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.
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.