Pet-friendly travel is a growing niche. But it doesn't always accommodate cats. (iStock)

My wife and I are crazy cat people. Our phones are overflowing with pictures of our two felines, Jasper and Jezebel. We’ve spent thousands of dollars on their veterinary care. We even take them for walks. But we never considered bringing them on vacation — until this summer.

It wasn’t our initial plan. My family, including my 6-year-old twin daughters, had decided to visit my brother in the Pacific Northwest, and, as usual, we were going to drop the cats off at my in-laws’ in Delaware. They’re the only people we trust to care for two 14-year-old felines who require a lot of attention — and almost as much medication. But they were unavailable, and we had already blocked out the week.

After nixing a staycation in Baltimore, we ultimately decided to head to the beach, a not-too-long drive that we figured Jasper and Jezebel could handle. The girls were especially excited, gleefully envisioning walking the cats on the sand, which they referred to as “the world’s largest litter box.”

Now we just had to find a vacation home that would take them.

Thirty-eight percent of owners bring their pets on vacation, a recent survey by PetFirst Insurance found. But the vast majority of these are dog owners: 85 percent vs. just 21 percent of people who travel with a cat, according to a survey by PetRelocation, a service that helps families travel with their pets. Many websites advise against vacationing with your feline, and those that do recommend sedatives. Even the Humane Society of the United States discourages the idea. “Cats are more sensitive to change, and a one-off vacation may not be their idea of fun,” said Danielle Bays, the organization’s cat protection and policy expert. All of this might explain why we immediately ran into trouble when searching for a place to stay.

Things were already dire because it was May — late to be looking for a July home on a Delaware beach. My searches on Airbnb and Vrbo pulled up a few dozen properties that met our criteria — two bedrooms, close to the water — but when I applied the pet-friendly filter, most of the dots on the map disappeared. Still, pet-friendly was pet-friendly, and it seemed like we had a few good remaining options — until I began contacting property owners.

“Sorry, no cats!” said one. Then another. Then another. Our plan of bringing the kitties to the beach was beginning to feel like a fool’s errand.


Jasper, one of the author's cats, makes a 1,000-piece puzzle even more difficult in the vacation home’s porch. (David Grimm)

Airbnb says that 30 percent of its listings are pet-friendly, and Vrbo says nearly 90,000 of its properties in the United States allow pets, but many of these appear to exclude cats. “Our surveys show that most travelers mean dogs when they click the pet box, and most homeowners are also thinking dogs when they say pets are welcome,” Melanie Fish, a Vrbo travel expert, told me.

When I queried owners on some popular vacation rental sites, I found out why. Many told me that cats can tear up furniture, stain carpets and bring fleas, and that people are allergic to them. I could understand the allergy concerns, but many people are allergic to dogs as well. And dogs seem just as likely to destroy furniture, harbor fleas or have an accident in the house. Anyway, our cats are well-behaved at home. Wouldn’t they be the same on vacation?

Fortunately, we had the chance to find out. After multiple rejections, a Vrbo owner said yes, and only asked for an additional $30 per day pet fee. Finally, it was happening: We were taking our cats to the beach.

Jasper and Jezebel, who are never happy in the car, weren’t crazy about the drive to Dewey Beach. Heavy traffic extended the journey to about three hours, and with two cats in the minivan, one was always complaining.

When we arrived at the vacation house — a small cottage with floral furnishings and a screened porch about a block from the beach — we immediately unloaded the kitties. Jasper, typically the more adventurous one, dove under the master bed and stayed there for a few hours. Jezebel made herself right at home, sauntering from room to room and peeping, as if to announce she had just discovered a cool new space. She finally settled on a twin bed in the other bedroom, rolled over and asked to have her belly rubbed. She seemed happier than she had been in months. “I think she likes vacation,” my wife said.


Jezebel relaxes on one of the vacation home’s beds. (David Grimm)

Jasper soon became more comfortable and claimed the porch as his own, lounging out there for hours, even in 100-degree heat. To be safe, we set up two litter boxes. Over the course of our week in Dewey, the cats made liberal use of both and never once “thought outside the box,” something we can’t always say for their time in Baltimore. They never jumped on anything they weren’t supposed to, scratched anything they shouldn’t have or tried to escape. They even let us brush their teeth (did I mention we’re crazy cat people?), which has always been a challenge at home.

We took the cats on leash walks around the complex, where they stopped to sniff almost every bush. Clearly, a lot of dogs had vacationed there. Other tenants seemed surprised — though delighted — to see Jasper and Jezebel sunning themselves on the porch or taking a stroll. “It’s the cat people!” became a regular refrain.

Having Jasper and Jezebel with us did have downsides. At home, the cats wake my wife in the middle of the night to be fed, and, if anything, they ramped things up in Dewey. After three wake-up calls the first night, I put them on the porch. We also couldn’t pick up groceries on the way into town, or visit a friend on the way out, because they were in the car.

But overall, we were pleasantly surprised by how quickly our cats adjusted to vacation and how much they seemed to enjoy it. They certainly made the house feel more like a home. Our girls loved having them there as well. After all, who wants to vacation if you can’t bring the whole family?

If I’ve inspired you to take the leap with your own cats, here are a few things to keep in mind. Make sure their flea medication and vaccinations are up to date (we packed Jasper and Jezebel’s rabies tags just to be safe). Bring along some items with their scent on it — cat beds, for example. If you’re worried about the furniture, trim your cats’ claws and take a scratching post. And don’t change things up too much: Pack the same food and litter you use at home. Finally, in case of an escape, make sure your kitty is microchipped and wears a collar.

When it comes to searching for a cat-friendly property, Vrbo’s Fish advises being upfront with owners about your pet and giving yourself extra time to find the right home. “You know your animal best, and the owner knows their home best,” she said. “It’s a matter of deciding if it’s the right fit for both of you.”

Every cat is different, and not all will enjoy vacationing. But it turned out to be the right decision for us.

Of course, we never did get to walk Jasper and Jezebel on the beach. The sand was too hot, and there were too many dogs running around. Maybe next time.

David Grimm is a deputy news editor at Science and the author of “Citizen Canine: Our Evolving Relationship with Cats and Dogs.”

Read more:

Fur and fury at 40,000 feet as more people bring animals on planes

Why this town is seriously considering a leash law for cats

If you think cats are antisocial, maybe it’s you, scientists find

Sidecar dogs: On the road with some canine easy riders