How do you travel with a cat? How do you carry her? What does she eat? Does she like moving? Is it really possible to hitchhike with a cat? Many questions come up when people spot Burma on our shoulders or walking alongside us uphill in the mountains. And we must confess that we had no pre-planned methods, that she taught us with trial and error what she likes or hates, and we simply had to adapt. But we also have to say that once we took her, we knew that we would have to change the our way of travel, and as we often joke the moment we rescued a kitten, our journey finished and started the travel of Burma the cat.
You have rescued a tiny furry friend, which is now safe from freezing, hunger and parasites. She is cute, cuter than anything, and she sleeps most of the time. Maybe it turns out you are on the move, and maybe nobody else cares for the cute little thing. Or that you do not want to leave your cat friend behind. And you somehow feel ready for cat-adventures! You would love to carry her around, and already see yourself with a non-human companions, surfing the road, climbing mountains, walking paths… it all looks beautifully romantic in your mind, and it makes a great picture for instagram. But sooner than you expect you will come to realize that your companion needs much more care than you had thought. She needs to be looked after, to be fed more often than yourself, she needs to find a very particular toilet spot, and all other sort of cat stuff. Sometimes she will walk alongside you but other times, many others, she will have something else in mind: a lizard to hunt, some fly to follow, the will to sleep of to jump and run. She will need medicines, vaccines and proper food. Travelling with a cat will restrict your movement, your travelling freedom, your plans. In a way it might be easy, a better companion than many human travellers, and at least easier than it sounds in this paragraph. But one needs to adapt to the rhythms and will of a hitchhiking cat. Since we met Burma, a year back, we have changed the way we travel, the places we go, our pace and daily life. Sometimes it’s been difficult, and sometimes smooth, it all depends on Burma’s mood.
Even if none of this is your case, and you simply live at home with your cat friend, but would like to see the world and do not want to live her behind. Or if you just want to take your cat somewhere for a weekend, but have no car of your own. Maybe you want to know if other cats like hiking mountains. Then, probably you will also find this information useful. But take our advices with caution, for every cat is his own master, and we only know how to travel with one.
1. How does a cat hitchhike?
Most websites dealing with travelling pets recommend special crates. Although they are certainly the best and safest option for usual travels, by car, train and certainly plane, they might be heavy and almost impossible to handle while hitchhiking, but in any case so far we have not come across any we could buy (even at specialised vets we were told we need to order them somewhere else), so as Burma grew up we had to find her new transport arrangements, are these are the options we have used so far.
Burma travelled in a basket
At first, while she was a tiny kitten in a small green plastic basket with closable lid and handles, from a local market (we have seen them all over India and Myanmar, we are not sure about other countries). It was small enough to put it in between our legs while hitchhiking cars, wide enough for a tiny kitten to move around and easy to clean. For warmth and comfort we used cotton and fleece fabrics, because kittens need a soft and very warm place to sleep all day.
For a while, Burma travelled in a bamboo basket too. It was a beautiful and hand-made specially for her by one of our neighbours in Sikkim. It had a bamboo grid lid, that was a bit uncomfortable to handle, and the basket was too big for us to carry it easily, but that meant it was also wide enough for her to turn and stand. We thought she would love it, but she did not. We left Sikkim in a rush, due to some emergency, and Burma had no time to explore and accept her new home before she saw herself locked inside it for hours of jeep and train travels, leaving behind her freedom to run around a village house and gardens for two months. That basket probably represented jail and when she was not inside she made sure to pee on it a few times every day, till the stench was un-washable and we left the basket behind.
Later on we bought once again a wide plastic basket, with lid and handles, to avoid problems with conductors when travelling by train in India and to keep her safe from intruders and curious hands that want to pet her when she does not want. We left next the basket next to our backpacks for her inspection in advance, and so far we have not experienced the problems she had with the bamboo one, so we wondered why on earth she prefers plastic better than bamboo. Who knows, cats are particular about all things.
For the last bit of our journey across Asia we finally managed to find a proper soft pet carrier, that is officially accepted in all pubñic transport (and of course cars we hitchhike). It has little windows with nets, a hard plastic bottom and it is easier to carry than any of the baskets we have ever had. But we are not in search for a cat-travel-backpack, that will make our weekly mountain trips a hundred times easier when Burma gets tired of hiking uphill.
Our tips about cat-baskets / carriers:
Let the basket or crate be wide enough for the cat to move, to sleep comfortably and to stand. She might be locked in for a few hours at a time, imagine how you would feel inside.
Make sure it can be properly locked, or your furry friend may scape if she gets stressed or afraid (specially of loud noises by the roadside), but also make sure you remember that she is locked inside, and not keep her in for too long.
Let her accept the basket before she starts to travel inside it. Putting her food plate in with some special treat, like sardines in tomato sauce, worked well for us.
A cat on a leash
I always found it ridiculous to see a cat on a leash, and when we heard somebody speak on our back the other day “cats should be free” I remembered that I would have always agreed. Always, before starting to travel with a cat. One does not always have a home with a garden where cats can roam freely and come indoors to sleep, and by the time Burma was too big for the small box and too angry with the bamboo one, a harness and leash saved us more trouble than we could have imagined. The leash is mostly to keep her safe, and prevent her from running too far away in dangerous places or when she gets stressed (i.e. roadside, truck windows, streets with dogs, crowds of little kids, etc), but we do not usually walk her like a dog. If we ever do, it is in fact she who walks us around, out of the asphalt into whichever shadowy and green area she can spot. She also likes walking when we hike, and rushes up and down, or follows us, but then a leash is not needed most of the time.
Burma always complains when we put the harness on, always. But depending on her mood, it might be a slight complain or a hard one, with nails. We have heard that other cats will reject to wear one, maybe starting with these things when little is the best tip of all. Once she has it on she does not mind it, can wear it for hours, and even falls asleep with he harness on, and when we try to take it out, she usually complains again. She has been using harness and leash for over four months now, but there is one thing she cannot get her head around: “entanglement”. There is no chance that she will ever understand that if she goes round and round the leg of a chair, at some point she will get stuck. If your cat is as silly as ours, just watch out for her, if she is too quiet for a while we know she must be somewhere stuck.
Our tips for carrying a cat on a leash:
- Use a harness, not just a collar.
Make sure it is tight enough that she can’t slid out of it, but loose enough that it does not press her chest.
To put the harness on, we can just wish you good luck. Sometimes giving her something to play with helps, sometimes not at all.
“It’s a cat, not a parrot”
Oh, yes, we definitely know that. But she loves to jump up on our shoulders when she is bored, tired or frightened. Most of the time Burma does not walk; she prefers to hang on our backpacks or shoulders instead, and is most comfortable in the gap between the backpack and the back. And she sometimes climbs up and down if she feels like.
Up there she is safe from cars and scooters, from dirt and from dogs. But she is warm, hot like a woolen scarf in the peak of summer, warm for our necks and for herself aswell. In sunny days, we have found out that she cannot stand travelling on our shoulders for long, nor anywhere under the sun, and we need to walk from one shadow to the next. We have tried with an umbrella, and it helps for a short while, but soon it gets too hot underneath it as well, and shadow is the only place where we can safely hitchhike.
Our tips for parrot-cats:
It’s safer to have her anyway on a leash. When she was a tiny kitten it was no problem, but now she is too fast and can jump pretty far in a blink.
- If she wants to jump down from your shoulder, listen to her, cats have their reasons.
In hot places, move fast, search for shadow and give her water often, if cold was dangerous for kittens, heat can be very harmful for a grown up cat.
2. What does she eat?
Cat food, whenever we can find, and the best sort we can find around. And otherwise chicken or fish fresh from the market, boiled and without any condiments or canned sardines (in tomato sauce they used to be her favourite meal). While in India we usually mixed any of these things with either rice or chapati (indian bread without yeast). Sometimes, when there was nothing else around, she ate the yolk of boiled eggs or a bit of milk with rice, but we have observed (and then read) that such stuff are not too good for cats, specially milk because they are actually lacto-intolerant, despite the popular belief that cats can survive on cow’s milk.
We were surprised to discover that she loves tomatoes, but supposed it was because of the sardines sauce. But since recently we know that she also loves papaya, cucumber and water melon. Such things won’t feed her properly, but she likes liking a piece of fruit when the weather is hot. There are things, however, that she does not like at all, and as far as we have seen they are exactly those that could cause her harm, like onion or sweet stuff.
Cats usually don’t drink water, they get it from the food they eat, but it’s so hot in India that Burma is always thirsty, so we never forget to leave a bowl with water next to the food, although to be honest she prefers to drink from the bathroom tap….
Our tips for travelling cat food:
- Find the best food you can. There are plenty of webs on cat healthy habits and nutrition, if you are in doubt.
- Where cat-friendly food does not abound it helps to give her some choices and she can decide
- If you cat does not like something, like onion or garlic or biscuits, it’s probably because it’s not good for her.
- But there are other things, like tuna or liver, which she may like but are also not good in the long run, just check around the internet if you plan to feed her such “posh” stuff.
3. Cat toilet on the move
Many people ask us what she is or where she sleeps, but few dare asking where she pees. Maybe because cats are supposedly picky about this, maybe because they are afraid of what we will say. Burma has small plastic tray, that we can easily wash anywhere with soap. We fill it with sand and that’s her toilet while we are in guesthouses or people’s homes. She is so used to it being her toilet that even when it is empty, and we are travelling on a train, she will use it anyway. On the road, she prefers to walk out and find her own spot with shadow and soft sand. And if she ever litters somewhere where she should not, which unfortunately has happened before (specially while she was in heat) we pick her stuff and clean the spot with disinfectant before we move on.
There is advice all around on how much and how often to feed your cat when travelling to control her toilet scheme, but when you are continuously on the move, one cannot just let her starve. So we try to hitchhike with more breaks, and time ourselves, so for example we usually wait till she goes to the toilet in the morning, before we start to walk and hitchhike. It only happened when she was a kitten, and she could not control herself well, that she would sometimes pee inside her box while we were on the move. And then, in the evening time, cursing us for not having found her a toilet on time, she would pee on our clothes or sleeping bags. A revengeful kitten she was.
Tips for cat toilet on the move:
Take toilet rests in between rides. If we feel like peeing, she probably needs it as well.
Read the signs, if she is roaming around searching for some dusty corner to scratch, she probably needs toilet. If we ever do not take a toilet break, we will be the one to suffer the consequences. Remember, the cat knows how to take revenge.
No matter how many times she will need toilet, we never prevent her from drinking water, that could be very bad. And we can give her just a little food while on long rides, but not make her starve, it’s not her fault that we want to travel and carry her around, so we better adapt a little to what she needs and wants.
4. Do cats like travelling?
We are not sure about that. Burma is usually quite happy when we stay longer in a place with rooftop, garden or yard, away from angry dogs and cars, where she can jump around and reign over the house like a feline queen. And we have read that cats are so territorial that they can get distressed when changing locations. But she is not that bad, when she gets to a new place, she walks around, smells all corners, doors and curtains, and finds the softest spot in the nicest bed to lay on…. but she got used to movement, changes, trucks, cars and buses since the age of 13 days, and the bouncing movement of transport, makes her stay seating and quiet most of the times. Sometimes she likes watching out of the window, and sometimes she sleeps on our backpack or lap. She cannot tell us if she likes it, but except for a few occasions, like noisy rickshaws and long rides, she usually does not mind.
What we are sure about is that our cat loves to hike. She jumps around, runs around, hike up-hill, and then stops to wait for us. When we go hiking we take a long extendable leash with us, for the more crowded areas where there might be people with dogs, and then, when the paths are empty, we let her free. Of course, our hikes have become pretty slow, since we need to stop every now and again, when she finds something to explore.
For a few days it happened, though, hat we were on the road while she was on heat, and I do not wish anybody as difficult task as that. She would shriek, try to escape and scratch, and only Boris could barely control her and make her calm. We tried to chose our transport, better air conditioned and not too full, rejecting rides that we would otherwise take without thinking twice. But that’s part of the journey, now we are three travellers and need to look after the well-being of all.
Our tips for cat-friendly travels:
- Start early, as a kitten she may get used to moving around. Afterwards everything gets harder
- Listen to her, if she is stressed, you will be the one to suffer
- Choose transport that is convenient for your cat. In our case, noisy transport, like scooters and rickshaws are to be avoided.
5. Do people pick hitchhikers with a cat?
So far so good. We have never been rejected a ride, and never got complains. But as we said, she is quite used to travelling, rarely complains, and in India there are little (or none) restrictions on travelling with animals, so not only while hitchhiking, but also by bus or train we have always been allowed to carry her.
Sometimes, however, a conductor may appear from behind the curtain with some remarks or mild complains. In this case we show her pet passport, with all her vaccines, vet visits and health certificate, and explain that with this document she can board even a plane, so there should be no problem to travel in any other transport.
Tips for transport in India (other countries may have strict regulations):
Carry your cat passport or proof of vaccines. People do not know in advance that your cat is free from disease, and it’s a god idea to show a reassuring document.
6. Where do you sleep with a cat?
Burma sleeps all the time, wherever she feels like and no matter the noise around, but we had to change our travel patterns to make her travel safer and either warmer when cold or ventilated when too warm.
Burma has made camping a bit harder, specially in India where it’s generally difficult to camp by the roadside. If for us the combination of fields, curious people, waste and dogs was hard to handle, even more for a cat. The tent is pretty warm and, as we said, she suffers with heat, so we have been restricted when it comes to sleeping for free. We have slept a few times in rooftops, like we used to do before we found her, but they are also tricky with the cat, if there are monkeys, crows, or if you do not want to keep her in the box or on a leash all night.
While sleeping ourdoors in Tripura, for example, she was still small and we kept her inside the mosquito net all night, if she started to miaou, we would stand up and let get go out to the toilet under our watch.
So since we travel with Burma we stay more in hostels, and in India never had a problem neither with the management nor with the guests, even in dormitories. Once a girl was afraid of cats, but the dormitory was divided in male and female areas, so despite being female Burma was allowed with Boris and the guys.
The best solution for us was to find and rent a small house in a village, with space for her to roam more freely. We did it several times around India, trying to find places that were good for her as well as us. In north east India it was important to keep the room warm, and Burma always preferred soft blankets over floors. But when we came down to the tropical heat, a room with ventilator and with a window to the outside is a must. If we are somewhere with a balcony, she likes to roam around
Couchsurfers have always rejected our requests fo far, since we travel with a cat, but friends and people who took us home along the way, have been really cool with the cat, even when she was on heat and miaouing like crazy all around, so we are really thankful for that.
A cat in the house:
When she is in a safe place and we are going for walks in town, sometimes we let her alone at home, since the stress of rickshaws, people, noise and pollution freaks her out.
When leaving her at home we make sure she can’t escape through an open window (because when she does she jumps around rooftops, and may get lost if we are not around).
But it’s very important that the place is ventilated, so we either leave a window open with mosquito net, or a fan on.
And we try not to stay away for too long. She likes company.
7. What about crossing borders?
We have crossed 8 borders with Burma, and not ony has she hitchhiked most of the way, but also crossed once by plane and once by ferry over the Caspian. Cats, and dogs, officially needs a pet passport to cross countries, which is a collection of documents proving she is free from diseases and fit to travel. In some land borders nobody wants to bother checking the documents, but it is worth knowing well the regulations, and important to keep the passport up to date to avoid problems with quarantine and veterinary authorities.
For general info on pet passport regulations by country we usually check this site.
And here is how we arranged her EU pet passport and all other documents to travel from India to Europe, mostly overland.
VERY IMPORTANT NOTES
We have been hearing curious, albeit sad, stories from travellers who think it is cool to travel with an animal for a while. And although we agree with them that it is wonderful to have a pet companion, we firmly believe one needs a good dose of responsibility when caring for another being. This is why we wanted to add some comments that may help someone making the best decision when considering to take an animal on the road:
- If you think that travelling with a cat is cool, then think twice before picking an animal as a road companion (cat, dog, parrot, mouse or spider). Are you ready to take care of it? To take it to the vet? To arrange the travel documents? To look for good food? Are you ready to change your travel plans if needed, or will you leave your friend behind when you are turned back in the first border?
- A cat is not a toy. And travelling with an animal means an extra effort, please be responsible and think if you are ready to leave behind your travel-freedom when your pet-friend needs care.
- Does the cat need your help? In the case of abandoned kittens, one should make sure they are really abandoned before disturbing their nest. If the animal needs food or veterinary help the kindest thing one can do is to provide it.
- Grown-up cats and other animals have their lives, friends and territories. Many of them of them would like to hang around with travellers for a while, specially if we have food. But that does not mean they need or want to travel with us. Animals make decisions in the moment, without thinking of the consequences. If you get totally attached to an animal, but are unsure your friend’s desires or about about any of the above, you can consider sticking around the animal for a few days (around his town, neighbourhood, home) rather than picking it up straight away.
- If the cat lives with you, then the whole issue is different. Does the cat like going out? Will it adapt to life on the road? Only you can guess. And probably taking it around as a kitten is wise if you plan to travel later on. In this group you can find stories of other travelling cats (in Spanish, though).