. ‘Another pigeon joined it, then another, and then another. All these pigeons were just peering in at the cats, cooing delightedly, almost as if they were taunting them. We just couldn’t believe the cheek!’ Luckily, thanks to Kelly’s determination to keep them reassured with lots of gentle praise and contact, the cats emerged no worse for their experience.
Advice from the experts:
‘I often need to take my cat, Humphrey, on car trips to the clinic,’ says Dr Jeremy Campbell, a feline vet and Clinical Director of The London Cat Clinic (a veterinary practice specialising in feline medicine).
Jeremy’s advice is to get your cat used to their carrier well in advance of any journeys. ‘The key is preparation rather than reaction,’ he says. ‘Try to keep every aspect of your cat’s journey as familiar as possible. Our cat carrier is never shut away and, because it’s always filled with Humphrey’s usual bedding, toys and occasional treats, he sees it as an extension of his environment.’
For longer trips, Jeremy recommends experimenting with your carrier’s placement and position. For example, nervous cats may respond well to having a towel placed over their carrier, while others may prefer to see out. Having access to fresh water right up until the start of a big journey is also important. And Jeremy suggests feeding your cat a light, high protein meal, like boiled chicken or fish, three to four hours before you set off.
‘I also use a calming pheromone spray for Humphrey, as this has been proven to help cats feel more relaxed in potentially stressful situations,’ adds Jeremy.
‘Create a safe space on the trip, and at your destination’
‘It’s never a good idea to take your cat on unnecessary journeys, but some trips are unavoidable,’ says Inga MacKellar, a clinical animal behaviourist. When she moved from East Sussex to Wales a few years ago, she had to take her two eight-year-old cats, Lloyd and Joe, on the five-hour drive to her new home.
To help the trip go smoothly, she invested in a large, well ventilated dog crate. It had room for the cats to move around in, as well as enough space for a litter tray and a small cardboard box to hide in. She also attached a water bowl to the crate’s bars to avoid any spillages.
‘I put Joe and Lloyd’s unwashed cat beds inside, as being surrounded by a familiar scent is extremely important to cats and can help them feel safer,’ Inga explains. ‘And sudden light changes from sunshine and shadows can be frightening for them, so I used a quilt to shield the crate.’
Once they’d arrived at their destination, Inga kitted out a room just for the cats, stocking it with their old scratching post, blankets, beds, toys, litter trays and food and water bowls. She also plugged in a pheromone diffuser, put a radio on to muffle any loud noises and made sure that there were enough safe spots for them to hide if needed. ‘I kept them in this room for a few days, sitting with them frequently, until the removal men had delivered all the furniture,’ she recalls. ‘But I let them out of the room at night so they could explore when it was quiet. When all the furniture was in place, their door was kept open and they could retreat back to their safe space if they became spooked.’