Looking ahead to brighter days, Driftwood is proud to share the work of first year MFA student, Jillian Borukhovich, who has a tip or two for those of us with hopes of bringing our feline friends along on future adventures.
As a college student or graduate student, you’ll probably be making plenty of trips back home to see your family on holidays or breaks. Now, what happens when you’re a pet owner and don’t have anyone to take care of your animals while you’re away? My first time traveling back home from grad school was nerve-wracking because I had just moved to a new city and didn’t know many people who could watch my cat, Louie. I made the decision to take him back home with me, but I worried about how Louie would do in an airport. He did surprisingly well, save for a few moments where I could tell he was uncomfortable and scared. As a cat owner, my goal is always to keep my cat safe and happy. I learned a few things through traveling with Louie that help me achieve that goal, and which might help you if you’re worried about traveling with your cat.
1. Say Yes to “Drugs”
If your cat is anything like mine, pretty much everything they’re not used to will make them nervous. Loud sounds, new people, weird smells—everything you’d expect when traveling. When I was preparing for the twelve-hour drive from Illinois to New Orleans, I talked to Louie’s vet to see if I could give him anything that would calm him down. They prescribed Gabapentin—a medication that, when taken by humans, treats nerve pain and even seizures. When given in small doses to a cat, it can lower anxiety and make them drowsy. Benadryl is also known to do the same for pets. It comes in a capsule, so all you need to do is open it up and pour the powder into your cat’s wet food, though Louie prefers tuna. Make sure to feed this to them a couple hours in advance of the flight or drive, because it can take awhile for the effects to kick in. Every cat is different, so please talk to your cat’s vet before giving them any sort of medication that isn’t prescribed to them.
2. Treats and Toys
Being cooped up in a tiny space isn’t fun for anyone, especially not cats. When I travel with Louie, I try to make his carrier as comfortable as possible for him. I lay down his favorite purple blanket on the bottom and put some of his favorite soft toys in there with him. I want him to have things with him that he’s familiar with, that smell like home, to ease some of his fear. Even though there’s no space to play in those tiny carriers, at least your cat will have something to curl up with and feel safe. I also bring cat treats with me whenever I travel with Louie. When I hear him crying or getting antsy, I drop a few treats into the carrier to make him happy. Traveling can be a long process, and it’s hard to feed your cat when you can’t take them out of their carrier. Giving them treats often will act as a little snack to hold them over until you reach your destination and as a small distraction from the chaos of airports.
3. Keep Your Friends Close and Your Cat Even Closer
When taking your cat through security at the airport, the TSA will most likely ask you to take your cat out of the carrier so they can search it. The first time I flew with Louie, I was very hesitant to remove him from his carrier, with him being so squirmy. I had visions of him jumping out of my arms and running through the airport, and I’d never see him again. Sometimes, if the TSA agent you’re dealing with is accommodating, they’ll take you to a closed room to ensure your cat’s safety. Other times, you won’t be so lucky. If you decide to medicate your cat with Benadryl or Gabapentin, they’ll be so out of it that holding them won’t be an issue. But that doesn’t mean the fear of losing your cat will go away. The best advice I can give is to hold them close to your chest with their feet tucked in your hands. Once you make it out of security, though, the airport is still a busy, chaotic place. Make sure you always keep your cat carrier close to you, even in the bathroom stalls. Once, as I was in line to board, a guy in front of me saw how heavy Louie was and offered to hold him for me. That was a definite no from me. Keep your kitties close.
4. Can You Hear Me Now?
If your cat is as bonded to you as Louie is with me, sometimes all it takes to calm them down is a little reassurance that you’re there with them. When I hear Louie start to cry in his carrier, I lean down and talk to him through the little holes. I tell him it’ll be okay and that we’ll be home soon. Sometimes I unzip the carrier just a little bit and reach my hand inside to pet him. He’ll rub his face against me and sometimes lick my fingers. This piece of advice is the most simple—just let your cat know you’re near. Do whatever you can that makes your cat feel close to you, whether that’s touch or talking or even just making sure they can see you. I’m sure being stuck in that carrier can feel isolating to them, and knowing their favorite human is nearby is enough to make them feel safer.
5. We’ve Arrived!
Making preparations for your cat don’t only include the actual traveling—you’ll need to have things set in place at your destination for when you arrive. Since the items you can fly with are so restricted, you won’t be able to take litter, and maybe not even food if your suitcase is already filled to the brim. Whenever I come back home for a school break, my mom always has a litterbox filled with litter ready for Louie. Your cat will have been holding in going to the bathroom since you left for the airport, so they’ll really need to go once you arrive. If this isn’t possible for you, just do some quick research on pet stores in the area that you can stop in once you get in town, and grab what you’ll need for your stay: litter, a cheap litterbox, and enough food to last until you leave. And maybe even a little toy as a reward for being such a good boy/girl during your travels.
Jillian Borukhovich (@jillybean_813) is a first year MFA student in Fiction at the University of New Orleans. She received her BA in Creative Writing from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she was born and raised. Her short stories have been published in ‘Sonder Midwest’ and ‘Metafore Magazine.’ She now lives in New Orleans with her cat, Louie, pictured here in his natural habitat.