Driving 17 hours with three cats. Suggestions?
July 14, 2014 2:12 PM   Subscribe

Moving from Austin to Minneapolis in a couple weeks. We're taking our three cats. Two of them are 9 and 10, the other is about 2. One of the cats travels well, one is whiny off and on, and the third is intolerable. Doing the vet thing to get sedatives costs way more than we can afford. What should we do? Any ideas? I was thinking about getting Feliway and catnip to help them chill out.
posted by Modica to Pets & Animals (27 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I don't know if it's important to note but two of the cats don't really get along with each other.
posted by Modica at 2:26 PM on July 14, 2014

Can you get a sedative only for the one who is intolerable?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:28 PM on July 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

Separate cat carriers are a must.
posted by Carol Anne at 2:30 PM on July 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

I give my cat small amounts of my Valium prescription. Yes, tis true. Really helps.

There is also a homeopathic Valium for cats you can get at pet shop.

Feliway is good idea too. Helps.

Separate cat carriers a MUST.

Good luck. Please post updates on your blog or somewhere. :-)
posted by zenpop at 2:32 PM on July 14, 2014

Our situation wasn't as complicated (only one cat), but one thing we did that seemed to help is we eased into it by doing several test runs, driving our cat around in our car in the exact same setup we'd be using for the long drive. We gradually got into longer drives to get him used to it. He was annoyed at first but eventually just dozed off.
posted by primethyme at 2:38 PM on July 14, 2014

Response by poster: We are getting three separate carriers, for sure.

The intolerable one cried for six hours straight on the last long drive, I'm told.

Do you know the name of this homeopathic Valium?
posted by Modica at 2:43 PM on July 14, 2014

Could you ask your vet for appropriate dose levels for Benadryl? I was told to give my cat liquid kiddie Benadryl for a bee sting, so perhaps that might mellow them out?
posted by gilsonal at 2:48 PM on July 14, 2014

Here it is on Amazon.
posted by zenpop at 2:48 PM on July 14, 2014

I agree about asking your vet about Benadryl, you can get spray feliway for the carriers, also, my cat just lays the hell down when I put her Thundershirt on her.
posted by effigy at 2:50 PM on July 14, 2014

Homeopathic "medicine" is no more efficacious for pets than it is for humans. Go with the benadryl, assuming your vet does not forbid it for other medical reasons.
posted by elizardbits at 2:51 PM on July 14, 2014 [7 favorites]

Seconding the Cat Thundershirt.
posted by DeltaForce at 3:00 PM on July 14, 2014

The homeopathic stuff is not effective, and the cat won't even get the placebo effect.

Feliway works for some cats, but it is kind of a crap shoot. And it probably isn't powerful enough to make a 17 hour car ride bearable for a cat who finds this sort of thing intolerable.

If you have a regular vet that has looked at your cats in the past year, getting a sedative prescription isn't going to cost anymore than the Feliway, and I would really just do that. If you don't have a regular vet, well, you'd need to pay for a general exam (probably $50), and maybe vaccinations if they aren't up to date before they'd prescribe you the sedative (which you really ought to do anyway if you haven't). The sedative meds aren't really that prohibitively expensive, IME.

All that said, yeah, benadryl or a benzo (benzos for humans are the same for cats) will work - but be careful because just like for humans generally these things can be contraindicated with certain other conditions, and please carefully research the appropriate doses.
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:10 PM on July 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: If I can't get a vet appointment for what we can afford, does anyone know what dosage of Benadryl to give?
posted by Modica at 3:11 PM on July 14, 2014

Also, having done a couple cross country trips with my own nervous cat before:
- Blanket or pillow he knows and loves in the carrier.
- My cat greatly prefers having the carrier in a position where he can look out the window if he chooses.
- Occasional treats.
- If you are stopping (and you might consider it - 17 hours is a long time in the car for a cat, and they won't eat, drink or pee during that time), bring along their normal litter rather than one of those disposable travel trays.
-No music in the car. I know it sucks, but cats tend to hate it, and mine is much calmer and happier when I opt for an audiobook.
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:12 PM on July 14, 2014

One practical suggestion. Keep the fan blowing all the time. I have no idea why this is, if the cats aren't feeling moving air, they will get anxious and claustrophobic. (For those who doubt, feel free to experiment with this.)
posted by ereshkigal45 at 3:15 PM on July 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

According to Pet Place, which is generally legit, but caution, caution:

In cats, diphenhydramine is dosed at 0.25 to 0.5 mg per pound (0.5 to 1 mg/kg) PO every 12 hours but it has a bitter taste. It is also dosed at 0.5 to 1 mg per pound (1 to 2 mg/kg) IM every 12 hours.
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:19 PM on July 14, 2014

I've done a trip of similar distance (midwest to California) with two cats. They were put into separate carriers and we ignored their whining. It honestly just becomes background noise after 8 hours or so. We did let them out of the carrier when feasible, they were sick and mostly just wanted to sit in our lap, but YMMV there.

Even though they hate each other they called a truce for the time we were travelling, I think everything else was way more stressful than the other cat.
posted by zug at 3:29 PM on July 14, 2014

Don't waste your money on homeopathic products. At best it's an ineffective remedy promoted by the well-meaning but severely misguided; at worst it's an outright scam. As someone above mentions, pets don't even get the placebo effect.

I travel with my two cats for 9-10 hours semi-regularly. I can put them together, so I have a big, soft carrier big enough for both of them to lie down and to fit a small litter tray and bowl of water. On a 17 hour trip, your cats are going to get hungry and they're also probably going to have to pee--and you can't just pull over and put a litter box in a carrier like you can pull over and walk a dog. So I would suggest as many carriers as you need to prevent fights, along with a small litter tray and bowl of water in each. They might knock these over, but it's better than nothing.

The first time I had to make this trip I booked an appointment with my vet (they had a check-up due anyway), and she didn't want to prescribe a sedative! They're not without risks, so she viewed them as a last resort.

I play my music really loud so I don't hear them crying. They shut up after about two hours usually.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 3:31 PM on July 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Addendum: My cats normally don't fight at all, but they will have short boxing/hissing spats when they're put in a carrier together in a car. It's not severe so it's not a problem for me, but I can imagine it being lots worse if the cats already don't like each other. Cats react to new environments in really weird, unpredictable ways.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 3:33 PM on July 14, 2014

I spent 3 days driving cross country with my two cats. I used a homeopathic product similar to Bach's Rescue Remedy, which has "27% Grape Based Brandy as a preservative" - I doubt the herbs in the tincture did a whole lot, but the alcohol relaxed the cat who needed relaxing and I noticed a difference on the day I forgot to give it to him - he was a lot more agitated and meowed a lot. I didn't follow the directions on how many drops to give him, so he had more than the homeopathic dose.

Cats do not process sedatives well and alcohol isn't great for their kidneys either, but it seemed the lesser of two evils at the time. In hindsight, I really could have survived without using anything, I got used to his crying and he did eventually shut up. My other cat loved the drive and was a pleasure to travel with.
posted by backwords at 3:50 PM on July 14, 2014

If you try the liquid benadryl, be prepared for a really astonishing amount of drool.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 4:34 PM on July 14, 2014

Separate carriers, and probably after a few hours the bad traveler will get tired of bleating eventually. Depending on the cat, the cat may be better if they set very little, see outside, or see you. I didn't find that the sedatives made much difference for my cats, but ymmv.
posted by wotsac at 4:39 PM on July 14, 2014

Have you tried covering the carriers with a sheet? A sheet per carrier, if the cats don't get along. The sheet trick has worked with three different cats--no sheet and intolerable yowling, cover with sheet and they magically stop.
posted by schroedinger at 5:29 PM on July 14, 2014

Get as much of your smells in the (separate, as above) cages with them as possible. Well-worn shirts should do the trick here. Hopefully they each have a favourite toy or blanket or sheet or pillow or cushion or something that you can squeeze in with them or at least near them.

Have them as physically close to you in the car as possible. Keep their cages as dark and covered as possible. Pull over and physically get out and check on them every hour or so to be sure that they are still okay, aren't caught on anything, aren't chewing themselves to pieces out of insanity (unlikely, but still), and to change their bedding (have plenty of unwashed laundry ready for them!) because of their pees and poops, and make sure they are watered even if you need to squirt water into their mouths with a big syringe.

Talk to them while you are driving, using your reassuring loving voice. Call each of them by name regularly to tell them everything is okay and it's just a big adventure. When you open their cages to check on them, make sure the rest of the car is closed, even if you need to contort yourself painfully, because the last thing you want is one of them to spaz out and leap out of the car.

Drive extra carefully!

And when you get to your new place, keep them in their carriers in their own private room while you are getting situated. I'd keep them in their carriers for at least an hour. Then let them out, one at a time, in the order of their self-established hierarchy. Give the boss cat fifteen minutes, then the middle cat joins him/her for fifteen, then the most noob cat. They stay in that room for a day, then they get introduced to the house, and they stay in the house for a week and you gradually introduce them to the outside (if they are outside cats) by carrying them in your arms and holding on reassuringly and letting them sniff at stuff. Give them a few minutes every day, with regularity that coincides with their usual outside times (again, if they are outside cats), and do this for a week or two until you are confident that they can free range, supervised, one at a time, for a few minutes a day.

Also, while all this is going on, you should be spoiling them rotten, having four or five litter trays that are well-tended, and you should find your nearest vet, update all their tags and microchips with your new address, and get fresh photos of them in case one bolts. You may also wish to introduce yourself to your neighbours, see if anybody else has animals, establish your ownership, and share the photos with other cat-lovers in your immediate vicinity, so that god forbid one goes walkabout (which they WILL do), your neighbours might be able to help you.

Good luck. We're all counting on you.
posted by turbid dahlia at 5:34 PM on July 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

One thing that hasn't been mentioned that was recommended to me by my vet before a cross-country move with my cat: place a frozen blue ice pack wrapped in a towel in the bottom of the carrier. I think she explained that stressed cats have a hard time regulating their temperature (or something) and the ice pack helped them feel comfortable. My cat definitely pants on long car rides and I think the ice helps her. She still meows until she goes hoarse but she is 18 years old and has moved across the country 3 different times so it didn't hurt her! Good luck!
posted by rachums at 5:52 PM on July 14, 2014

Seconding the sheet over the carrier of the meowing cat--like you do with birds over their cages. I had a cat I took on in Florida and had to drive back to PA with it. She meowed, whined, puked and peed the entire miserable time. This is the same cat I would be taking with me back and forth from PA to VA several times a year, and until I learned the sheet trick, it was so awful. After I learned the sheet trick, my cat meowed for two or three minutes at the start of the trip, then promptly fell asleep. Peace at last, no medicines, so easy.
posted by dearwassily at 6:43 AM on July 15, 2014

I used to drive my cat from NH to PA, and I tried sedatives a couple of times (Acepromazine). Sedating him was a mistake. Instead of a scared cat, I had a semi-wasted, scared, and slightly belligerent cat. Sedating does not necessarily work the way you think it will. It's like the cat version of "David After Dentist". Liquid benadryl didn't help either. That made him foam at the mouth, and it made him impossible to catch, so I stressed him out even before he was in the carrier going anywhere.

It was much better when he traveled without drugs in a dark carrier. And I absolutely second audiobook or podcasts in lieu of music.

Be prepared in case any of them poops or pees in their carrier -- this includes lining your back seat with something waterproof because pee can get out of the carrier! (Ask me how I know!)

Do not open the carriers with the car doors open. Never. Thankfully, I don't have personal experience with this, but I've heard stories.
posted by gladly at 9:08 AM on July 16, 2014

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