For long distance travel, you — and your cat — are going to need a litter box and litter. According to various studies on long-distance driving by everyone, we should take a break every 2-3 hours when driving longs distances.(And if you want some more good advice on avoiding Driving Fatigue and arriving alive, check out this well annotated 3-page PDF on Managing Long Drives and Fatigue Based on Scientific Evidence.) Often we take advantage of these break times to stretch, grab a bite and use the bathroom. Our cats need these breaks as well — for the same reasons. But the big difference is that our cat’s toilet doesn’t flush!
Travel litter boxes are often like port-potties, adequate but hardly comfortable. Often they are smaller than usual, flimsier than usual and much too close to where the cat will eat and sleep on the trip. And in a small, confined — often enclosed — space that we share with our cats for the duration of the trip. For these reasons, cat litter choice and maintenance becomes more important.
Tips for Choosing the Right Travel Cat Litter and Litter Box
Find a low — or no — dust option. Not only will your cat be inhaling the dust in a confined space, but so will you! The dust will get all over and in everything — food, clothing, water, gear and lungs. What goes in our lungs stays in our lungs. (This is why we should use non-clumping cat litter for kittens. Kittens have died of asphyxiation from having little lungs filled clumping cat litter dust.)
Consider odor control. Avoid scented litter. Sometimes the scent that is perfectly fine at home is too much in the limited space in the vehicle. This includes the scent of some clay litter alternatives. Not only do cats find it annoying, but in the enclosed confines of your vehicle you may find the scent overwhelming and irritating, too. Choose an unscented cat litter and consider mixing some good, old-fashioned baking soda in with the litter to cut odors. (Also check out my discussion on cat travel food and the advantages of poo odor-reducing food.)
Odor and texture are important issues for choosing a travel cat litter. Cats can be particular about the feel of the cat litter as well as the scent. Not only non-clay alternative litters, BLUE Naturally Fresh Multi-Cat Quick-Clumping Cat Litter or SmartCat All Natural Clumping Litter, but clay-based litters can have different textures. Whatever litter you plan to use, be certain to introduce it and test it BEFORE you hit the road!
A change in litter, like a change in food, should be introduced gradually. (Cats really, really hate change.) Ideally, you should give your cat 4-6 weeks to get used to the litter (and food) by increasing the amount of new litter brand into the litter box until you are just using the new litter. In a pinch, I’ve made the transition in less than a week, but rarely without consequences. Princess Nell was especially clear in her displeasure. she would make certain I saw her hesitate to enter the box and then would step out of the box and scratch for 10-20 minutes outside the box — until I came in and said “Enough. I get the message.”
Keep in mind that cats feel vulnerable while urinating or defecating, so some cats have trouble, or simply won’t, go to the bathroom when traveling. For these cats, plan an extended stop, such as overnight and give them some privacy in a quiet, safe environment.(No motels with bus loads of state champion fans celebrating.) Others may experience the opposite problem and have trouble controlling their bowels and bladders. For these cats, more frequent breaks — and frequent cat box cleaning — will make you both a lot happier. Be patience with your cat and try to accommodate them.
Consider a high-sided litter box for the trip instead of the usual, shallow litter box. They make top-entry cat litter boxes which many cats prefer to open litter boxes (but that’s another post), however, a sturdy, cardboard box with high-sides and open top will do. If your cat seems hesitant, you can even cut a small entry hole in one side. The high sides keep the litter from scattering everywhere in the cat carrier and the vehicle, and may provide a secure hiding place for nervous cats. Just make certain the box is large enough to hold your biggest cat.
Keep the litter box clean! I’ve used large plastic trash bags (preferably biodegradable or made with recycled plastic) to line my boxes and simply trashed the litter every day, but many of my cats haven’t liked the texture of the trash bags in the box. Or they have taken great delight in shredding the trash bags — so I end up need a trash bag for the trash bag! I’m now a big fan of Nature’s Miracle Disposable Litter Boxes, which I use inside my plastic litter box to make a complete clean out easier. I can simply set one of the disposable litter boxes inside a plastic pan (or even an aluminum roasting pan) and discarded the biodegradable box at the end of the trip.
Remember, our goal is to make the travel as safe and as comfortable as possible for our cats — and ourselves.