moving/travelling with a cat


As per the copious amounts of moving-related posts I’ve made recently, we’re moving across the country in a few weeks. One thing I hadn’t really thought of until recently was our cat, who we’re taking with us in the car.

How do you take a cat on a two-day/20 hour trip? Should we keep her in her kitty carrier the whole time, or let her run around on the inside of the car while we’re driving? Will she freak out if we let her out? I know she’ll howl the whole way if we keep her in her carrier, and I think being confined like that for ~10 hours a day might really drive her nuts (not to mention her need to eat and poop).

Do we put the litterbox in the floor of the car and expect her to use it? What about food - we can’t exactly keep a bowl of food and water in the floor of the moving car.

Help! Give me your advice and suggestions!

The answers to these questions mostly depend on the personality of your cat. I think you should schedule a trip to the vet before the move and get some advice and possibly some Kitty Quaaludes, or the veterinary equivalent of catzac.

I’ve moved a cat on a 12-hour move and moved the same cat on the 9-hour move. I discovered sedation the second time on the shorter trip. For the first trip, she meowed and meowed and just meowed louder if I turned up the radio. For the second trip, she sat in her carrier, quite mellow, and chilled.

I would keep kitty in her carrier. If you stop to rest for the night, let kitty out in the hotel room – putting out a litter box. Most cats won’t eat or drink while in a moving car – just being in a car is too upsetting, so you really shouldn’t have to worry about litter. I’d break up the 20-hour trip into two 10-hour trips and give yourself and the cat a nice long break to eat, sleep, poo and rest.

I would not let kitty out loose in the car/truck because you never know where a cat might go. Some cats calmly decide to plant themselves next to your feet… right under the brake pedal. They’re safer in a carrier, especially if god forbid, you have an accident. You can also find little bowls that attach to the bars of a crate so kitty has access to food and water – ask for bird bowls at the pet store. I wouldn’t bother. Feed 'em and empty 'em before the trip, stay in the carrier and let 'em out to eat and poo at the end of the day. If you sedate the cat (not knock 'em out, just a valium or something to calm them), they might even sleep for most of the trip.

My cat Boojum and I have made many road trips together, all of them between LA and Seattle, or LA and Denver, starting when he was just a few months old. I put him in the car for short errand runs every now and then, just to keep him used to the idea of traveling, and to avoid the “Car equals Vet” association. He doesn’t love to ride like dogs do, but he tolerates it very well.

Some tips to make the ride easier for you and kitty:

  • Trim her claws before you go. This saves both your skin and your upholstry

  • Do not bother tranquilizing the cat unless your cat will harm himself trying to escape from the carrier.

  • Keep her in her carrier when the vehicle is moving. It’s much safer for you and the cat this way.

  • Prop the carrier up on a box or suitcase so that the cat can see the horizon out the window. It helps prevent motion sickness and general discomfort.

  • Stop every hour or so and give her some water and offer her some food.

  • Get a very small litterbox that you can fit on the floorboard in the back seat, or somewhere in the car. Stop every few hours and take the cat out of the carrier, and place her in the litterbox. She should know what to do next.

  • If you have to stop for the night, and don’t want to hassle with finding one that allows pets… choose a motel. Check in and park near the room. Take the carrier in with a bunch of other luggage in your arms.

  • Before letting the cat out in the motel room, inspect the room thoroughly for escape holes and hiding places, and block them off. Check under the bed and make sure she cant climb into the box spring or under the pedestal. If in doubt, keep her in the carrier while you sleep.

  • If the cat is very well behaved, you can let her rest on your lap while you drive, or up on the back window platform.

  • Never, ever let the cat roam on the floorboards while the car is in motion. Kittens especially have the habit of parking themselves behind the brake pedal. Not good!

One more thing…

  • Empty the litterbox after she uses it. You don’t have to travel with a stinky litterbox in the car. Fill it again when you stop for her next potty break. And really, you don’t need that much, just a half inch in the bottom of the pan.

Want some advice from a woman who just made a four day cross-country trip with two cats?

Cat carriers. They really are the answer. If you get in an accident, your cat will be a great deal safer. Also, you will be a lot less likely to get into an accident due to the cat’s interference, as previous posters have pointed out.

Get kitty drugs. Use them. If your cat doesn’t mind the carrier, great, but I’d use them anyway. The day my husband didn’t want to was a total nightmare. He swore never to do that to us again.

We traveled 8-11 hour days (though the longest day was totally by accident, there was construction that we didn’t know about), and the cats were fine. They’re happy in their new home, and not at all worse for the wear.

Finally, I don’t know what your kitty will be like, but our four day trip was mostly silent. See, the cats were quiet when we were and the radio was off. Otherwise, it was howl city. I hope that this does not happen to you.

I don’t know if I’d do that. I had a very close call when the cat on my lap decided to get up and go through the steering wheel spokes as I was making a turn. I had a choice - crush my kitty or hit a brick wall fence. Luckily I was in a quiet residential area so I hit the brakes. If I had been in a high-traffic or high-speed situation the outcome would have been different.

I have moved three times with my cat (2400 mile trip each time…fun fun). So much of how it goes really depends on your cat’s individual personality, but I’ll tell you what I did:

Kept her carrier in the car, and tried to keep her in said carrier. She screamed the whole time. So, I let her out (while the car was stopped). Let her run around for about 10 minutes until she lost interest in doing that. She finally decided that she was happier sleeping net to me on the seat.

Also, I bought a small dog harness (the kind that goes around the waist and chest, not just the neck). When we put on her “travel outfit”, for some reason it keeps her mellow in the car. Also, I have something to grab if necessary, and I can snap a leash on it if we make a longer stop.

I leave a litter box on the floor of the car, and small plastic containers of food and water (not full…just a little in each). And yes, she made use of all of them in a moving vehicle.

YMMV, of course. But that’s how we handled things.

I’d have to second (or third) this suggestion. Go to your vet, tell him or her what you’re doing, and he or she will probably give you some sedatives for the drive that will relax your cat and also prevent motion sickness. Your vet will also be able to suggest some alternatives if you don’t want to go the drug route. If you do use sedatives, beware: they will make your kitty very relaxed. Of course, this is what you want, but make sure to give your cat the sedatives at least a half hour before you leave. This will give them time to take effect, and, because the sedatives relax your cat so much, if he or she has any accidents (sometimes their butts, um, leak a little bit when they’re muscles are really relaxed, and poo seeps out - it’s sick but true), they’ll be easier to clean up, and you won’t have to deal with the smell for 20 hours.

Talk to your vet about getting some ace or maybe some chlorpromazine for your kitties. I don’t like to drug my girls, but given the choice between that and dealing with one screaming and the other puking for 10 hours, I’m going with the drugs. This might not be a viable option depending on the age and health of your cat, but it’s certainly worth checking into.

Keep her in her carrier if the car is in gear. It’s safer for everyone involved. You do not want to try to pry a cat ass out of your face doing 75 down the interstate with semis all around you, nor do you want her to decide to dig her claws into you under those circumstances. Nor do you want her to go flying through the cabin if you have to hit your brakes. It’s much better to fly five inches into the wall of the carrier than a few feet into the windshield.

How’s she going to react to being the carrier that long? Well, a lot depends on how she deals with the carrier on shorter trips. If she hates the carrier and shrieks inconsolably while pissing everywhere when you box her up for trips to the vet, you’re going to want her a little something. If she does pretty well with the carrier, things go should much more smoothly.

As for food and water, I wouldn’t give her any while you’re driving. I’d feed her the evening before you leave, then pull her food when you go to bed. Take her water away when you get up, then keep her NPO until you stop for the evening. Again, feed her, then take her food away at bedtime. Letting her digestive tract empty out before you get rolling will keep her from vomiting or shitting everywhere (trust me, you don’t want to try to clean cat puke or diarrhea off the cat and carrier at a rest stop, nor do you want smell said mess while looking for a place to stop) and greatly reduce her need for a litterbox during the drive. And don’t worry, a healthy cat isn’t going to become malnourished or dehydrated over the course of a day.

I moved practically cross country with two cats twice. I won’t repeat all the good advice already given, but will reiterate that keeping them in the carrier is a Good Idea. I wouldn’t let my boyfriend-at-the-time travel more than 12 hour days because I felt that was long enough for the cats (and too long for me). They got food, water, and litterboxes in the hotels at night, but not in the car. We didn’t drug them because they were both pretty good about riding in the car. A little meowing for the first 10 minutes or so each day, and then they were gold.

The one helpful hint I can give that hasn’t been given before: Disposable litter trays. They sell them at the supermarkets (or used to). Get enough for each night you’ll be stopped (and maybe one extra) and then you can put a fresh one down each night, and just toss in the morning. It’s a lot easier than carrying litter boxes and litter and filling and dumping an actual box every night.

I hate to hijack this thread and all, but it made me curious - I’ve always had dogs and never cats. Why on earth are they such a problem in a car? Why do you need a litterbox - can’t you just walk them, if you’re not going to leave it out for them anyway? Don’t they just go to sleep? I’ve never had a dog that didn’t a) love getting in the car, b) go to sleep on the highway, and c) not make any noise about it. Are most cats like that?

Cats are a problem in the car mostly because, being cats, they want to do what they want to do when they want to do it–and if you don’t want them to do it, tough titty. So when your free-roaming cat decides he wants to stand in your lap with his ass right in your line of vision and make biscuits on your thighs while you’re trying to drive, well, that’s exactly what he’s going to do, come hell or high water. It’s just the way cats tend to be.

Most people can’t just walk their cats on long trips because cats aren’t generally leash-trained. Even cats that are leash trained generally won’t void while on-leash. Cats tend to prefer privacy, and they need a suitable substrate for burying their waste. Try finding a place at the average rest stop where walking pets is allowed and there’s lots of loose dirt or sand for scratching around in that isn’t crawling with dogs. It’s damn near impossible.

Some cats just curl up in their carriers and nap the trip away. My Moo-cat is like that, at least for the first hour and a half. After that, she gets motion sickness. Some cats don’t travel well because they’re not used to riding in the car, or because the only time they ride in the car is to go the vet or something similarly unpleasant. Some cats just don’t approve of being confined, and they tell you about it, loudly, frequently, and in great detail, whether you want to hear it or not. Eponine’s like that, which is why she’s no longer allowed to board anywhere.

This is what I did when I moved from Atlanta to Austin. My kitty at the time was a fairly docile cat and he just slept on my lap for ten straight hours. I was coated with cat hair from head to foot. I know it wasn’t the absolute safest option but it kept him so much calmer and happier than being forced in a carrier.