Long Distance Traveling With Cats

My wife and I are relocating from Washington, DC, to Seattle, WA, in January. We have six cats and want to bring all of them all out West with us. The logistics, however, of getting them all there is daunting. Until now, I’ve only had to transport a cat 30 miles. My cats hate traveling, even short distances, so there are difficult times ahead.

There are some of options:

  1. Driving them out there in our cars (two cars, three cats per car, about 3000 miles over six to seven days)
  2. Shipping them via cargo
  3. Flying them out as carrying on baggage (requires six people as only one cat per person is allowed as carry on)

Opinions differ on the best way to all the cats to where we’re going. Rather than inject my thoughts on the issue, I’d like to hear what others think, and listen to real life experiences if possible.

We’d like to keep costs low, of course, but not to the extent that safety to the cats is sacrificed and headaches to us become terminal.

Since we may be in temporary housing for up to sixty days, there is also a strong possibility that the cats will need to be boarded temporally, either on the East coast or the West coast.

I’ve travelled long distances with cats before but not so many. Ideally, the best way to do this would be to take them by car and have one extra person in each car to give the furballs some extra attention. Also, keep the windows closed in case they try to make a run for it. One of our kitties tried to jump out the window in the middle of southbound I-55!

Drug 'em.

I’ve done this on two or three occasions when kitty moving day involved travel of several hundred miles. It made things much, much easier.

You’ll need to talk to your veterinarian, of course. Also, my moves were long one-day drives, rather than the multi-day adventure you’re talking about, and that might make a difference.

There are online sites that list pet-friendly motels; Google that phrase. You’ll be needing some if you drive.

Well, I only have two cats, but we’ve made the move from Chicago to Denver and back again with them. Both times I had a dog carrier and put the two of them in it with food, water, and and a blanket. When we stopped for a bathroom break, the cats got one too (I had their litter box in the car, but not in their carrier. Both times they did really well. Once meowed a little upon take off, but settled in when he saw it was going to be a long trip.

Good luck!

I transported a cat (Snuffer) from Dallas to Anchorage and, inexplicably, back again. I can’t begin to tell you how many mood swings and freak outs that guy went through. The worst was when somewhere in the BC or the Yukon wilderness I pulled over to an ice covered clearing to give him a few moments out of the car and he ran 100 yards to a huge pile of ice blocks and wouldn’t come out. Took me about two hours to “lure” him out again, that coming only after he though I’d finally left his feline butt there to be eaten by the wolves. Ugh. Never ever ever again.


We’ve moved with our felines several times - 2 cats x 400 miles, 3 cats x 800 miles, and 5 cats x 700 miles. Each time by automobile. Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • None of our cats actually liked traveling via car, but all of them tolerated it. I used to take them on brief drives just before the move, in hopes of acclimating them.

  • We put 1 cat in each cat carrier, and added a dirty pillowcase to each in hopes of comforting them with our scent.

  • If you’re going to use drugs (and they may be a good idea) be sure to test them beforehand. Cats vary wildly in how they react. The most we hoped for was to mellow them out a bit, and it did work.

  • Obviously if you’re using more than one car, each car needs a cell phone. We used headphone radios in the days before cell phones.

  • Our cats really didn’t eat or drink in the car. We had to do that at stops.

  • You can buy disposable cat litter in cardboard litter boxes - perfect for this kind of situation. After they’ve used it once or twice, you just pitch the whole thing.

  • Re: hotels en route - this kind of stinks, but we just checked in very late at night, asked for a room in the back, and hightailed it out early in the a.m. having left behind an extra tip for housekeeping. You can research it to see who will let you bring pets, but you can bet there’s no one who’ll give the ok to 6 of them. Ours didn’t make much mess or noise & we never got in trouble.

  • The calmer you stay, the calmer they’ll be. Do what you can to stay relaxed.

I would think the long-term boarding would be more stressful than the trip, but it’s not something we ever tried.

You may find that airlines have restrictions on the total number of pets per flight and the months during which they’ll accept live cargo. I’ve seen both.

Good Luck!

When my wife and I moved from Toronto to Calgary (about 2000 miles by road), we faced the same question. The choice really came down to driving three or four days with our three cats in the car (in their carriers) or flying three and a half hours.

We opted for flying. The cats went on the same flight as we did (well, since Air Canada has a policy of only two pets per flight, my wife went on one flight with one cat, and I went on the flight that left an hour later with two cats). They went as cargo, in the pressurized baggage hold. We did have to pay to have them transported, but it wasn’t as much as our tickets–I believe each cat’s fare was only about $60.

It worked out pretty well. We had to take them to the Special Services check-in counter at the airport, where you take such things as golf clubs and skis. But unlike sports equipment, somebody was with them all the time–they did not go down the belt into the baggage area; rather, they were put on a cart and taken away by an airline employee. When we reached Calgary, a baggage handler came out with them and made sure they went to the right people (us).

Our vet said they’d be fine flying, the airline assured us they’d be fine, and they were. And still are.

A lot depends on the logistics. I agree that the long-term boarding is likely to be more stressful than the move, no matter how you transport them. My personal preference, if it’s possible, would be to leave them with a friend or relative till you find a place out there where you can have them, come home for a visit, and then take them back with you.

If that’s not possible, and you intend to take your cars to Washington, then you’ll be driving anyway and might as well take them in the car. I’d definitely speak to your vet about a sedative–some ace or chlorpromazine generally works well for young, healthy cats. I dosed all ours before we moved, because the dog climbs around as much as her seat belt allows, one of the cats screams, and the other cat pukes after about an hour. They all did great. I’d also try to acclimate them to the carriers as much as possible in the time remaining before you move.

If you can’t leave them with friends temporarily, and you’re not taking the cars with you, then I’d ship them as cargo. Carrying them on would be prohibitively expensive, and if they all hate travelling, they’re going to drive you and everyone else on the flight crazy howling under your seat. I’d be hesitant to drug them before shipping them cargo, though; healthy animals almost never have issues with light sedation, but it does happen from time to time. Healthy animals almost never have problems in the pressurized cargo hold, but it does happen from time to time. I wouldn’t want to sedate one and then not be able to keep an eye on it, especially in a cargo hold.

Good point. We asked our vet about this, and he said that he did not recommend sedating the cats if they were going to be flying as cargo. I was glad to hear that; like Crazy Cat Lady, I was also hesitant about sedating them for a trip where I couldn’t keep an eye on them.

One thing I perhaps should mention–we took all our cats to the vet about a month before we made the trip. It was time for their annual visits anyway, but we also wanted to make sure that they were healthy enough for their flight. It wasn’t absolutely essential, I suppose, but the vet’s reassurance was helpful. Anyway, I’d recommend that if you do fly them, have your vet make sure they’re healthy enough to make it. It adds to the total cost, but for us, the reassurance was worth it.

It seems to me that the car option is the cheapest, assuming you have to drive those cars out anyway. And depending on how you do it, it could be less stressful on the cats. I’ve done it countless times, but never with more than two cats.

You’re doing this in January? Where are you crossing the Rockies? The Cascades/Sierra Nevadas? Weather is going to be an issue. Be prepared for the trip to take twice as long as you expect… travelling West you are heading into the weather, making prediction especially hard. Bring extra money for lodging, and extra blankets and food and water (for you and the cats) in case you get stuck on the road and have to wait for the weather to clear.

Some trips on long distance road travelling with cats:

  • Put each cat in its own carrier. Stress can make cats unsociable.
  • Smaller carriers actually make the cats feel more secure.
  • Prop the carriers up so the cats can look out the window and see the horizon in order to minimize the cats’ motion sickness and general discomfort.
  • Keep the windows up and minimize loud noises.
  • Don’t sedate the cats; for such a long trip they’ll have to be sedated for an entire week.
  • Stop every two to four hours and let the cats out to roam the back seat, one at a time.
  • During stops, put out food and water on the back seat.
  • During stops, put out a litter box on the floorboard with a small amount of litter in the bottom.
  • Dump everything (food, water, litter) before resuming travel.
  • Do not let the cats out of the carriers when the car is in motion.
  • Do not open the car doors or windows unless all cats are in carriers.
  • If your cats are clean and quiet, then hotel/motel operators do not need to know you have cats.
  • In a hotel/motel, do not let the cats out of the carriers until you have checked under and behind every piece of furniture and cabinetry for hidey holes and escape routes.

We’re in Florida and have had to evacuate from hurricanes several times with our six cats and two dogs. There are a couple things we learned from trial and error.

Sedated animals are sometimes more likely to freak out. The altered mental state can make it harder for them to cope with travelling.

There are a few different optoins for containment during the trip. You can crate each one separately, but then every potty stop you have to drag each one out and stuff them back in, plus they aren’t always cooperative on lead. You could buy harnesses and seatbelts for each cat. That eliminates the struggles with the crates while keeping them safe, but exposes your car seats to accidents. And there’s still no guarantee they’ll walk or take advantage of potty breaks. During our last round of evacuations, we put a large dog crate in the back of our minivan, put all six cats in the big crate with a litter box and only had to deal with the occasional spat. I don’t know what kind of vehicle you have, but I highly recommend the big crate and a litter box. Renting a minivan might be cheaper than airfare x 6.

I think a lot of it has to do with your attitude as well. They can sense your anxiety so act like it’s no big deal and maybe they’ll be a little calmer for you.

My cats are older, four of them are 9 years old, the other two are 15 and 17. They are strictly indoor cats and do not travel with me otherwise. If any of that means anything in your decision making.

Thanks for the input everyone.

I withheld my own opinions at first see what other folks said.

My wife was the one who wanted to drive two cars with all six cats while I wanted to do anything but that. I just don’t see how that could have been a pleasurable trip.

What I think we’re going to do now is travel separately. We wanted to go out together, but that is becoming increasingly unrealistic. As of today, the plan stands that she will go out first and to find the temporary housing. I stay behind until our house sells. She finds the new house, then I start shipping out the cats via cargo. Once all the cats are there, I drive out myself. This would minimize any boarding time for the cats, probably just a few days between settlement dates and available cargo dates.

That’s the best we’ve come up with so far. We’ll be apart a month or two, but in the long run it looks like the best we can do. Today, tomorrow, maybe something better will come along. Although we will have to decide soon.

Bughunter mentioned we’re doing this in January. Not my first choice, but my wife was only offered the job last week. I think she could have worked out a deal to start a few months later, maybe March or April, but she was gung ho and said she could start January 17. She will still work for the same Government agency, just a different job title, and a new region.

The relocation allowance allows for one car to be shipped or a driving trip, but not both. She is dead set on driving, though, nasty conditions be damned. Both are cars are relatively new, 2000 Honda Accord and 2003 Subaru Forester, are completely paid for, so we’d like to keep them.

I’m looking for the best driving routes. Eyeballing a map, I was thinking: Virginia to Santa Fe, NM, then head up towards Sacramento, CA, and onwards to Washington state. According to Yahoo maps, it is about 900 or so miles longer than the direct route. But I’m going to ask an old cross country motorcyclist the best routes who might know a little more than Yahoo.

we take our two cats with us on our yearly pilgrimages from Virginia to Florida for the Christmas holidays (12 hour drive one way, give or take). they both get stuffed into a large carrier just for the transport into the car from the house. once we’re actually underway, i open the carrier and they are free to roam in the car. a litter box is on the floor by the back seat. we don’t sedate them; they’ve gotten accustomed to the routine by now. i’ve tried putting a food dish and water nearby for them, but they rarely seem to use them.

one cat does cry, but only at the start of the trip when we’re driving in the dark. (we generally leave at o’dark-thirty in the morning, to get to Ocala at a decent hour.) once daylight arrives, she’s fine. she also tends to climb onto the mound of stuff in the back of our SUV and use that as her perch-spot until we get there. the other cat will come and lap-sit at times, but is also content to lay inside the (open) carrier. neither one tries to sneak out at stops anymore, but i’d definitely suggest you keep windows closed when traveling, and probably make sure they’re secured in carriers before exiting the car (since your guys aren’t seasoned travellers).

i will give you an additional word of caution, however. we used to make a Thanksgiving pilgrimage to Ohio (seven-hour drive) when i was young and my cat was a Siamese. be prepared for vocal expressions of discomfort/discontent if you drive through mountains or any elevation changes that cause your ears to block/unblock. oy.

During my last move, I sent both my cats using air cargo. Air Canada allows 2 cats/carrier as long as the carrier is big enough, and it only cost $60.

In case of a delay, we taped a small tupperware container of food to their carrier and had an empty water bowl attached to the inside of the door along with a funnel tie-wrapped to the door. This way the airline staff could easily feed/water the cats without opening the door. Instead of a 2 day drive they only had a few hours in the air, which I think was much easier on them.