Can I drive 1600 miles in a Mini Cooper with 4 cats?
November 4, 2012 1:33 PM   Subscribe

Can I drive 1600 miles in a Mini Cooper with 4 cats?

I realize just the question alone will make me seem a little crazy to some... I will be spending a few months in Maine next summer, and need to drive there from FL. The cats aren't "good" travelers, but they do ride in the car on occasion - usually to the vet. Yes, they'll howl and maybe freak out a little for a while, but I hope eventually they'll settle down. I'll probably have them in 3 cat carriers - two of them might be ok together in one larger crate.

I have a few months perhaps to desensitize them.... maybe I need to take them for rides around the neighborhood, reward them for getting in the carrier on their own if they do?

Has anyone done something like this that might offer some tips? I don't want to tranquilize them or anything. What can I do to make it less traumatic on all of us? Leaving them home isn't an option, and there is a good chance the same trip may need to be done again for a final move from here to there.
posted by pinkbungalow to Pets & Animals (27 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I did something very similar on a ~1300 mile trip with two cats who did not like to be in a carrier whatsoever. Getting into and out of the car with the cats was a pain, and occasionally they would manage to get into their favorite spot of all, the space between the pedals and the floor. It can be done, tranqs might actually help you out more than the cats, but leashes are really important to have, and aside from that, realizing that the trip will be over in a few hours or days and hopefully never have to be repeated.
posted by efalk at 1:41 PM on November 4, 2012

I drove across country in a Geo Metro with two cats. Might it be possible to bring a friend along for the ride? We had the two cats in leashes the entire time and one person would hold on to them while the other person did stuff like gassed up and/or made hotel arrangements or whatever. We had a small emergency litter box on the floor of the back seat and had food and water available for them but they mostly just ate and drank when we were stopped. Basically treat the car like it has an airlock and don't open any door unless you are certain that all cats are secured. I don't think I'd do a lot of conditioning for them, if it were me, though getting them used to their carriers is a good idea. If it were me I think I'd try to do it on two long days to minimize the time spent moving the cats from car to overnight accommodations and back. Make sure you are staying someplace that is okay with cats and where you can keep them securely contained.
posted by jessamyn at 2:06 PM on November 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

We drove 1000 miles with two cats in a Pontiac LeMans (don't judge). In regards to the howling - they did eventually settle down, but the howling would start up again any time we had to stop the car. So after every gas/food/bathroom break, there would be 30 minutes of nonstop catscreaming, panting, and drooling. YCMV, but if I ever had to do that again, I'd invest in kitty tranqs to make it easier on all parties involved.
posted by spinturtle at 2:27 PM on November 4, 2012

I'd bring a friend if at all possible, but at the very least start acclimating them to the carrier now. We sprayed Nosy Parker's carrier with Feliway several times a day in preparation for our move; he's gone from freaking out if he saw it in the room to actually happily taking a nap there.

Good luck and have a safe trip!
posted by Space Kitty at 2:46 PM on November 4, 2012

Drove Calgary to Vancouver and return in September with our cat. He complained everytime we started up after a pit-stop, but he generally settled down quickly and just sat on the parcel shelf at the back, coming forward to comment on the scenery every so often. We took him out for a walk around on his lead at every stop and he liked getting some fresh air.

We have a friend who drives with her 3 persians from Stavanger to Trondheim about twice a year, 2 stay in carriers, the third strolls around. 1 is lightly medicated for the trip but otherwise, no issues.
posted by arcticseal at 2:49 PM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

We had the small litter box, like jessamyn suggested, but he didn't use it. The airlock approach is the one we took, we upgraded his harness to one more resistant to his Houdini abilities and all was good.
posted by arcticseal at 2:50 PM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Obviously, you should read this thread from start to finish.
posted by acidic at 3:18 PM on November 4, 2012 [5 favorites]

Puss didn't like the carrier box, not one little bit, and ms. flabdablet thought it would be cruel to leave her in it for the rest of the two-hour journey home, so we stopped at a pet shop and bought a harness and put it on her and let her out of the box.

It eventually took a fire truck to get her out of the storm drain. Which is why we named her Persephone, after the queen of the Underworld.

In hindsight, stopping at the vet's for a packet of happy happy joy joy would have been a much better option.
posted by flabdablet at 3:26 PM on November 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

I drove cross country with the cats. I lost a cat once during a pit stop on a long drive and it slipped away and ran into the woods, never to be heard from again, so I am paranoid about that sort of thing, so what we did was we got a large dog crate, big enough for a Newfoundland, and put a litterbox and a blanket in it. This was during the hottest part of summer and the cats did not seem to want to use the litter box despite being in the car for >12 hours a day. They actually used it to lie in and I guess stay cool (cats are weird). They cried some but were generally OK. We did the entire drive in 2 days because we wanted to make it easier on them, I would recommend doing the same. We found a hotel that was pet friendly and we put them in the bathroom of the hotel room overnight, and they seemed happy with that.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 3:28 PM on November 4, 2012

I've driven cross country with two cats once. In an Audi.

I currently own a Mini Cooper.

There is NO WAY I would do that drive with three cats in a Mini Cooper. NO WAY.
posted by FlamingBore at 3:58 PM on November 4, 2012

My bad-traveling cat cried for like 10+ solid hours the first day of our two-day long-distance move. He attempted to cry for the second day, but had lost his voice from the first day. So that helped, I guess. My bad traveler actually preferred being in a (puppy) carrier with my good traveler (my good traveler liked the car, and didn't mind the friend -- did NOT like the crying, though) so he could huddle in fear against the other cat. This would have been good to know BEFORE the long move in separate carriers.

Our vet gave us guidelines about how long the cats could go without food or water or litterbreaks. I don't recall exactly, but we didn't take the cats out at all during the first day that took around 10 hours. (Our cats eat twice a day, morning and evening.) The vet had us give a slightly smaller than usual morning meal in case of stomach upset, and water, about half an hour before we left, and right before putting them in their carriers we plopped them down in front of the litterbox so they'd get the idea if it was necessary, and then we just left them in their carriers all day. When we stopped for the night they had food, water, and litter available all evening and overnight, and then we repeated the next day. We moved in the winter so dehydration from heat was not a concern. Our vet did also warn us not to put the carriers on the center floor "bump" in the car where the drivetrain goes (if it's an RWD car? I guess?) because it can generate a lot of heat and the cats can get quite hot with the fur and the enclosed carrier on a long trip, and actually get "burns."

We did car-train our good-traveler cat as a kitten; training did not take with bad-traveler, whom we acquired as an adult. Training can definitely help, but may or may not work on any given cat. We usually put the carriers out in strategic cave-locations and let the cats use them as dens before the trip -- you have quite a long while before the trip to let them hang out in them and make the cats decide they're homey and unthreatening, so I'd definitely do that. It reduces the panic level, if not the "GRAR ANGRY ABOUT DRIVING" level. We also tried draping blankets over bad-traveler's carrier during the trip, to black it out like a parrot (and maybe add more warmth, as it was winter). It helped a little bit (he seemed to be slightly less-freaked-out when he couldn't see what was going on, although he didn't sleep as hoped), and slightly muffled the howling too. But only a little bit.

Anyway, gritting your teeth and expecting endless hours of crying and being ready to ignore it will help. After like six hours you'll start to tune it out.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:01 PM on November 4, 2012

Kansas to North Dakota in a pickup with a cat on tranqs. Eventually gave her double the dose. Turned her loose between stops thinking it would ease her distress and panting. Nope. Continuous noise and a couple times she even managed to drag herself up onto the back of the seat and bite my head. Personally I think the tranqs only made her feel worse. I didn't give her any the second day of travel and she seemed a little less distressed although not any quieter. Just a data point. YCMV.
posted by stubborn at 6:10 PM on November 4, 2012

Because cats are escape artists, I would advise travel crates. I think that travelling with them on harnesses/leashes is just asking for trouble. Have water in the crates. They will be fine without food while you travel during the day. They will most likely ignore any litter box*.

Do not let them out of the crates until they are in your hotel room with the door closed. Put out food and water in the hotel room as well as a litter box or two (pet stores carry "temp" boxes, get a couple of them).

Before you move, put out a crate or two in your home and let the cats become accustomed to them. Feed them treats inside the crates. This is a good idea in general to have your cats accustomed to their crates in case you have to leave your house quickly (fire, hurricane, etc.). Tuck them under chairs if you have limited floor space. Remove the doors if that makes sense. (Put the doors back on before you start your trip, of course!)

*I travelled from SoCal to Houston, TX with three cats in a Geo Storm. I had a "cage" of wood and chicken wire built into the back area (back seats flipped down). They had food, water and a litter box. In four days one of the cats used the litter box once. And yes, they yowled a bit at the start of every day, but soon calmed down and mostly slept.
posted by deborah at 6:16 PM on November 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

Traveling cats must be crated from starting room to destination room (optional intermediary rooms also) unless you are ready to lose them. Whether you tranq them or not is an entirely other question. I brook no disagreement. If you love them they go in a crate 100% no exceptions.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:47 PM on November 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

That sounds like a lot of cat in a small vehicle. If you do this, I would advise you plan your overnight stop(s) carefully. We stayed in a Motel 6 that we had already scoped out on another trip up to our new city. It allowed all 3 cats, no problem, and there was (basically) no way for the cats to get under the bed because of the way the bed was designed and the one weak link in the design we blocked ourselves. We didn't let them out until we were totally in for the night, and then didn't go out in the morning until they were all back in crates. It worked, but was pretty high stress.
posted by artdesk at 7:09 PM on November 4, 2012

The TSA might disagree with you there. I received my worst mauling holding a squirmy cat in a slow queue in Vancouver airport.
posted by arcticseal at 7:09 PM on November 4, 2012

Sorry, that comment was for seanmpuckett. I think your cat mileage varies and you know your cats best.
posted by arcticseal at 7:11 PM on November 4, 2012

i have experience with this. definitely use carriers. they will cry the whole time. really don't know if this is possible, to be honest. even with small carriers, you could have one in the front and three in the back, and maybe the trunk for your stuff? i don't know, maybe just a suitcase of stuff is all you'll need for a few months.

plan where you'll stay overnight well, and also plan on taking an extra day or two. you may be fine driving 8-12 hours a day on your own, but six hours with a screaming cat, WITH FOUR OF THEM, and you'll be exhausted.

you don't talk about leaving them somewhere else. is that at all an option? paying someone to check in on them for 1/2 and hour every other day? taking them to a relative, or having friends take them in? if you'll only be gone for a few months this seems like the much better option.
posted by cupcake1337 at 7:19 PM on November 4, 2012

Because cats are escape artists, I would advise travel crates . . . Do not let them out of the crates until they are in your hotel room with the door closed.

I strongly agree with this. We did a move once with the harnesses, one cat slipped off the harness at a Wyoming rest stop and dove under the barbed wire fence. I climbed over it and barely caught her. She was almost a coyote snack.

What helped a lot in our 1500 mile move was putting a sheet over the crates. The darkness really seemed to calm them. We tried the tranquilizers, one cat seemed unaffected (but maybe that was the drugs working?) and the other drooled and staggered so much we took her off them after a day.

I also think you need a separate carrier for each. Under the stress of the move they might fight.

Good luck!
posted by LarryC at 7:25 PM on November 4, 2012

I had a Very Bad Experience with cat tranqs. Tested it first, dosed her and drove around on highways, stoned kitty did great tolerating the car. The real thing was a different story, the heightened anxiety of it being for real meant that we had a disoriented, high, freaking-out cat, which was way worse.
posted by desuetude at 7:51 PM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

My cat is totally down with car travel, but if I put him in one of those seatbelt harnesses he will pull against it until he is free. I wouldn't recommend controlling 4 cats in this way. I would recommend taking someone with you if possible.
posted by Trivia Newton John at 9:24 PM on November 4, 2012

We use dog crates and crate the cats that like each other together - this helps to reassure the more scared cats. We use dog housebreaking-training pads in the bottom in case of accidents. We also cover the crates with sheets and spray the crates down with Feliway - it seems to help a lot.

It's a lot of cat in a small car but it should be doable.
posted by RogueTech at 8:11 AM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Absolutely use cat carriers. If you don't use carriers, you run the risk of being distracted by a cat jumping on you/running under your feet/etc. while driving, or of losing a cat through an open door or window. Listening to them howl sucks, but at least you know you're all safe that way.

I've moved long-distance twice with a cat who hates being in a carrier, but both times he figured out after a while that we weren't going to the vet and was surprisingly chill, though obviously every cat is different. He seemed happiest when the carrier was arranged so that he could look out a window, so maybe prop the carriers up on your suitcases and boxes to let the cats see out the windows?

My cat wore a harness inside his carrier, and at rest stops I would reach in (carefully, through a tiny opening) and clip a leash to his harness, and let him come out for a break. He always refused to use a litter box the entire trip, though, even though I had one ready for him.

I think the hardest part for you will be making sure you have enough room to fit your own belongings in the car if it's already mostly filled up with 3-4 cat carriers. Otherwise, it's just a matter of gritting your teeth and ignoring their complaints.
posted by jessypie at 9:02 AM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the tips, a few things mentioned I hadn't thought of. I'll definitely crate them... I did do a similar trip with 2 cats 20+ years ago in a bigger car, and I did tranquilize one of them, it seemed to make her miserable AND really stoned, so my inclination would be to tough it out without that. Mini is surprisingly spacious but yes... it will likely be an adventure not to repeat often!

I'm wondering about Feliway - if you used it, did you just spray it in the carrier? Do you apply it just once?

The harness thing could be amusing... the only time I ever tried to put one on a cat the cat laid down on it's side and wouldn't move. (not one of these cats)
posted by pinkbungalow at 10:21 AM on November 5, 2012

For the Feliway, I spray it in the carrier and on the puppy training pad, and let it dry. The reason is that you shouldn't spray it directly on a cat or have them rubbing up against the stuff while it's still liquid (if you can help it). I usually do it the night before (the day-of seems to be too crazy!) and it still works ok. We have a cat that Freaks. Out. and it seems to help him calm down, without being a weirdo because he's tranq'ed up to the gills. It's expensive stuff but we've found it useful - you could spray it around the new place, also, before unloading the cats to make it smell more "friendly" to them.
posted by RogueTech at 11:32 AM on November 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

hi there, we just transported a cat from Austin, TX to Denver, CO in a small soft-sided cat carrier on a flight (as carryon). If you can possibly swing it, I like the soft-sided bags much better than the hard plastic crates, mostly because the cats seem to find them more secure and comfy / den-like. We also used a harness in addition to the bag, and snapped a leash onto the harness when we had to take him out during the TSA ordeal. I did this because I wanted at least 2 good "handles" on the cat through security. As it turned out, he was so completely stunned by the experience that all he did was hang onto my husband's neck like a drowning victim and "hid" in the collar of his shirt. CLIP THEIR CLAWS before you go, front and rear, and clip them as short as you can safely do without quicking them - this is exactly why.

Most cats I've travelled with won't use a litterbox inside a moving car unless they're either 1) entirely desperate; or 2) completely nonchalant. For new or high-strung travellers, I would strongly recommend using a "puppy pad" inside the carrier just to keep any accidents to a minimum of mess. Experience indicates that they should be fine without food or litterbox breaks for reasonably long stints (8-10 hours max) as long as they have water available.

I nth crating/carriers for them in the car for every reason listed. Unless a cat is an extremely good traveller, I would never leave them loose in the car; to do so is an invitation to disaster. Cats are not merely escape artists, they are even better at hiding in/under unbelievably small spaces inside cars, then managing to defy the laws of physics to escape instantaneously at any opportunity.

To answer your followup question, we do spritz a little Feliway onto the interior of our carrier(s) both for conditioning and before travelling with our cats (we have it anyway and it can't hurt). Our older cat is a really good car traveler, but he is also well harness and clicker trained in addition to having had lots of car experience and conditioning. He's basically as good as a mellow, well-behaved dog, to the point where he'll walk on the leash at quiet rest stops and happily pee on every bush in sight that needs his calling card (it's hilarious, he's neutered, never sprays otherwise, but uses car trips as his special opportunity to be the resident badass "tomcat" passing thru town). It did take a very long and patient process to get him there, though.

I have had experiences all over the map with cats in cars, and my takeaway is that each and every one is an unique individual who takes to travelling separately and in their own time (or not). Bottom line, I would say that 4 cats in a Mini Cooper for that long of a trip will certainly be stressful for everyone involved, but not unmanageably so if you plan carefully ahead, use good security procedures (no cats ever out of carriers when doors are open, etc.) and do as much prep work as possible beforehand. I have never used tranquilizers on cats, and would shy away from them for the simple reason that my vet has told me they can be pretty unreliable - there's a wide range of variance on how individual cats will (or won't) tolerate them.

Booking into a relatively quiet, ground floor hotel room that accepts pets also seems like it would also be a good idea for any planned overnight stays. Believe it or not, some of your smaller, old-timey motels (think Route 66 type) are much more lenient with this sort of thing, if you don't mind the lack of frills.

Last but not least, with 4 cats and 3 carriers (or 4), the recommendation to bring a friend / helper if you're at all able to is a good one, and you should pay heed.
posted by lonefrontranger at 11:35 AM on November 6, 2012

The advice above is all good. Two minor points to add:

(1) Make sure, ahead of time, that all the crates can fit inside your car. Larger dog crates might not.

(2) FWIW, I recently had success transporting two cats in a wire crate that they could see out of. That combined with spraying Feliway meant they were calmer than on previous car trips.
posted by Carmelita Spats at 12:11 PM on November 6, 2012

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