Traveling with Cats

November 18, 2010
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By Jean Hofve, DVM

I’ve had lots of experience traveling and moving cats by car; we’ve gone back and forth from California to Colorado (about a 22 hour car trip) 7 times over the years. I’ve learned a lot about traveling with cats (and more than I ever wanted to know about moving!) that I’m happy to share with you.

I use one carrier per cat; big enough so they can turn around and curl up in, but it doesn’t have to be huge. Even cats who usually get along well may react badly to the stress of travel on top of crowded quarters, so it really is best to separate them. I once put two kittens in one carrier for the trip, but they were littermates and small enough to be comfy in a mid-sized carrier. Fortunately there were no casualties!

Don’t feed cats the morning of the trip, for two reasons. One, then if they get carsick, it isn’t such a huge mess, and two, so there’s nothing coming out the other end, either.

If you’ll be on the road more than 12-15 hours, plan to make one stopover at a motel. (PetsWelcome.com lists pet-friendly motels.) If possible, make a reservation!

On stopovers, it’s best to initially confine the cat to a bathroom for safety. In many motels, the beds are on platforms; but they have a tiny gap where a frightened or determined cat can squeeze in underneath. The entire bed must be dismantled to get the cat out. Motel managers tend to frown on that sort of thing! So be sure you check the room thoroughly for potential hiding places before allowing the cat access.

If you’re traveling with multiple cats, you may wish to consider asking for a wheelchair-accessible room, if there is one available that doesn’t inconvenience other travelers. However, please advise the manager that if the room is needed for an unexpected wheelchair-bound traveler, you will be happy to move! These rooms have a large bathroom where the cats can be let out of their carriers (leaving the carriers as safe resting places), yet still be safely confined while you rest. Food, water, and litterbox can also go in there.

If you plan it right, a cat doesn’t really need to eat, drink, pee, or poop during drive time, as long as it isn’t more than 12-15 hours at a stretch. On stopovers, put the food out for an hour or so, and then pick it up before you go to sleep. This ensures that the cat will have an empty tummy when you get going again.

Be aware that if you are crossing state lines with a pet, you are legally required to have a current health certificate from your veterinarian. California and Arizona are the states most likely to check for documentation.

Click here for a more detailed look at cats and car travel.

To ship your cat by air is understandably more complicated, but it just got a lot safer, and more reasonable, with the launch of Pet Airways. This unique service ships pets–and only pets–in the pressure- and temperature-controlled cabin. They provide carriers as well as constant monitoring. You might also want to check out the USDA’s page on domestic and international pet travel, and Dr. Jean’s article here.

More tips on preparing your cat—and your new home—for a move can be found in our article on Moving with Your Cat.

To help your cat (or other pets) handle the stresses associated with travel, flower essences are safe and effective, with no side effects. Tranquilizers are no longer recommended for pets traveling by air because of many deaths associated with the drugs’ depressant effects. Flower Essences are great, not only for a major move, but also for short trips, or temporary situations such as boarding.

3 Responses to Traveling with Cats

  1. Danielle Wineland on May 18, 2011 at 8:48 am

    Thanks for the tips! I’m moving from Pennsylvania to Florida next week with 2 cats! My concern is once I take them out of the carriers to pee I won’t get them back in so I bought harnesses. I’m going to put the harness on before they go in the carrier, that way if I can’t get them back in I can attach the leash adn not worry about them running away!

  2. Jim Sinclair on May 7, 2011 at 7:29 pm

    I am concerned about your recommendation to request wheelchair-accessible rooms for the purposes of cat convenience. As a wheelchair user myself, I am aware of the importance of accessible facilities for people who truly need them in order to be able to take a shower, use the toilet, or even get into the room. As a matter of fact, since I am able to walk short distances (such as inside a hotel room) using crutches, I routinely refuse wheelchair-accessible hotel rooms when they’re offered to me, because I don’t want to take away such a room from another disabled person who can’t manage in a regular room.

    Please reconsider your advice. While it may not be illegal, I think requesting a wheelchair-accessible room when you don’t have a disability that calls for one is ethically akin to parking in a reserved handicap parking spot when you don’t have a disability. It’s not right.

    (And yes, I do have cats, I do travel with my cats, and I have stayed in hotels, with regular non-wheelchair-accessible rooms, and made it work for my cats.)

    • jhofve77 on May 8, 2011 at 9:25 am

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment! Since I have a disability myself, this issue hasn’t come up for me. But your point is well taken.

      However, this is not just about convenience, it is about safety for the cats. I have found that in many hotels/motels, it is possible for a cat to get in under the bed, where it is inaccessible except by taking the entire bed frame apart, which in and of itself can be terrifying for the cat. Therefore it may sometimes be a wiser choice to confine them in the bathroom–but that may be at best impractical and potentially impossible with multiple cats (I had five large cats the last time I moved cross-country!).

      I have modified and updated the article to incorporate your point of view. I hope you find it more acceptable! Again, thanks for bringing this to my attention!

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