How Long Can Cats Hold Their Pee While Traveling

orange tabby cat looking out of a green backpack cat carrier

Last updated on June 6th, 2023 at 08:51 am

If you’ve ever thought about taking your cat on a road trip, then you know there’s one question that often comes up: how long can cats hold their pee while traveling? After all, it’s a very important part of travel planning.

Although cats usually go pee between 2-6 times a day, many cats can easily hold their pee for up to 24 hours while traveling, and even up to 48 hours if needed. The amount of time a cat can hold their pee will vary with their age, health, and level of stress during the trip.

In this blog post, we’ll be taking an in-depth look at all the things you need to consider regarding your cat’s ability to handle bladder control en route so that you can ensure a smooth ride for both of you!

Understand Your Cat’s Bladder Capacity

The first thing to consider when it comes to how long cats can hold their pee while traveling is their bladder capacity.

Generally speaking, adult felines have a bladder capacity between 15-45 ml (0.5-1.5 oz). How long a cat can hold their pee will vary depending on their age, whether they have any underlying health conditions, and what they have eaten or drank in the previous 8-12 hours.

How Often Do Cats Normally Go Pee?

Healthy adult cats go pee on average between 2-6 times a day. Every cat is different, so there is no hard-and-fast rule on the exact number of times your cat should normally go pee.

I have two cats of my own, one being a rescued Sphynx and the other a Bengal kitten. The Sphynx goes pee twice daily like clockwork and rarely varies from that. On the other hand, I see the Bengal kitten in the litter box every 4-6 hours.

Kittens, being smaller overall, have corresponding smaller bladders. Being young, they also have less voluntary control over their bladders. As a result, it’s likely that kittens will have to pee more frequently during travel than older cats, who may be able to hold it for longer.

A cat’s ability to hold its pee can decline as they age, as its urinary sphincter muscles weaken. Senior cats therefore may need to void more frequently than their younger counterparts.

Food and water also impact how long cats can hold their pee. What goes in, must come out! Cats who have had a large meal or a big drink of water before traveling will need to pee sooner than those who don’t.

Healthy adult cats can go a fairly long stretch of time without having to pee, if they don’t have a tummy full of food or water before they start.

So, How Long Can Cats Hold Their Pee?

When I first brought my Sphynx rescue cat home, she was very traumatized. I locked her in a bedroom with a litter box, food, water, and a cat-cave bed to hide in. Then she promptly ran under the bed and hid there. For two whole days!

I have to admit, by the second day, I was getting worried. Even though I had resolved to let her relax and come out when she was ready, by the end of the second day I was ready to flip over the bed and dig her out.

Much to my happy surprise, when I entered the room that evening, there was clear evidence that she had come out to eat, drink and use the litter box. She finally peed – 36 hours after coming home.

Even though most cats normally go pee every 12 hours or less, they are easily able to hold their pee much longer than that if they have to without harm.

Cats can voluntarily hold their pee for between 24 and 48 hours. It is not healthy for them to have to do this all the time, but it does them no harm if this only happens occasionally.

orange cat sitting on the hood of a car

Cats May Pee Because They Are Stressed

Of course, just because a cat can hold their pee for up to 48 hours while traveling, it doesn’t mean it will. I have seen many cat patients arrive at my clinic smelling of pee, poop, or both. And their trips from their home to the veterinary clinic were relatively short.

I’ve also had cats of my own that would do this. One cat was so consistent about peeing and pooping herself during car rides that I would plan my trip around it, making a stop after about 20 minutes to clean out the mess in her travel carrier.

Cats can become very stressed and anxious when traveling, which can lead to them peeing in response. This can happen early in the trip, as with my cat. It can even happen before the trip if they get very stressed about being put in their travel carrier.

Or they might pee in their carrier later in the trip. When this happens, it’s possible that it had been quite a while since the last time they went before the trip started, or it could be because their anxiety increased during the trip until it became too much.

Either way, stress-peeing during travel is not pleasant for either you or the cat. There are some strategies you can use to reduce travel-related stress which we’ll get into a bit later.

Plan Pee Breaks For Your Cat On The Road

Once your cat is an experienced traveler you will have a better idea of just how long they can hold it and how often you need to give them a pee break.

Since cats are able to hold their pee for 24-48 hours, this means that a calm cat will likely not need to pee at all during trips that are a few hours long.

But until you know for sure what your cat’s ability to hold its pee is, it’s best to plan for regular pee breaks.

You are unlikely to need to stop for a pee break during trips that are under six hours long. After six hours, the chances that your cat needs a pee break increases, especially if it is used to going 4-6 times a day at home.

Of course, if you are traveling by air with your cat, you’ll have to leave it in its travel carrier for the duration of each leg of the flight regardless of how long it is.

Plan For A Safe Pee Break For Your Cat

The most critical thing to remember about road trip pee breaks for your cat is to never let them roam around loose outside! You may think your cat would never stray far from your side under any circumstance, but you would be wrong.

All it takes is a loud noise, an unexpected movement, or even just a shadow falling across them unexpectedly and your cat may bolt for the hills in fright, never to be seen again.

If you are traveling with multiple cats, it is best to let them out one at a time so that you can keep a close eye on each one until it is time to go back in the carrier.

Keep Them In The Vehicle

Most vehicles will have space for you to set out a travel litter box. If your car is full of passengers or luggage, you may have to shift things around a bit first or make someone wait outside.

But never, ever let the cat out of its carrier until the doors are safely closed, and don’t open them again until the cat is back in its carrier.

Now, it is obvious that if you can’t let them out of the carrier if you are not actually in the car, and you can’t open the car doors until they are back in the carrier, then you will be in the car with the cat while it is out to use the litter box.

But sometimes even the obvious has to be stated – do not leave your cat out unsupervised in the car! Cats can get into any space their head will fit, and are often able to climb into the dashboard. Keep an eye on the cat so that it doesn’t get into places it shouldn’t.

Take Your Cat Out On A Harness And Leash

An alternative to leaving your cat loose in the car to use the litter box is to take them out on a harness and leash. Only attempt this if the cat is already used to being on a leash, otherwise, the cat is going to spend all its time fighting the leash and zero time going pee.

Even when letting them out on the leash, it is still a good idea to put out the travel litter box for them to use. Your cat is used to going in its usual litter, so having that handy lets them know what they are supposed to do.

white seal point cat wearing a blue body harness

Use Puppy Pee Pads In The Travel Carrier

Although not ideal, you can use puppy pee pads inside the carrier if you are uncertain whether or not your cat can make the trip without having to pee.

This is especially useful if you are traveling a long distance and can’t guarantee being able to stop for regular pee breaks, or if the cat is particularly anxious about traveling.

The pee pads make messes easy to clean up. Just remove the soiled pad and replace it with a fresh one. If you don’t catch it right away though, your cat is still going to be sitting on a dirty pee pad and will end up covered in and smelling of pee.

Use A Travel Carrier Large Enough For A Litter Box

Another possible solution is to use a larger travel carrier that has a sleeping area for the cat plus enough room for a small litter box.

These are a great idea if you have room for them in your vehicle. You never have to take the cat out of the carrier and risk it escaping and it can use the litter box whenever it needs to.

Reducing Stress When Traveling With Cats

You’ve probably heard someone say that something “scared the pee right out of them!” The amount of stress and anxiety your cat feels during the journey can also make a difference when it comes to how long they can hold their pee.

Cats are naturally quite stress-sensitive creatures, and this is especially true when it comes to traveling.

The car ride itself can be an uncomfortable experience for cats — the unfamiliar environment, the constant motion, and the confinement in the carrier can all add to their stress levels.

Make Their Cat Carrier An Everyday Item

I have owned cats that refused to get into travel carriers. They would fight tooth and nail and would be completely stressed out by the time they were securely closed in. I would also end up stressed – and usually scratched up as well.

I do not have this problem with my current cats. Their cat carrier is the Sleep N Go convertible bed and carrier. This is a clamshell-style carrier with a zip-up entry and a top that zips on and off.

I keep this carrier out at all times for their use as a bed. Although not their favorite place to sleep, it does get used now and then although more often they use it to play in. The point is, they are familiar with it and they are not scared to go in it.

Make sure your cat is used to their carrier so that the carrier itself is not a source of stress. I recommend leaving it out all the time like I do and placing comfortable bedding in it for their use.

Putting treats in it to find now and then also helps encourage them to enter the carrier willingly and learn that it is a safe place.

Should You Put Multiple Cats In The Same Carrier?

In most cases, I recommended having separate carriers since the stress of travel can result in them lashing out in fear. When cats are confined together in one travel carrier they are unable to escape if one cat attacks the other.

There are some situations, though, where cats are so strongly bonded to each other that keeping them separate will cause them additional stress. This is the only situation where I would put them in the same carrier.

If you do need to put multiple cats in the same carrier, make sure to use a large enough carrier so that they have enough space to comfortably sleep and turn around without having to walk or climb over the other cat.

stressed looking cat in a travel carrier

Use A Calming Feline Pheromone Spray To Reduce Stress

Feline calming pheromone spray can help reduce stress in cats and can make traveling more comfortable.

This spray is a synthetic copy of the cat facial pheromone – the one that they use to mark things in their environment by rubbing their cheek against it (yes, they are marking you too when they rub their cheek against you!).

This pheromone has a calming effect on cats and may help reduce stress during travel. Simply spray a few pumps of this product inside their carrier before placing them inside, or mist it into the air of the car. Do not spray it directly on the cat.

Play Cat Calming Music

Cat calming music is specifically designed to help reduce stress in cats. It can be used during car rides, vet visits, or any other stressful situation.

There is music available specifically made to calm cats but, in a pinch, almost any calm classical music will do.

Consider Medication if Anxiety Causes Issues

If you are unlucky, your cat may be one of those cats that just never learn to calm down during a road trip.

My Bengal kitten is like this. The longest trip we’ve taken with her has been three hours. She howled and shrieked the whole way there without letting up once! She then proceeded to replicate this performance on the trip home.

I’ve taken her on a couple of short trips since then, and nothing has changed. While this behavior is tolerable for short trips, I will be giving her medication for any long road trips in the future.

Talk to your veterinarian about medication to calm your cat when traveling. Never give your cat medication meant for humans, and never give medication that was not prescribed by your veterinarian.

A cat’s physiology is very different from a human’s, and some drugs that are safe for people are poisonous to cats. Also, your cat may have a health condition that makes it unable to safely take medications meant for cats.

Conclusion

Cats can hold their pee between 24-48 hours when traveling, but just because they can doesn’t mean they will.

Preparing for your trip well in advance, getting your cat used to the travel carrier, and using calming products, music, and possibly even medication can help reduce stress during car trips which will reduce the risk of stress-related peeing during the trip.

For longer trips, plan on stopping your car for a quick bathroom break or use a travel carrier large enough to hold a litter box as well as a sleeping space for the cat.

By following these tips, you can make your next road trip with your cat more enjoyable for both of you. Safe travels!

Disclaimer: This article is intended for information purposes only, and does not constitute medical advice. Always consult your veterinarian if you have specific concerns about your pet’s health.

brown tabby bengal kitten

Author

  • Dr. Wendy Wilkins, DVM, PhD

    Dr. Wendy Wilkins is an experienced veterinarian and epidemiologist with over 20 years of expertise. She holds a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree and a Doctorate in Epidemiology from the University of Saskatchewan. Throughout her career, Dr. Wilkins has excelled in clinical practice, academia, research, and regulatory veterinary medicine. She is a respected voice in knowledge dissemination, delivering factual information in a readable and understandable manner through articles, books, and public engagements.

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