Driving cross-country with a cat

I am going to grad school on the opposite side of the country and need to figure out a way to get my cat there. I originally wanted to have her fly with my parents when they come visit me but I checked the regulations and there’s no way she’ll fit into one of those tiny carriers. I therefore have to drive with her. I currently have the following trip planned out:

Day 1: 12 hours
Day 2: 6 hours
Day 3: 12 hours
Day 4: 6 hours

I’ll need to get reservations at pet-friendly hotels, but I’m concerned about the most important question: how am I supposed to handle her going to the bathroom? I can’t use her leash because she just lays down as soon as it’s on, and I’m 99% sure that if I just set her down by the litter box outside a rest area, she’ll bolt. I’m going in a Toyota Camry so there’s no large space in which to just put her litter box and let her do her work.

Do sedatives make cats constipated? If I give her one, can I expect her to make it until we get to a hotel? If not, what are my options?

Edit: Also, is there a sedative I can give her that will really put her down? I’ve made a couple two hours trips to/from college with her and each time I almost ended up throwing her out the window because of her yowling. If I have to do 36 hours I might end up throwing myself out instead.

First, my sympathy for both you and your cat. Are you sure she won’t fit in the carrier?

I have had good luck with acepromazine as a sedative. I don’t know about using it for several days in a row, though. I would recommend talking to your vet now about your options.

I have had cats who will use a litterbox in the car when the car is stopped. Just use a small amount of litter and a liner and dump all the litter.

Good luck. You are going to need it.

You can buy pads for your cat carrier that will soak up any urine (your cat will probably pee out of sheer maliciousness/nervousness).

Depending on what cities you’re going to/from, www.petairways.com might a viable option. I know a few people who have used them and were satisfied. We’ve even done two shelter transits to get cats back to our shelter after microchip scans revealed they ended up as strays many states away.

As far as car options, for the backseat, you can use a small dog kennel that would hold cat + small litter pan + clip-on food bowl. I’d put canned food in there with a little water mixed in so she doesn’t have a sloshy water dish and can just get water from the food. You can seat-belt the kennel in place with a sheet between it and the seat, use a piece of wood underneath to keep it level. Sheet over-top to help kitty feel more secure. A lot of the smaller dog kennels also have a handle, so they’re easier to carry from car to hotel room.

There’s also this tube kennel as an option over a regular wire crate. Whatever you do, she may or may not use the litter box. I would line whatever you use with puppy pads and be prepared for her to soil them. You can put layers in so all you have to do is peel the top off if you’re in-transit. Cats are talented at holding it, though, so it’s possible she might wait until you’re in a room for the night. Or she might hold it the whole first day and then let loose in the car once everything reaches eye level and she’s starting to float and just can’t hold it any more!

No, there is nothing you can give her to put her out. You can experiment ahead of time with plain benedryl (diphenhydramine) which could make her drowsy enough to at least not yell the whole time, it’s given at 1mg per pound. You need an accurate weight, and buy tablets you could cut to get the dosage close. I mention experimenting with it because while the “normal” side effect is drowsiness, another one is hyperactivity. Better to know now whether it’s a viable option.

It’s been nice knowing ya Danja. You’ll be missed.

I’ve moved cats long distances (though not completely cross-country, like from Augusta to San Diego; from Lincoln NE to Santa Barbara CA, and from Santa Barbara to Missoula MT), once with five cats and once with four, with no serious problems and no sedatives either. Only one instance of going in the car even!

Forget about letting the cat having free run of the car. I know you didn’t say you’d do this, but it seemed like you were balking at the thought of a carrier, so I’ll throw it out there: you HAVE to put her in a carrier, no two ways about it. Put her in a carrier with a little water and cover the carrier with a dark towel or sheet. You want it completely dark in there. Basically, you fool her into going to sleep. She may howl once and a while, but believe me, she’ll howl a lot more if she can look out a window and see the world rushing by at 75 mph. Not to mention pulling the trick where she hides under the pedals.

Give her a litter box and food (but not a lot; no gorging allowed) and water in the hotel room each night. Forget about having her use a litter box in the car. Cats are just about the tidiest animals in the world and are horrified at the thought of wallowing in their own excrement, to the point where (unless they’re really old or have a condition) they’ll hold it all day. That’s also why you don’t feed her in the car.

Last year, I drove from Ohio to LA with three cats. I had a very big crate that I put two of them in with a litter box. And I had a smaller crate that I put the third in with no litter box. The first day, I rotated two of the cats between the big and little crates, but I found that one of them didn’t do well in the little crate, so I just kept one cat in the little one all day the rest of the trip with puppy pads in case of an accident. I offered water at each stop, but no food.

Thanks for all the replies!

Brynda, if the airline actually follows its own regulations then no. The carrier limit is 17x16x10. My cat is ~20 (without the tail) x 11.5. They say the cat has to be able to stand up and turn around, so no go there.

jsgoddess, that seems like a good arrangement but I’m not sure the cat will have enough room in my car to use the litter box. Or rather, my back seat won’t fit a crate that has enough room for both her and the litter box. Here’s a picture of the cat next to a yard stick (big numbers are inches):


whc.03grady, I definitely wasn’t planning to let her roam free. I did that the first time I drove with her and she immediately tried to hide under my feet.

It sounds like putting her in her large hard crate with pads is the best option. Could anyone else vouch for whc.03grady’s assertion that she won’t poop and wallow in it?

I think they used the litterbox maybe twice, and our drives were pretty long each day. They are likely to do their best to hold it because they won’t like trying to use the litterbox while moving AND they are clean and won’t want to mess up their space.

On my long cross country drives, I offered the litter box when we were stopped, inside the confines of the car, with all doors and windows closed.

They refused the litter box, and water (the vet told me they probably would) and got no food (also if you sedate with Ace, don’t offer food). One cat held it the entire drive (10 some hours) the other peed in his crate a few minutes before we arrived, but was upset about it and kept trying to huddle away from the wet spot.

Oh, and whatever your cat usually does in the car (cry, puke, sleep) is what they will do over the course of a long car trip. My cat Smokey was known to cry loudly on short trips; On the 10 hour trip he cried continuously for the entire 10 hours.

Can’t really offer advice but I have a friend who drove from San Diego to New Jersey with two cats, a four month old infant, a load of houseplants and, worst of all, her mother.

Friend, cats, plants and baby all made it intact in around 10 days. The mother was packed onto a plane somewhere in Texas, as friend really could not tolerate her any more.

Best luck I’ve had moving cats cross country (done more than once with more than one cat at a time) - I put the cats in harnesses a couple days before so they would get used to them. Day of travel a leash goes on the harness and the other end is attached to the back-seat passenger side hook or handle or whatever your vehicle has. The leash was measured to allow the cat a certain amount of freedom to roam without being able to get on the dashboard or under the driver’s feet. I covered the area the cat(s) could roam with trash bags and old towels, put a small catbox in the well, and a little food & water where it could be reached.

Each time the cats would wander and fuss for about 10-20 minutes, then find a comfortable space and hole up for the length of the trip. Cats were unable to get out of the car when I did, and I kept the leashes on until they were safely esconced in the new place. The leashed made it easier to drag them out from under motel beds or from behind furniture each morning. Everyone was safe and there was minimum fussing and noise.

I have flown cats and I used a bigger box than that. There are two sets of regulations: one that applies for animals in the passenger cabin (must fit under seat), and one for putting them in a pressurized hold underneath. I’ve done both. I had a kitten on board with me in a small box like the one you described, and another that got checked as baggage.

Aside from size there are FAA regulations prohibiting animals as baggage if the temperature is above a certain level at either end, since the animal could be left sitting on the tarmac for some time during baggage transfers.

I also drove three cats from Boca Raton to Washington, D.C. It was a hatchback and I took out the seats but it sounds like that’s not an option for you. I had a litter box in the car and didn’t need to take them out, but my trip was only one day (about 18 hours).

You sure that’s a cat? :wink:

Our cat screams like she’s being boiled whenever we put her in the car. It’s funny for the 4 minute trip to the vet. Not any longer.

My advice: sell this cat, and pick up a free kitten at your destination.

It’s the easiest thing for everyone, really. :wink:

I drove from Boise Idaho to Cancun Mexico in my parent’s Ford Escort station wagon. Me, Mom and Dad, and their cat. We put a litter box in the back. He (the cat) didn’t use it often, but it was there if he needed to. He had free run of the car, and though he seemed to not enjoy the 10 day trip much, it wasn’t that bad for us humans. So it can be done.

We drove a 2 1/2 day road trip with our cat. I was prepared for mayhem but it wasn’t that bad. She howled the first two hours, but then she sort of resigned herself to the situation and slept for most of the trip. She didn’t really eat or drink until we got to the hotel. Same with using the litter box - she pretty much held it in until we were in the hotel.

I had a cat (Snuffer) in the Jeep when I moved from Dallas to Anchorage and then a year later for the return. I kept a litter box, water and food in the passenger floorboard and she did just fine. I also let her free roam and wouldn’t recommend that to anyone. It’ll be pretty freaked the whole time and insistant on going places that might interfere with safe driving. Sadly, we lost a family friend this way, pretty sure the cat gut under the pedals and she slammed into a semi.

Whatever you do don’t let her ‘out’ for awhile just because you think she needs the air or to show her she’s better off in the car. I stopped at some huge, ice covered lot along the AlCan somewhere. There was no tree, bush, anything but ice for a hundred yards and let Snuffer out expecting her to scramble right back in. Instead she took off for a big pile of ice scraped from the surface about 150 yards away, got inbetween some ‘bergs’ and wouldn’t come out for an hour. It was freezing, starting to get dark, throwing us off schedule, etc. Not good!

Somehow we survived both trips with mostly good memories and it was nice to have a friend along on a 9 day trip. But it sure took some doing to make it all work.

Your cat will be in an environment with strange and unsettling noises, movements, smells, etc. She will therefore be inclined to freak out, and will be very very very unhappy the entire trip. All you can do is mitigate this: keep her in the carrier, and cover it so that it’s dark(er) and quiet(er). Put a favorite blanket in there so it smells like home. Put a small dish of water in there, but don’t be surprised if she doesn’t drink any. Stop every couple of hours and cuddle and reassure her.

You will need about a week to recover from the trip. The cat should be OK in a couple of days.

We did this exactly one year ago today from California to OK and we also did it in a Camry. It was two driving days of about 12-14 hours a day.

LibbyCat is not the best in the car and yells all the way to the vets so we were worried about the 2 day drive but she did OK and slept most of the way once she had cried it out as it were. We kept her in a crate with the blanket she lay on on the back of the couch so it was familiar and then we covered the crate with towels so it was dark. We stopped every couple of hours and offered food and water and the chance to use the litter box in the car. Small littler box with liner small amout of litter but she didn’t use it and wouldn’t eat either but she did usually have a drink. She did have one accident and you could tell she was horrified she had pooped in the box. Luckily we were only about a mile from a truck stop (we ad only just stopped and offered the litter box as well) so we pulled over quickly got her out of the crate and let her hide under the seat while we cleaned up then reclined the crate and got her back out with some treats. She did great after that and held it until we hit the hotel and all of the second day. La Quinta is your best best for pet friendly accommodation. All you have to do is call them in advance and let them know. I can’t remember if there was an extra charge or not.

It is doable but I think I was more stressed about it that she was. Just takes some planning and prep.