Need some advice for moving with a cat in the winter.
November 1, 2011 3:18 PM   Subscribe

Help me move my crankypants kitty across the 2/3 of the country in the dead of winter.

I've read through a lot of the help-me-move-with-my-cat questions here before (mostly because I just moved from LA to SF 3 months ago), but now that I'm moving from SF to Chicago in the dead of winter, I have some additional questions, particularly since most of the advice I've seen is about how to keep kitty cool in the summer, not warm in the winter. Also, the idea of a 4.5-5 day drive is a little more intimidating than a one day drive.

The good news is, my dad has very generously offered to take time off from being retired and bored to help me with the drive, so there should be one of us available to keep an eye on the kitteh at all times. We are also planning to always have one of us in the car at stops - that way it stays warmer and kitty will freak a bit less.

The bad news is, I have decided that, after doping him up on the move up to SF, I'm going to see if I can get away with not doping him up to go to Chicago. He got INCREDIBLY, hilariously stoned during the drive up here, but I think it just made the whole thing more traumatic for him overall. However, I would like to try and keep him relatively calm - does anyone have advice on good ways to do that that do not involve doping him up?

I also would love advice on how to keep kitty warm - I bought a little harness and leash for him and I'm going to see how hard/blood-loss-inducing it is for me to try and get him into and out of it this week. If I can do that, I think it'll be easier because he can either sit on a blanket or sit on the lap of whoever's not driving, with the passenger holding on to the leash to prevent him from going up to the front seat to get under the gas pedal etc. If I can't, however - any suggestions on how to make sure the carrier stays relatively warm? He's an indoor cat who has mostly lived in SoCal and is thus is not used to cold weather at ALL.

Also: Has anyone had any success in getting your cat to drink out of a hamster-style water bottle during travel? I tried giving him water in a bowl whenever we stopped when I moved up here, but he just started at it like I was a lunatic. I feel like water in a bottle would be more convenient for everyone, especially him.

Any other generalized cat + long car travel tips would be greatly appreciated.
posted by loudguitars to Pets & Animals (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I have taken cats on February moving road trips twice now. The warmth of the car was just fine for them. My cats always stayed in the carrier, which I was much more comfortable with for everyone's safety.
posted by Zophi at 3:23 PM on November 1, 2011

Is this a hairless cat? If not then don't worry about keeping the cat warm. We had shorthaired cats that were outdoors all year round. Cats are plenty warm. Maybe i missed something but couldn't you put him in a cat carrier?
posted by no bueno at 3:28 PM on November 1, 2011

Response by poster: Heh, he is definitely not hairless. He just sheds like crazy and it is MUCH warmer in SF than it will be anywhere else on our drive.

The reason I'm thinking I'd let him out on a leash/harness is that I'm a little concerned if I try to keep him in the carrier for 8 hours at a time (which is about what we're planning to drive each day), he's going to going to go nuts if he's not doped up. He's a fairly restless cat in general, and I think the only reason he put up with being in a carrier so long on the way up here was the drugs.
posted by loudguitars at 3:38 PM on November 1, 2011

Agreed that cats are generally not sensitive to cold the way humans are -- as long as you're not leaving him out in sub-freezing temperatures for long periods he'll be just fine. You might want to put a small blanket or a towel in the bottom of the carrier for extra comfort and warmth. Spraying the carrier with Feliway the night before the trip might also help calm him down.

On preview, most cats instinctively hunker down when they're in the carrier; he might yowl a lot (which is super annoying!), but I very seriously doubt he'll go nuts. The carrier might even be better for him than the leash/harness, simply because it's more secure in there. Unless he's very used to the leash/harness I suspect that'll be much more of a stress factor than being in an easily-defensible cat-cave.

As for the water, I've never had a cat that wanted to drink or eat much while on a trip ("just stared at it like I was a lunatic" is about par for the course). If I were you I'd get some super-delicious canned cat food, and plan for him to get his water from that plus a water bowl during overnight stops.
posted by vorfeed at 3:52 PM on November 1, 2011

I assume kitty has fur, so kitty will be able to stay warm just fine in the car. My kitty did an 8 hour drive with no heat in the car during a frigid midwestern winter just fine. I covered the carrier with a fuzzy towel to keep in some of the heat and keep kitty from freaking out with all the things moving past so quickly. I also put a fuzzy towel in the carrier for her to sit on. I also assume your car has heat, so you should be fine. Even if kitty is alone in the car for a bit with no heat as you guys grab lunch or something, his body heat will keep him warm enough.

Kitty is also the descendent of desert-dwellers who didn't have 24/7 access to water. I've traveled with my kitty a lot and never had success getting her to drink during our drives (including a few 12-14 hour days in the car), and she's none the worse for the wear. If you're really concerned, you can dip kitty's paw in water at one of your stops and he'll lick it off. If you don't already feed kitty wet food at least some of the time, transition to more wet food as the trip gets closer and kitty will stay more hydrated that way, too.

My kitty sounds calmer than yours, but I've generally found it's best to let her just adjust to the carrier and leave her there for the duration of the day's drive. She often yowls for the first few minutes in protest and then settles in, staying sort of half-awake, half-asleep for most of the time, especially when there's a towel over the carrier to block some of the sensory stimulation. I put her in the middle of the backseat so we can see her from the front and stick our fingers through the bars to pet her a bit if she gets antsy. Oh, and it helps kitty be happier if the carrier is level, so we put a towel or two under the carrier, too, to even out any bumps or angles in the seat. If we can stabilize it side-to-side, too, that helps (we use a suitcase on each side, generally). We never, ever open a car door unless kitty is 100% secured in the carrier. Kitty can move faster than you, so if you plan to take him in and out of the cage, be sure you can do it without too much difficulty and without opening the car doors.

Cats are weird, but they are also resilient.
posted by BlooPen at 3:54 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Don't worry about warmth. The car (which I assume has heat) and carrier with a blanket in the bottom will be more than plenty. You are more vulnerable to the cold that your cat is, trust me.

I say go for the harness (I wish I had the patience to train my cats to do this), but still be very, very careful of doors -- you don't want kitteh escaping both the harness and car at the same time. And obviously, have the carrier as well. You might find your cat would prefer it and just hide in there the whole trip.

For the water issue -- not drinking for 8 hours while in the car will be fine. Does he eat wet food? If he'll eat that en route, he's more than hydrated for the trip.
posted by cgg at 3:56 PM on November 1, 2011

I understand your reluctance to sedate the cat. It is so sad to see them in that state as they don't understand it (shades of David after the Dentist "Is this going to be forever?" but sadder as you can't reassure them that, actually, no). Plus, five days is a long time to be drugged up. I think the harness will make things more difficult. He'll be constantly striving to get *anywhere else* and be more stressed. He'll be throwing off dander and hair because he's stressed. If he's ultra stressed, he may pee on your dad. I'd vote for a carrier (maybe sprayed with Feliway) and constant verbal/petting reassurance. Maybe take the sedatives along with pill pockets just in case. There are also pheromone-based calming cat collars; I can't vouch for these as I have not found them to be effective but I have a coworker who claims they worked on his cat. Oh, and now might be a good time to have him microchipped at the vet. At the very least, make sure he has a collar with a phone number.
posted by Morrigan at 4:02 PM on November 1, 2011

Would your dad be willing to fly out with kitty on the day you arrive? Four or five days is a long trip for a cat. (I'm sure he'll be fine, but it's something to consider.)
posted by cyndigo at 4:14 PM on November 1, 2011

Response by poster: @cgg - Right - the plan is to not actually open any doors to the car unless he's back in the carrier. The harness is more to give him more room to move around and stretch out when the car is actually in motion. He loves to sit in the window at home and people-watch (and especially watch the Muni roll by), so I'm assuming he'd actually be relaxed by the ability to do so in the car.

However, everyone who made it has a good point that it may be easier to just let him howl for a while and then suck it up and cocoon in the carrier rather than having him in and out and in and out.

@Cyndigo - The original plan was for me to fly with the cat and my dad and his also-retired BIL to drive the car with a trailer full of crap, but I've heard one too many horror stories of cats escaping their owners arms at security (one friend of mine had to work with the TSA for 20 minutes to coax his terrified cat out from under the x-ray machine, and that was one of the less frightening stories I heard).

@Morrigan - I had him microchipped almost immediately after I got him. He's also got a collar with my cell number on it as well.

Part of the reason I'm concerned about him not drinking *any* water is that he's had extremely serious urinary issues (like, he eventually needed a P/U surgery in 2008 and now only eats prescription canned food to prevent UTIs). I tried giving him bits of his canned food during the move here but he was completely uninterested; maybe he'll be more interested when he's not stoned out of his tiny little mind.

When I moved up here, I had a kitty piddle pad inside his carrier, but to properly increase the warmth it sounds like I just need to find a blanket or towel I'm not terribly attached to in case he pees on it. I'm just paranoid he's going to have a harder time than most cats because his coat will not have slowly thickened as it's gotten colder - he's going to be jumping into the deep end of a pretty cold pool.
posted by loudguitars at 5:04 PM on November 1, 2011

If you're really concerned about the water, your other option is to force it into him via eye dropper. I had to do this with a sick kitty for a while, and while she didn't like it, it was about like having to give a pill. If dehydration is worse than stress for him, that's an option. It takes a bit of practice, which you should probably do at home, but it isn't too difficult to hold their head up and squirt a bit of water in there. However, I'd try the water on the paw trick first and see if he'll lick it off himself.

I did a 4 day move with kitty a couple of years ago and she was not happy about being confined that long, but she got kind of used to it by day 3. She was really stressed out in our tiny Motel 6 room one night because it wasn't super clean and she could smell other animals around and there weren't too many places to hide, but she settled in pretty well at the Hampton Inn in Rawlins, WY (a relatively rare pet-friendly Hampton Inn) because it was clean and the room was bigger with more hiding spots, including a nice big closet for the cat box. She seemed to settle in better when we left her in the room alone while we went out for dinner because she could explore and eat and do her business without us hovering around. You might look at this thread for hotel options along the way.
posted by BlooPen at 7:17 PM on November 1, 2011

Response by poster: @BlooPen - Thanks, that's super helpful. I've definitely been on that thread and I'm all over BringFido and PetsWelcome for good pet-friendly hotels on my route.

For those of you who did travel with your cat(s) - Did you keep kitty confined to a small area within the room when you were in hotels? I know when I first moved up here I kept my cat in the bathroom for the first couple of days to keep his world small and help lower his level of freaked-outedness, and that seemed to help immensely. Also, I'm a little concerned about him a) peeing on carpet in hotels and b) refusing to come out from under the bed whenever we're getting ready to leave.

Guidance on this would also be much appreciated. Thanks!
posted by loudguitars at 7:30 PM on November 1, 2011

I think you will need to just play it by ear. Leave the cat in the carrier for the first day to get used to driving. If the yowling gets bad, you can see how the kitty does sitting in your pop's or your lap.

I have a sick cat now and am feeding and "watering" him by syringe, similiar to BlooPen's mention of an eyedropper. You can go to your local pharmacist and ask for a syringe for a kid's liquid medicine...I went to a local Safeway and they gave me a handful for free. You might want to have a few with you on your trip in case your kitty has a bit of "trauma" being in strange hotel rooms and doesn't want to eat or drink. (If you have to feed him, mix meat baby food with water.) Or have special food that he likes. It is not fun for you or kitty...but better than the kitty becoming dehydrated.

I moved from Texas to Colorado in the winter and the kitty had no issue with warmth. Be sure to put the carrier as close to the front seat as you can, and make sure you are aware of the interior temperature. Your kitty will be fine, remember that he has a fur coat. It was just me and my I made sure he heard my voice by singing and talking to him. Not sure if it annoyed him or comforted him, but it helped with the yowlng. And good luck in your new home!
posted by Kitty Cornered at 8:10 PM on November 1, 2011

I basically just did this, sorta. Moved from Portland, OR (via San Francisco) to Minnesota with my cat.

I drugged him the first day (Portland to Oakland). But he hated taking the pill, so for the next few days of driving, I just put him in his carrier, which sat in the passenger seat, and he was fine. I did not let him out of the car. I just left him in the carrier with his favorite pillow, and he was totally fine during a three day trek from San Francisco to Minnesota.

The first two days, each stop I would offer him food and water, but he didn't want any on the drive; he just wanted to hunch down and sleep. I'm sure it sucked for him a bit, but he was totally fine (hell, driving across country wasn't peaches for me either).

One thing I will say about the car - he hated music. I brought lots of lectures and books on tape. A few times I got sleepy of the lectures and put on music, and he woke right up and started sort of freaking. So it was back to soothing lectures, and he just slept.
posted by Lutoslawski at 9:15 PM on November 1, 2011

To help make the carrier more comforting, consider putting a worn t-shirt or other dirty laundry in there rather than (or in addition to) a clean towel.

Also, can you try cutting the dose of whatever meds you used before? Just enough to take the edge off, rather than make him loopy?

Good luck with the drive, I'm sure you'll both do fine!
posted by msbubbaclees at 8:06 AM on November 2, 2011

Response by poster: I'll try putting in a t-shirt I don't care about him peeing on (he's a serious pisser, so anything that goes into that carrier will almost definitely get peed on).

His meds are liquid and already in a syringe, which is good in that it makes it easier to give it to him, but bad in that it's virtually impossible to give him a half-dose, unfortunately.

Thanks everyone for all the advice - y'all are giving me a lot more confidence that not doping him up will be fine.
posted by loudguitars at 8:46 AM on November 2, 2011

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