Can a cat handle having two homes?
March 20, 2011 7:05 PM   Subscribe

Is it a good Idea to get a cat with the intention of taking it between a apartment in Chicago and home in the suburbs?

My sister is going to medical school at MCW in WI and she plans on getting an apartment next to the school. Due to crappy roommates in the past, she wants to live by herself for the first year. But she wants to get a cat to keep her company. Theres plenty of apartments that allow cats. So thats not a big deal. My family is giving her a car before she goes to medical school. So she will be driving back and forth between the Aurora area west of Chicago and her school. Its only a three hour drive so she would probably be coming back about once or twice every two months or for extended periods when shes on break. Something like this sounds just fine with dogs. But what about cats? I think about our current cat and what happened to him when we dropped him off at a friends house for a month when we went to Poland. When we came back he gained a considerable amount of weight. He lost all of it but now has a big sac of skin under his belly. Could a cat handle changing environments like such? Does it draw concern that the cat could be lonely for extended periods of time for class, dates and study binges? The idea of her getting two cats has been tossed around so they keep each other company. But would it solve anything?

I don't know if this is relative, but shes looking at getting a purebred cat such as a Birman, Ragdoll, or a Persian. Shes definitely wants a female since our cat at home is a male to keep them from getting in dominance wars.

Let me know!
posted by NotSoSiniSter to Pets & Animals (23 answers total)
Response by poster: In question, I meant apartment in bad. :/
posted by NotSoSiniSter at 7:07 PM on March 20, 2011

We traveled with our cats a lot and they did just fine. Probably depends on the personality of the cat. Research onto the breed might help. But we felt it was better to take the cats with us when possible, rather than leave them for an extended time. The main thing that made them different from dogs was that we had to have a litterbox in the car.
posted by Knowyournuts at 7:12 PM on March 20, 2011

I used to be in a similar situation. I got two kittens the summer before I went to grad school, when I was living with my boyfriend. During grad school, I visited my boyfriend every couple of weeks for a weekend, and lived in his apartment all summer. My cats were fine with it, quickly adjusted to me new apartment each school year, and recognized his place as home whenever we got there.
They did hate the carriers ( I did not let them roam in the car) and learned to hide if they thought it was time to leave somewhere.
I definitely recommend two. Cats get lonely.
posted by Adridne at 7:15 PM on March 20, 2011

It definitely depends on the personality of the cat. I have moved with my Kitty 4 times, and each time he did fine in the new place. It took him a few hours to acclimate himself. However, Kitty in the car is not fun. Every time we moved, he would sit in his carrier and cry for as long as the trip was. The first time it was 14 hours (gahhhh!!). He hates the car, whether he's in the carrier, or I let him out. But once he's in a new space, he's fine. As long as he's with me, he knows he's home.
posted by katypickle at 7:18 PM on March 20, 2011

Does it draw concern that the cat could be lonely for extended periods of time for class, dates and study binges?

No, cats don't care. They are not social animals like dogs. They're not sad you're gone. They might be destructive if they're bored, though.

The idea of her getting two cats has been tossed around so they keep each other company. But would it solve anything?

Two cats would be less likely to destroy her stuff out of boredom since they will expend energy playing with each other.

Female cats suck, IMO. I have two male cats and they get along great. But I wouldn't want to periodically introduce them to another cat's environment. That's asking for trouble. Your male cat is going to exert dominance over his territory no matter the gender of the other cat. Prepare to clean up some urine.

If she's only coming back for a weekend, I'd leave the cat in Wisconsin and get an automatic feeder. If it's longer than that, I'd still leave it there and pay someone to check in on it every other day. There's another college right there. Three hours in a car with a cat is going to suck.
posted by desjardins at 7:20 PM on March 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

The cat will cope. I have cats who adore car rides, and cats who are terrified, but overall, they survive trips between houses.

I also recommend getting two, and covering the car with towels in case they get sick. (Tip: take the food away 12 hours before your car ride.)
posted by jeather at 7:20 PM on March 20, 2011

As far as the driving goes, the first few rides will be a bit scary for the kitty. After maybe 3-4 longish rides, they get used to it. Every cat I've driven with more than 3 or 4 times just sleeps on my shoulders for the whole ride.

It gets really sore if the drive is 7+ hours.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 7:32 PM on March 20, 2011

She's going to be bringing this cat to your home, where there's already another cat? I don't think that's a wise idea at all, for any of the cats involved.

If she's getting a cat, she's better off looking into boarding/catsitting options for extended trips.
posted by mkultra at 7:37 PM on March 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

We have left cats alone for several weeks as long as someone could come by to feed them once a day and clean the litter box occasionally (a cat won't use a dirty box--they'll use a nice clean corner). These were older cats who needed wet food; we've left younger cats with a big bowl of dry food for long weekends without any problems.

If she gets a kitten and starts traveling early, the cat could probably adapt, but it depends on the personality of the cat.
posted by thinkingwoman at 7:47 PM on March 20, 2011

We traveled with our cat - he went where we went, whether it was for a few days or a few months (except one trip overseas). He hated the carrier and would cry, but did fine in the car on his own (after I made a barrier between the back and front seats so he couldn't climb under the driver's feet). We had a litterbox for him in the car, but he'd only use it if the trip was very long. He went across the country with us three times and did very well - flying was much harder on him than driving. He recognized places we traveled to when we would come back (weekends at the family farm, for example) and yes, he was demonstrably unhappy if left alone - not destructive, but clingy.

One of the places we would visit on weekends had two other cats, and they actually got along pretty well - our cat had his own place to go, and knew it was his, and there no shows of dominance and they got down to sleeping next to each other and grooming each other really quickly, for cats (days, not weeks). So yeah, I think it depends on the cat and the breed (ours was a Ragdoll).

I'm with others who've said that it would be better to get two cats, and leave them together in the apartment for weekend trips.
posted by annathea at 8:06 PM on March 20, 2011

I very successfully did this with my current cat and have had lots of cats in the past. Here was my process...

As a kitten, like from day one, "Fluffy" went lots of places with me in a suitably secure and sized Outward Hound type carrier.

We went on a lot of business trips together. She could pretty much land in any environment and feel at home. Including over at my business partner's house where there was another cat. YMMV.

I did this because I didn't want one of those frightened cats that spend half their lives hiding under the bed, plus, my lifestyle was very travel-heavy at the time.

As Fluffy got older, this system worked against us. We now have to keep the credit cars and car keys hidden from her so she won't run off on a drunken bender to Vegas. On the other hand, she had the nifty habit for a while of walking me a block to the grocery store and waiting in some bushes until I returned that way to "escort" me back home. Like I said, she's "at home" wherever she goes!

Also, we had training about cars and streets (NO!) Also, I spent A LOT of time with her as a kitten so that she super bonded with me. In my experience, cats don't want to run away if they love you and they have freedom to come and go outdoors.

- The only problem I can see with your sister's plan is if her cat is strictly indoors but needs to be outdoors sometimes. Working that part in is tricky. Plenty of people are against letting cats go outdoors. Fluffy didn't really give me an option there. Your sister's cat might be perfectly happy indoors. If not, maybe the cat can be outdoors sometimes at your parents? I had a guy that would only hang out outdoors when visiting my dad's house (otherwise he lived in an apartment in NYC) and he would only go outside if he could see me. Basically, he would never venture beyond my line of sight. So. There are possibilities for your sister's cat.

- I worry about her hours at school. None of this works if the cat is alone 90% of the time. In that eventuality, she should get a pet sitter or friend to come by when she's out of town. Also, consider 2 cats as companionship for each other, since she won't be around.

- UPON RE-READING YOUR QUESTION -- I'm sorry. Your sister probably has no business getting a pure breed. They require heaps of care and attention your sister most likely can not provide with her schedule. Furthermore, their temperament/breeding don't lend themselves to a travel-heavy lifestyle. This will be true even when two are successfully paired in a household.

Please make sure she's responsible about this, whatever decisions she makes in the end.

Thank you.
posted by jbenben at 8:08 PM on March 20, 2011

One of my friends has a (female, some random short-haired breed) cat that moves between two homes:
#1 - room in a large, shared house, where the other tenants also have cats/dogs
#2 - family home, which I'm pretty sure also has other cats
The cat seems to have no problem with this.

He claims that the key is to start accustoming the kitty to car rides and strange people as early as possible.
posted by Metasyntactic at 8:11 PM on March 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I popped back in to add that I knew a cat once that hated his carrier so much he would defecate in it the minute he was inside and the carrier was placed in the car.

Being able to get away with this really depends on the cat AND how early you start the process.
posted by jbenben at 8:18 PM on March 20, 2011

I think she'll be much more likely to be successful with this arrangement if she gets a kitten rather than an adult.

Anecdote: I was living in New Orleans in 2005, and evacuated for Katrina with my then-boyfriend and his family. His mom's two adult cats were flipping a shit, but his kitten was totally fine and had no idea that anything was out of the ordinary.
posted by radioamy at 8:23 PM on March 20, 2011

My cat loves going to Grandma's. He cries a little in the car, but otherwise is OK. We started him visiting her as a kitten, and he stays there when we go on vacation. He knows his 'bedroom' in the basement, and gets along well enough with her cats.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 8:24 PM on March 20, 2011

I traveled between grad school and my parents' house with my male cat perhaps 15 times over 5 years. He meowed in the carrier, but it was easy enough to drown out. He had no trouble adjusting to my parents' house.

The problems began when my parents got a new, female cat. This new cat would hiss at my cat constantly, and someone (presumably my parents' cat) started urinating in the heat vents whenever my cat was in residence, pissing my mom off to no end. Now, my cats are forbidden at my parents' house.

So in my view the risk here is that the new cat won't get along with the existing cat, not that the new cat won't be able to handle the road.
posted by deadweightloss at 8:38 PM on March 20, 2011

Cats can be great at this sort of thing, but it really depends on the personality of the cat. During vet school, I took my cat to work with me at night to hang out (and occasionally donate blood) at the emergency clinic where I worked. He stayed home while I was in class and rode home with me for long weekends. My cat was 16 when we started this arrangement, it was not something he was accustomed to as a wee kitten.

If any one of us was a cat mind reader, we would be a millionaire; it is going to be difficult to figure out what cat might do well in this situation. I would aim for an adult cat from the shelter that seems unflappable.

None of the three breeds you listed ever strike me as the 'laid back' sort of breed, which I think is key in making this arrangement work.
posted by Nickel Pickle at 9:32 PM on March 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I agree with desjardins, female cats are much more territorial and usually don't get along with other non-relative cats. Neutered males are much cooler with other males.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 1:04 AM on March 21, 2011

I have a ragdoll, he travels beautifully. Being very people oriented and puppy-like he will roll with the punches and go wherever mummy goes. I give you one Jimmy McButterpants. We semi regularly do 4 hour drives, he has done Mel - Syd by road, has flown commercially, been in a tow truck and a decommissioned submarine. He is a labour intensive pain in the arse though. Ragdolls demand a lot of face time.

Also, if we go to a place with other cats he has no hope of defending himself. The only other cats he is allowed to hang out with are some very docile Birmans.
posted by Trivia Newton John at 4:31 AM on March 21, 2011

I third the 'get a male' cat route - in my experience, the boy kitties have been less snarky with other cats, more friendly with strangers, and more lovable with my family members. If she's getting a purebred, she can probably make SOME generalizations about their temperament. It's hard to rely on that though because they can be so different from one another, and so probably more crucial to expose the kitty to new people/new environments/cars early on.
posted by genekelly'srollerskates at 5:56 AM on March 21, 2011

We have a boy cat here. When we lived in Houston, he would fly with us to Vancouver on vacations and had no problems settling at the in-laws' house. New exciting territory to discover. He would bitch during the flight, but settled down immediately once we arrived. We've done this since he was a kitten, so he got used to it early on.
posted by arcticseal at 6:27 AM on March 21, 2011

There is every possibility that this plan could work and every possibility that it could fail. It's not nuts to give it a try--it depends totally on the personality of the individual cats. Re breeds: I have a rag doll and she's totally mellow. You can do anything with her, take her anywhere, and she's fine with it. It's all fun.
posted by Corvid at 2:43 PM on March 21, 2011

My (female DSH) kitty loves the family is about 6 hours away from where I go to school, and I used to make the trip home every other month or so, but lately because of a surgery it's been every few weeks, and I sometimes take weekend trips ~4 hours away where I would rather board her than leave her alone. She loves her carrier, but she especially loves getting to roam in the car because she'll go sit in the area between my back seats and the window and sunbathe.

I agree with the above, though, that purebreds are really labor-intensive. I'm gone a lot of the day, and my kitty is confined to my room when I'm gone (due to a roommate who will just let her go if given the opportunity), but she is perfectly contented to go back and forth from eating to watching the gerbil to sunbathe-ing to eating again...but I've had a few friends who brought their Persians and (one) Ragdoll to college and really regretted it because their schedule just didn't allow for the amount of time they needed.

I would recommend getting either a kitten or cat who has been fostered and has experience with car rides. I personally don't really like male cats, but I know that a lot of people don't like female cats, as well...many of the males I've known have been high strung, where my cat is much more laid back, but obviously that's just anecdotal. If she will be entering another cat's territory, my suggestion would be to keep male kitty out of your sister's room at all times, and when your sister's kitty comes home, keep her strictly in that room, at least for the first few times. They can still bat under the door at one another, and if they respond well you can think about giving them more interaction.
posted by kro at 9:45 AM on March 22, 2011

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