Two Cats + 3,000 miles + 4 wheels = ?
July 14, 2011 8:06 AM   Subscribe

We're sending our two cats on a cross-country road trip. Who should they go with?

In anticipation of a coming move from NYC to the Bay Area, we're trying to figure out exactly how to get our cats there. We're driving ourselves, and so flying with them is out of the question (as is taking them with us—we know there are pet-friendly motel chains, but we're trying to fold a Mythic Road Trip into the process, and the cats seem like a logistical hurdle, if a well-loved one).

We've been looking at ground transportation operations, and think we've found a couple of good ones, but with not much to go on (other than onsite testimonials), we knew we had to consult the hive mind. These trips are done via van, with a maximum of eight animals aboard—all with their own crate/food/litter, to be handled/exercised at rest stops, staff sleeps on board with the animals. The price, amazingly, is less than flight-transport services—and, as we've been led to believe, likely more humane, depending on the cat's temperament (we have one intrepid adventurer and one possibly autistic agoraphobe).

So: Have any of you used any of these services? Which one? Was it awesome? Did your cats resent you forever? Did they come back to you with renewed joie de vivre and a jaunty porkpie hat? Help!
posted by LDL_Plackenfatz to Pets & Animals (8 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Nowhere near the distance you're talking about, but we drove from London to Edinburgh (about 400 miles) with our cat in the cab of our van in his cat carrier. We also had a litter tray and we stopped about every hundred miles and opened the carrier to see if he wanted to do his business. He didn't, so we carried on.

Having the cat with us so we could speak to him and and he could see/smell us for the whole trip really helped him I think. I appreciate this might not be possible for the distance you are going or with two cats. We also didn't have overnight stops, obviously, so we didn't have to think about that. It is possible though, so perhaps worth thinking about. Just be sure to have a rest stop routine to make sure the vehicle doors are closed and there's no risk of them scarpering into the bushes.
posted by Happy Dave at 9:27 AM on July 14, 2011

I'd have a really tough time using one of these services for a trip that long, partly because with up to 8 animals with different drop-off/pick-up locations, the trip is likely to be less than direct and your animals, per one of the sites you link to, may end up being in transport for a week. I just wouldn't want my kitty to be stuck in a van with strangers for a week and couldn't expect her to be happy about any part of that process (I don't think mine would eat or drink normally and would likely end up very constipated after a week because of the stress of strangers). Plus, I'd just feel guilty and worried while I was off on my road trip.

I would maybe consider it for a shorter trip of a day or two, but when we did a big 2000 mile move, I was much happier to have the cat with me in the car, even if that meant finding pet-friendly hotels and limiting rest stop time so she wouldn't get hot in the car. We limited each day's driving to about 10 hours of total time in the car (including stops). Then she was let loose in the hotel room in the evening to stretch out and do her business.

If I wanted to combine cat transport with road tripping, I'd try to plan my stops carefully to make it so kitty could be in a hotel room while I went off sight seeing. If you check into a hotel fairly early in the afternoon or check out a bit later in the morning, you have lots of hours to check out whatever roadside attractions you'd like to see.
posted by BlooPen at 9:58 AM on July 14, 2011

I have not personally used pet transport - our cat is leash trained and is now learning that to go for car rides doesn't have to involve the vet and can be fun. This was a solid tip we got from a behaviouralist - he's a young cat and has a pretty friendly, mellow temperament, so we are trying to teach him that travel != trauma. We also think it's important to socialize him a bit more as in the past he's been skittish around strangers. This is improving. But that all doesn't help your current situation. So.

I do have a bit of anecdata from a friend who has used one of these services. She recently got 2 Bengal kittens from an out of state breeder via the PawsnClaws service you linked above. They were shipped from Miami, Florida to Albuquerque New Mexico a month ago, and they were 2 days in transit. She said they were well treated in a clean, climate controlled transport, that it was more affordable than air shipment, and that the kittens were carefully handled. Pets are grouped on routes such that they all go to areas enroute to the furthest dropoff, to minimize time in transport. The breeder recommended this service far and away above air freight or other options (like my friend going to Florida to pick them up).

I don't think there's any way to really predict or control how your personal cats will come through transport or adjust to the move, at all. It will vary wildly by their temperament, and they can surprise you. Any cat will be traumatized by abrupt a routine shifts unless they've been well adapted to travel already. No matter how well adjusted the cat or how careful the handlers, some cats will howl and pace and refuse food and maybe be carsick for the entire trip, some will sleep the entire trip, some will act like nothing's out of line, and some will jump around, look out the window and go for walks, and treat it like A Grand Adventure.

They will also take some time getting adjusted to their new digs. And you should be understanding of this, and just let them relax. Give them a quiet, sequestered spot in the new house with food, water and litterbox, preferably a room or area you can segregate from the rest of Moving Box Hell. They will likely hide a lot at first. That's ok. There maybe midnight yowling, which is also okay (albiet annoying). They may also try to escape at first, which is why it's important to sequester them, and Do Not Let Them Outside until they're well-adjusted and have got it in their furry little catbrains that this is their new home.
posted by lonefrontranger at 10:15 AM on July 14, 2011

Also if you do decide to take your cats personally (which I don't recommend really as it doesn't sound as though you've had time to leash train them or get them used to car rides) DO ABSOLUTELY get them both proper carriers and a proper walking jacket. I highly recommend that one - they're custom made and the lady is awesome to work with. A regular dog / nylon strap harness DOES NOT work for cats; they will back out of them and escape.

Do not just put them in the car loose with you. I cannot stress this highly enough. You do NOT want to have frantic cats flying around the car, puking from stress and/or getting under your feet / brake pedals as you drive. And the worst that can happen is what happened to my parents back in the 60s when they were on a moving / road trip with cats - you stop at a rest area and the one who's been hiding under the sleeping bags in the back seat shoots out from underneath them, out the door and is gone, forever.

Each cat should also have a separate carrier, a solid proper carrier, not a cardboard box. One that has a removable lid is ideal for cats, who don't load easily through small doors. The carrier should be big enough for them to move and turn about, but only just. Keep them in their collar/tags/walking jacket whilst in the carrier, and make sure they ALWAYS have the harness AND leash on whenever they're out of the carrier.
posted by lonefrontranger at 10:28 AM on July 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

Anecdotal evidence:

We schlepped our three agoraphobic cats from Illinois to Colorado last summer for a multi-week vacation in the mountains. One cat (a juvenile) had just been introduced to the others the week prior. (For various reasons, kennelling/pet-sitting was impossible.) All of us were in a Nissan sedan. Un-sedated. (Our destination was at 12,000' - sedatives + altitude don't mix in cats at all.)

We, and everyone we admitted our plans to, anticipated this being an epic 14-hour disaster and potentially the worst idea they'd ever heard.

The first 30 minutes were a zoo; the cats were in their carriers, scratching at the bars and howling in protest. After we got out of the city & onto the flat, smooth interstate, I released the beasts (quiet? please???) and they promptly shimmied down to the dark floor of the back seat where they slept for hours. Hours! Every now and then, someone would awaken, crawl up to my lap for a bit of reassurance, and then back to the floor they'd wander. We even managed to squeeze in rest-stops and a couple of drive-thrus with no jail breaks. Nobody ate, or used the litter box.

When we arrived, the cats spent a few hours hiding under furniture and on top of the kitchen cupboards, but by the next morning all was well.

Two weeks later, rinse & repeat.

No lingering resentment on the cats part; they continue to be as loving as ever. Incidentally, the newly introduced cat bonded extremely tightly with the other two in the unfamiliar environment. Far tighter than any other cat introductions we've ever done.

Cats & roadtrips can definitely mix - I think having us there for comfort helped a bit. You may want to leave give each kittie an unwashed undershirt that they can snuggle up to in their carrier. I'd also be very careful with the sedatives - if your driver insists, make sure to test them well in advance of the trip so you can immediately treat any problems that arise. If the cats are going to be at altitude, definitely mention this to your vet.

handled/exercised at rest stops

This is the only thing I'd be concerned with. At least in our experience, all three cats hated their literal "field trip". If it hadn't been for the cat-harnesses, we would have lost two to the wilds of Kansas. I think in their minds, the car was strange and uncomfortable, but small & without threat. When they were suddenly plopped into the grass, with all that sky and those crazy smells they freaked out in full-on panic mode. Hopefully the companies can share with you what precautions they will take to minimize the chances of a similar experience.
posted by muirne81 at 1:25 PM on July 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you let cats out in the car, try not to let them crawl under the brake pedal (it happened to me once; we survived okay).
posted by ovvl at 6:23 PM on July 14, 2011

The gas and brake pedals are the first place they head.
posted by serena15221 at 8:09 PM on July 14, 2011

Thanks, everyone—if we went with a transport service, harnesses would definitely part of the rest-stop equation, as it would be if we took the cats ourselves (which we're also now considering). The road-trip anecdotes are a huge help, and give us hope that (with good new carriers and proper precautions) this could be actually a good experience.
posted by LDL_Plackenfatz at 11:52 AM on July 15, 2011

« Older The Laws of Soccer   |   My vector file has a dual personality Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.