Taking a cat on a vacation
March 23, 2014 9:28 PM   Subscribe

It's not that I want to vacation with my cat, but he requires medication at this point twice daily and I don't want to leave him alone.

Dayton takes two pills twice daily, and I don't want to leave that responsibility to someone else. But I *really* want to go somewhere this year. Anywhere. Away. What's the best resource for traveling options with an animal? I know I can hop in the car and drive a few hours and find a pet friendly hotel, but I'd like to get way farther away than that.
posted by one4themoment to Travel & Transportation (33 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
As someone who has a cat that needs medication twice a day: Find a catsitter. Seriously. It's a vacation.
posted by Jairus at 9:28 PM on March 23, 2014 [11 favorites]

Response by poster: Don't mean to threadsit... but that's what I'm trying to avoid... I'd much rather worry about his health myself than be in a distant land worrying about what someone else was doing to him.
posted by one4themoment at 9:31 PM on March 23, 2014

I hear you, but the issue as I see it is that travelling is super stressful for cats. Being in a car is stressful, being in new places is stressful, and I think that the decision you've got to make is: Am I willing to sacrifice my cat's comfort and security for my own? Because at the end of the day, that's what you're doing if you bring it with you.
posted by Jairus at 9:35 PM on March 23, 2014 [40 favorites]

You want a catsitter. A good pet sitting agency will hook you up with someone who is professionally trained, who will take pictures and send them to you along with regular health updates as texts or emails, someone who is equipped to handle emergencies, and who will be trustworthy in your home.

It is a rare cat who responds well to the stress of travel. One who needs regular medication is likely not in that group. I know you want to be personally responsible, but there are people who will accommodate even your most intense cat-parent stress. And by having a pro as their caretaker, you are being as responsible as you possibly can.

Seriously, my aunt had a catsitter caring for her sickly cat one vacation who would oblige her by twice-daily photo and text cat updates, and would even do the "put the cat on the phone" thing for her.
posted by Mizu at 9:36 PM on March 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

My neighbor did this for me. My cat needed daily shots. She had no special training. He much preferred being at home getting weirdo shots to being on the road getting me-shots. And really, it was no big thing. Lots of vet techs make money on the side by being cat sitters for delicate cats -- ask your vet if your vet tech(s) does that.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:44 PM on March 23, 2014 [4 favorites]

I realize you are specifically not looking for catsitting options, but one thing I didn't realize until my dog got sick and I potentially needed to be away for awhile is that many larger vet clinics offer boarding services, and if you board your cat with a vet (doesn't have to be your vet), they will be getting their daily meds from a trained professional. I don't know if you know that's a possibility, or if it would be sufficient to alleviate your worry, but I'm mentioning it just in case.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:05 PM on March 23, 2014 [8 favorites]

I have a cat who needs twice-daily medication, and I use a pet-sitting service.

Look at it this way, there is no utterly perfect solution here, because what's perfect for the cat is for you to never go away. You realistically have two choices:
1. Take cat with you on vacation, which means he gets his twice-daily shots from you, he travels (stressful), and eventually you arrive in a strange place (stressful). Then you travel back again (stressful).
2. Find a really great pet-sitter. He gets his twice-daily shots from a stranger (initially stressful). He does not need to travel, or be in a strange place, and he gets to hang out in his home which is familiar and comforting. He gets twice-daily intensive snuggle time from the pet sitter, who will be familiar within just a couple of days.

I went away for 3 weeks last year, and got emails and photos of a content kitty who was enjoying hanging out with the sitter. I am going away again in a few weeks, and I am reassured that the sitter is a loving, caring person who is genuinely concerned with my cat's welfare; experienced with giving medication; and enjoys providing companionship. Good pet-sitting services are amazingly professional, and want to know every detail of your pet care so they can genuinely do a great job. Give it a chance!
posted by Joh at 10:10 PM on March 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

A lot of vet techs also do pet sitting, especially for special needs pets. Call your vet and ask if they can recommend someone.

I have a friend who does this, has years and years of experience giving pills (and worse) to cats, and wouldn't dream of flaking or making a mistake or "doing" anything to someone's beloved pet.

I've done pet sitting before and, as others have mentioned, sent photos and update texts to the vacationing humans to reassure them that everything was going great.
posted by Sara C. at 10:17 PM on March 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

Mod note: Guys, I think the options for petsitters and boarding situations have been covered now, and it would be good not to lose sight of the actual question: What's the best resource for traveling options with an animal? Let go ahead and stick with that now, thanks.
posted by taz (staff) at 10:18 PM on March 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

For resources, are you a member of AAA? They have those travel books with information about pets accepted and so on.

Also your library is going to have piles of those pet friendly travel books, but not always the newest edition, so definitely call and ask instead of making a reservation online.

Experience has shown me that even a web site is not always up to date when it comes to pets. I don't travel very much with my own pets but when I do, I double check everything.

This is not a resource but a suggestion... if you go somewhere with a cat, try to figure in how long your own cat takes to adjust to new places (or has in the past). So, if your cat took 2-3 days to settle into a new home, then figure on staying (I recommend a rental house or cottage or something - somewhere you do your own housekeeping so no one accidentally lets your cat out) at least a week more than that amount of time (presuming here that you want both of you to enjoy the vacation, or at least most of it :).

Finally, most places allow dogs but I have not seen many that also allow cats. Be sure you specifically check on cats.

I did some searching with Google and did not find much. I guess that's why you're asking here. :)

This one looked okay, and it lists a few sites for information about where pets are welcome and so on: http://www.catscenterstage.com/travel.shtml I liked their tips about labeling the cat carrier. Great idea.

You might have better luck, actually, with chains. I did not find much in the way of web sites for cat friendly, but many hotels had "pet" friendly, and included cats in their descriptions. Some of the chains seem to have extended stay or apartment setups that might work (to keep someone from accidentally letting the cat out the door, I mean).
posted by AllieTessKipp at 10:48 PM on March 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've actually seen some places on AirBNB that would allow a cat.

One in Raleigh (Oakwood neighborhood) in particular that I remember, but I'm sure there are others.
posted by amtho at 10:55 PM on March 23, 2014

There are no "best options" for traveling with a sick animal. Especially a cat. Who loves you dearly. Let me tell you why...

- Unless this cat is habituated to travel, trauma and stress will degrade the cat's health.

- Even if your cat used to traveling? Traveling when ill?

Long story very short - cats are not dogs, and they do not travel well unless habituated to it as a kitten. And this is without illness involved.

I have a lifetime of personal direct experience to back up these statements. I only popped in because your question reminded me of my experience with my 2nd cat who ran away on vacation due to stress when I was 4 years old. She wasn't even sick. More to the point, I've had trouble transporting felines (mine and others) to vets and new homes. Like, defecating in carriers type trauma when traveling 30 min. Cats NEVER willingly defecate in their "space," but some will when stressed. Your cat is ill. This is not a car, airplane, or train experience you want to chance.

I'm not going to go against guidelines and suggest a cat sitter. I will tell you that between the ages of 31 and 34, I was "cat-less" for the first time in my life, because after my health challenged Furry Best Friend passed away, I needed some freedom to travel and such.
posted by jbenben at 11:07 PM on March 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I feel like I need to clarify... Dayton isn't on his deathbed. He has regular seizures. Which are controlled by daily medication. Medication that makes him lethargic so I'm not concerned about him running away. I honestly believe that he will feel better being with me than being at home without me. And I know that I will feel better when I am giving him his pills than some stranger. I'm looking for options where I can take him with me. But I really appreciate all of the input so far :)
posted by one4themoment at 11:23 PM on March 23, 2014

Google Feliway Spray. This will work.

Unless your cat is a GREAT traveler already, this is not ideal.

Felines distrust motion they are not used to. Weigh this against other options.
posted by jbenben at 11:59 PM on March 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would strongly suggest that you find some places to travel in your area, that you could do as day-trips, and leave your cat at home. My cat was the best cat ever (I will hear no arguments) but a few years ago we had to clear out of the house for termite spraying and we spent a night at a hotel that allowed pets. My cat was absolutely distraught all night long, it never got better the whole time we were there and in the morning I had to crawl under the bed to haul him out of his hiding place. It was an awful ordeal for everybody! This was not a drama queen cat, he was always my little tough guy... and just one night in an unfamiliar hotel room damn near gave him a heart attack.

There have to be some interesting places to go in your area. Even the crappiest states have some stuff worth seeing. Look into that.

If you want to find hotels that will accept pets staying with you in your room, they can be found with a little Googling. But really, please don't do that.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 12:14 AM on March 24, 2014

Have you considered doing a short trip, like overnight, to see how well he will travel. Then you could plan a longer trip if he tolerates the traveling okay. If it turns into a nightmare on the short trip you can then look at plan B.
posted by cairnoflore at 12:27 AM on March 24, 2014 [12 favorites]

Bring his favorite bed and toys with you, so he has familiar-smelling options. Start training him on a harness so you can take him for walks outside when he needs to go (assuming you're driving).
posted by Anonymous at 12:58 AM on March 24, 2014

I suggest you read I & Claudius: Travels With My Cat. Clare de Vries had always wanted to drive across America and when the opportunity comes, she decides she must take her 19-year-old Burmese cat Claudius with her. It is non-fiction, although because it is essentially a travel story, it may take a bit to extract useful tips about travelling with your cat.
posted by AnnaRat at 3:54 AM on March 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

I recently flew with a kitty (adopting one of my mom's and had to move him to my house). It was a short flight (just over an hour). He went in a cat carrier under the seat in front of me. The airline was Delta, but I think most will allow a small animal with you in the cabin if the animal can fit in a carrier that will fit under the seat in front. It cost $150 extra (ugh). I had to remove him from the carrier and carry him through the metal detector while the carrier went through the scanner. There were pretty specific rules about the size of the carrier; check the airline website. One of the soft-sided ones pretty cheap ones worked for us. Charlie was scared and stressed but did okay. He's a pretty placid guy generally, and basically he just got very quiet and watched everything, and I was able to stick my hand in the carrier and pet him a bit, which seemed to help some. Door to door he was in the carrier about four hours. So flying somewhere may be an option also if you think your guy would tolerate it.
posted by Cocodrillo at 4:49 AM on March 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

You could probably rent someone's apartment through airbnb. That might be easier than finding a hotel.
posted by J. Wilson at 5:00 AM on March 24, 2014

Consider renting an RV so your beloved kitty has the opportunity to adapt to one new place rather than multiple situations.
posted by mightshould at 5:05 AM on March 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

There are quite a few hotel chains that allow you to travel with animals.

The ALoft, is incredibly pet friendly! They have a whole floor for folks with pets.

Motel 6 is also pet friendly. So you have lots of options for lodging.

Southwest now allows pets in flight, so if you want to fly somewhere, you can take Dayton on the plane with you.

I do recommend that you get a harness for Dayton, just because he's normally mellow, doesn't mean he won't freak with all the strange people, noises, places and stuff.

To that end, you may want to start small and work your way up. Take him with you to PetSmart in his harness and carrier. Go for rides in the car, build up his tolerance and experiences with transport.

Have fun!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:03 AM on March 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's fairly easy to fly with your cat if you do it right. All airlines have different policies, so you just have to investigate your preferred carrier. For example, American will take reservations for up to seven in-cabin animals per flight, with one per passenger. You have to have an appropriate cat carrier, but it's actually easy. (The only thing that sucks is getting through security.) Both of our cats (and our previous cat) have flown and honestly they took it pretty well, somehow, although one totally barfed on landing, which was pretty LOL. I wouldn't want to subject them to a five+ hour flight, nor would I want to deal with out-of-country flying, but I felt pretty comfortable with a 2.5 hour flight, especially as I know their incredibly regular eating, crapping and peeing schedules and could schedule flying for a decent time. (It's also not the worst to get a cat into an airplane bathroom in case of surprise crapping.)

As for more local travel, we also made the cats do a roundtrip three-hour travel pretty much every weekend last summer, and they started to really enjoy it??? Like they still tried to hide when it was cage-time, but once they were in they were like "oh right here we go okay whee." Cats!
posted by RJ Reynolds at 6:21 AM on March 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Start getting kitty used to spending time locked in a crate long before you leave. PLEASE don't count on him being lethargic as a way to prevent him from escaping. He should ALWAYS be crated when out of the house (or hotel or rented room), even inside your car.

The process of getting him in or out of the crate, or getting the harness attached or unattached, is the most dangerous in terms of transporting an animal. That's when they are most likely to freak out. (Imagine a giant hand reaching in right at your face to pull you out of your safe place?) Practice, practice, practice! And then still only let him out of his crate inside a hotel room and NEVER in your car.

Also, be sure to have a packet of his vet paperwork with you. If the unthinkable happens and he gets away from you, or if you lose his medication while on the road, you want to have all his info close at hand. And be sure he's chipped!!

Still, double- and triple-think this plan. I've been a volunteer rescue transporter for years, and I still dislike transporting cats.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:20 AM on March 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

When I moved from the west coast to the east coast I drove specifically to avoid the danger of putting my 2 cats and a dog on a plane and trusting the airline to do the right thing. The cats stayed in roomy carriers during the day (8 hours per day driving) and we stayed at Motel 6 all along the way the rest of the time because they were cheap and allowed pets. At night I would put them in the bathroom with their food, water and litter box and lock them in. The biggest problem was getting them back into the carriers in the morning. It was a fight every single time. Locking them in the bathroom helped a lot because there was nowhere for them to run and hide or escape. Having done this out of necessity, I'd never do it again if I had another reasonable choice. If you must, I think mightshould's suggestion of renting an RV is pretty good because then the cat only needs to adjust to a single new place. I'd still be massively worried about the cat escaping in the middle of nowhere.
posted by Poldo at 7:24 AM on March 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

When he's in the car and you're the only human in the car, keep him crated even if he whines. It's not safe for them to be running around the car.

When we drove cross-country with our dogs, we stayed in La Quintas and I was pleasantly surprised. They were pretty nice for $40/night (with free breakfast!).
posted by radioamy at 7:38 AM on March 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

Datapoint: Feliway hurt more than it helped in the case of my (admittedly more-neurotic-than-typical) cat. And he wasn't even away from home.
posted by Z. Aurelius Fraught at 7:52 AM on March 24, 2014

If you go through with this make sure he has been micro-chipped , has a harness collar and up to date tags. A stressed cat can behave very differently during travel.

Double check the carrier before removing it from the car. Even good ones can have malfunctions.

Consider a private apartment rental or extended stay facility. That will reduce the chance of housekeeping accidentally letting the cat out of the room. Do not disturb signs don't always remain in place...

I have made a half dozen 12 hour drives with my cats when I had to provide extended care for aging parents. It was not pleasant (for me or them) and one of them became more stressed each time. He was so agitated that a sedative had a slight effect for just 45 minutes and then the yowling and throwing himself against the carrier walls resumed. I would never do this unless it was absolutely necessary.

I pet-sit frequently. Even the most skittish cat adapts after a day or so. An experienced pet sitter will be well versed in giving pills and injections and usually has pet CPR training.

In the last 20 years I have only had one situation where the animal was so lonely that it would have been happier if with the owner. And that was a dog who was extremely bonded to just one person and had no interest in anything other than that person.
posted by cat_link at 8:10 AM on March 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

I haven't traveled with my cat but I did have to stay in a motel with mine a few times when my heat was out during the winter.

Leave the "do not disturb" hanger on your door 24/7 because you don't want the maid to accidentally let the cat out. Just flag down the cleaning cart for fresh towels, soap, etc. (or get from the front desk) as needed. Leave a big (like at least $20) tip when you check out because cleaning up a room that a cat has been in is a lot more work.

Bring either a covered/enclosed litter box or a big Rubbermaid bin for the litter box. Lay down some big thick garbage bags under the whole litter area and bring a large litter-catching mat as well. That way if the cat kicks litter up while he digs, it's better contained and you're not in the position of having to figure out how to sweep/vacuum up litter in a hotel room without letting the maid in.

If your cat is like my cat he will yowl his head off for the first few hours before settling down, so plan to check in as early in the day as possible for the sake of the people in rooms next to yours. Plan to spend that first day in the room with your cat petting him and reassuring him that everything is okay.

Rearrange the room furniture (desks, chairs, etc.) as necessary so the cat can climb up to look out the window during the day while you're gone. Set up a cat-sized cardboard box by the windowsill.

Bring things to occupy your cat's time while you are out. I found one of those balls that you fill with treats and the cat has to roll around to shake the treats out was particularly diverting for my cat while I was out of the room. I would come back to an empty ball and a sleepy, satisfied cat.
posted by Jacqueline at 8:16 AM on March 24, 2014

I am a vet student. We have a student message board where pet sitting jobs are posted by folks who'd like one of us to watch their pet for them. If you're near a vet school or even vet tech school, you could try emailing someone at the school to see if they have something similar.

I just finished up taking care a diabetic kitty and her geriatric dog-brother while their mom was in Arizona for a week. I met with Mom beforehand to go over feeding, schedules, likes/dislikes, etc. I already felt comfortable giving the cat her medication since I had a diabetic cat growing up, but the owner showed me how she likes to do it so that Kitty was very comfortable with the transition. At the owners request, I also spent some extra time just hanging out at the house reading or doing homework so her pets didn't feel starved for attention.

Asking someone to watch and medicate Dayton while you're on vacation is absolutely something that you could do, but it sounds like you're resistant to the idea. Travel and new places are HUGE stressors for cats--making Dayton fly or drive with you seems like an absolutely unnecessary trial to put him through, and the stress could negatively impact his health. I strongly suggest you reconsider bringing him with you and think about either hiring a pet sitter or having a friend or family member stay with Dayton while you're away.
posted by gumtree at 10:03 AM on March 24, 2014 [5 favorites]

One thing I would suggest is acclimating him to travel, gradually. This can lower the cat's stress and your stress (assuming that cat yowling is stressful for you).

What follows isn't a method that I've seen elsewhere, and I've only tried it with one cat (and not as elaborately as what I've written below), but I think it will help, depending on the cat and his past experiences.

First, he needs to learn that his carrier is fun (I recommend the kind with a fuzzy bottom - Sherpa brand is one - so he can grip it and won't slide around. Line it with a folded towel for protection). Just leave it open in the living room, so he doesn't associate it only with unpleasant trips to the vet. After a day or two, throw a treat in there while he's looking, let him get the treat without incident. Then try closing it, with the cat inside, for just a short time (give treats while he's in there - if using the Sherpa carrier, open the top a little and slide the treat in that way). Then a little longer.

Then, take the carrier out to the car, and find a way to make the car visit enjoyable. More treats, probably. Also petting (through the top opening) and lots of praise. Take him back inside after a couple of minutes.

Then increase the time, then start the car but don't move, then maybe go to the end of the driveway and back, then around the block -- always praise, always treats. Then a longish trip similar to the time it takes to go to the vet.

This is the only way to communicate to the cat that travel doesn't always have to be awful. You can't explain it in words, you just have to show him.

I'd recommend a larger carrier so he can sprawl on his side, if you're going to be driving for a long time. Try to find a way to place the carrier in the car so that he can see you while you're driving.
posted by amtho at 10:09 AM on March 24, 2014

Response by poster: I really appreciate all of the answers. Dayton is well used to car travel in his carrier, for hours at a time since we started going to the neurology clinic. He's also used to being away from home since his yearly vet visits involve him staying at the office with me for most of the day. And yes, everyone at the office oo's and ah's and cuddles him. How could they not???

I'm going to go through some of the links provided and go to some airline websites that were suggested and see what I can come up with. Leaving him at home more than a night isn't an option. We've never spent more than a night apart. I've rescheduled business trips to make sure of that in the past. And that was before he started having real problems with his epilepsy (since he was a kitten he's had about 2 outbreaks a year... but it got really bad really fast a couple months ago, hence the specialist... shortly after my previous ask about him not being as vocal as normal)

He is chipped, and I've got all of his medical paperwork in a folder which I would of course bring with us. The RV idea is my favorite so far. :)
posted by one4themoment at 6:54 PM on March 24, 2014

I agree with trying your cat's vet, or another local one. Our vet's office isn't particularly large and they do boarding. Our cat was boarded there for 12 days while we were out of the country and she did fine. She was not on any medication at the time, but knowing she was with the vet gave my husband (the primary cat caretaker) peace of mind that if any emergencies happened, medical attention would be readily available.
posted by LaurenIpsum at 7:33 AM on March 25, 2014

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