Today is the third anniversary of our arrival in the Pacific Northwest after a cross-country trip from Maine, so the cats have graciously let me take the helm in this week’s post to share some advice on how to undertake such an odyssey with your feline friends.
Try to stay calm
The most important thing to understand is that your cats are going to be at least as stressed out as you are in the days leading up to your move. Watching familiar things disappear from their home and an upset in their routine can be a major anxiety producer for them. If you can manage to keep your own stress under control, it will help them. Try deep breathing, meditation and so on. Also, talk to your cats. Let them know what’s going on. They understand more than you think.
Get your cats vetted and have their records handy
Before you leave on your journey, take your cats to the vet for a checkup and any vaccinations they need. If you’re traveling to another country, be sure you have all the health certificate forms you need. Get your cats microchipped, if they’re not chipped already–that way, if somebody does get lost, whoever finds them will have a way to contact you.
Bring your cats’ medical records, and photos of your cats, with you and keep them in a convenient place. Don’t bury the records in the trunk with everything else you’re bringing; keep them near the front seat.
Make sure your car is in tip-top shape
You don’t want to break down in the middle of nowhere with your cats in the back seat. Before I left, I had a mechanic do a hood-to-trunk inspection of my car to ensure that my steering, brakes, emissions control equipment and other things were completely ready for a long road trip. I also had them change the oil, flush the radiator and put in fresh coolant. My mechanic actually found that there was a squirrel nest in my air filter! Needless to say, the air filter was replaced.
Plan ahead for hotel stops
Arrange for your stops to be at pet-friendly hotels. I knew from my research that La Quinta hotels are pet-friendly and, when I traveled, they didn’t charge an extra fee for pets. I chose a La Quinta every 500 miles or so across the duration of my trip because it was just as important for me to stop and rest as it was for them. I also made my reservations ahead of time so I knew I’d have a room waiting for me at each stop.
The only place I had to choose a different hotel was halfway through Montana, at which point I stopped at a Super 8 (they charged an additional pet fee, but at least pets were welcome).
Bring canned food and water
Before I left Maine, I bought a case of canned cat food that had pull tab openers so I didn’t have to bring a can opener with me. I also brought water from our home because I knew the water quality and taste would vary greatly from stop to stop. I also wanted to be sure they weren’t drinking chlorinated water, but that was just my personal preference.
When traveling with cats, bring at least one litter box
When I started my trip, I brought my cats’ largest litter box with me. I also brought a bag of the cat litter they were used to using, so I could put it into the box as needed. You can bring portable litter boxes if you wish, but I felt that bringing a familiar box of an appropriate size, despite the inconvenience, would minimize their stress.
Comfy carriers are a must
Invest in some good carriers, or at least line the bottom of the carriers you do have with towels and other things that smell familiar to them. If you use puppy pads as part of the lining, you’ll have easier cleanup in the event of an accident.
Feed your cats at least an hour before you leave
By doing so, you’ll allow them some time to start digesting their food and use the litter box before you set off on the day’s journey. This can also help to prevent carsickness.
Be prepared for your cats to eat less than usual while they’re traveling. While we were no the road, Siouxsie, Thomas and Bella ate about half as much as they usually do.
Be prepared for some protest
Siouxsie, Thomas and Bella cried and carried on as I was making my way through city streets, but once I got on the highway and started cruising, they curled up in their carriers and went to sleep. Speaking of carriers, be sure to buckle them in so that if you do have an accident, the carriers don’t go flying all over the car!
Once you’re driving, ensure that your cats are comfortable
I personally love to listen to loud music when I’m doing long highway drives, but for my cats’ sake, I kept the volume at a reasonable level. Cats have very sensitive hearing and loud music can be downright painful to them.
If you smoke, don’t smoke in the car–it’s bad enough for you, but it’s worse for your cats. Besides, stopping every few hours for a pee and smoke break (or to stretch your legs, if you don’t smoke) will make your part of the trip easier.
Give them treats when you stop for the night
By rewarding your cats for their bravery, you’ll help them have a sense of positive reinforcement.
When you arrive at your new home, tell them that this is the end of the trip
As soon as I settled into my new apartment, I took out their cat beds and set up their dishes, water and litter boxes. I told them “We’re home now; this is our new home!” They visibly relaxed when I told them so.
Do you have any other tips for traveling with cats? Please share them in the comments!
We have a short book called Moving with Cats with many of our tips in there–most of those tips came from other cat people who had moved. I think the cat was filled with more stuff for the cats than for the human person… just because traveling with cats is a little like traveling with babies…
Oh, we’ll have to take a look at your book, too.
Great advice! When I moved cross country it was the middle of summer, so that complicated stopping for meal or bathroom breaks because I couldn’t leave them in the car by themselves. Luckily, someone came with me so one of us would run in while the other sat in the air conditioned car with the cats (when it was me, I’d let them out … give them water and put them in the litter box). This system worked out incredibly well.
Ooh, we’re glad you had someone else to come with you. Mama didn’t, so when she needed bathroom breaks, she’d RUN! She didn’t want anyone smashing her windows in for our sake. Mostly she ate meals on the go, like take-out stuff, which made her feel kinda yucky by the end of the trip, but we sure were glad she stayed in the car with us!
Staying calm is the #1 thing in any move – with or without pets. It can be such a stressful experience if you let it.
Staying calm is definitely the key. And if you can’t totally stay calm, fake it till you make it, as Mama says! Her ability to stay calm as we traveled really helped us.
Just like with a dog really … :) I think being calm is key. I am always stunned at how stressed people get. Pets feed off your energy so DEEEEEEP breath. I think too microchip or collar ID is vital. Should you have an accident and they get away … it will be key. I also put a “in case of emergency please contact” sticker on the car windshield. Front and back. :)
Oh, the “in case of emergency, please contact” sticker is a good idea, too. Thanks for sharing it!
I will follow this when ever I do move long distance. Last time I moved with my cat (I learned from the previous time) I took her to a sitter while I cleaned out my condo – then just moved her to the new house where all the familiar furniture was. She liked it instantly (it was significantly bigger).
Also, I’m a big fan of Red Roof Inn – pet friendly at no extra charge. (dogtrotting.net)
Good to know that Red Roof Inn is also pet-welcoming. That’ll give us more options if we travel together in the future.
This is some great advice. My wife has recently moved the cats 4hrs away from us for work and taken the cats for company. Some really helpful tips that align with my experiences as well?? meow for now… Kristian@SoPurrfect
We’re glad to hear that our tips align with your experience. Of course, if you have any other ideas from your travels, we’re happy to hear them!
These are great suggestions! My mom and I transported a relative’s two cats and two dogs when our relative was deployed. It was just a one day trip for us, but it was stressful. The cats didn’t have carriers (despite my pleas) and one slipped out at a rest area. It was terrifying! Luckily my mom was able to coax the cat out from under the car and it was okay. I will never take a cat anywhere in a vehicle without it being properly restrained.
Oh wow! We’re so glad you found the kitty who slipped away! Mama was scared that one of us would do that (*cough*Bella*cough*), which is just one reason why she made sure we were all in our carriers. It eased our stress a lot, too, because we could sleep comfortably in little caves.
Good tips! I have never traveled with cats, but it definitely seems like there would be a lot to think about. I like that you suggested bringing a familiar litter box. I can see how that would help the cats feel more comfortable!
It certainly did help us. Sometimes it’s hard to do your business in a strange box, especially one that’s not big enough to be comfortable (disposable boxes are often quite small, unfortunately).
Great tips, I totally agree with you that preparing and taking on a move can be quite handful for cats. The changes during preparations are enough to affect them long before the actual journey. I love the suggestion on Micro-chips, I think this is the best way to be sure that you can trace any of them, just in case anything happens along the way. Thanks for sharing such an informative piece, will be looking forward for more.
Thanks for stopping by! We’re really glad we’re microchipped, just in case something happens that gets us so scared we run away from home. Not likely, of course, but it’s better to prevent a tragedy than have to deal with one.