Cat travel and vacation home
November 1, 2016 8:54 AM   Subscribe

How do I make two 8-year-old cats comfortable on a 90+ minute car drive, to and from a vacation house every weekend and for the duration of the visit?

Calming treats/ gels/ aromas/ pheromones don't cut it, and bringing these out is enough now to freak the cats out. They never minded the carriers before, but furiously fight getting in them.
We are managing the car ride well enough, avoiding unnecessary stops, etc. (At least I think we're all managing - you can never tell with cats.) We've been doing this most weekends for the past 2 months.
At the weekend house in the country, we're experiencing a complete personality switch with the cats (as compared to their life in the suburbs. They are kept indoors at both places.) The normally outgoing easygoing cat is freaked out the entire time, and spends the majority of the weekend under the covers on the bed (note: she never goes under the covers at our regular home.) She won't drink the tap water there so we fill the water bowl with bottled water and she'll maybe take one sip all weekend if even. She eats much much less while we're there, but bounces back with regard to appetite and personality once we're back to the M-F routine.
We noticed this weekend that the other, usually shy and submissive cat, is picking up on this and (playfully but persistently) attacks her while we're there. He definitely started this after her nervousness; we don't believe this is the root cause of her distress.
Will this get better? Please give me your tips. We plan to do this most weekends for ever. We are seeing the vet later next week and will ask him as well, but your advice is always so good.
posted by Neeuq Nus to Pets & Animals (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I just wouldn't do this at all. A weekend is so short; we just leave out enough food and water and let the kitties stay in their comfort zones. If we plan to be gone more than three days, we have someone check on them and scoop the litter boxes. Most cats just are not as adaptable as dogs and it appears that yours don't like this. Let them stay home and be comfortable and feel safe.
posted by cooker girl at 8:59 AM on November 1, 2016 [49 favorites]

Seconding cooker girl. Unless there is a reason you want to do this specifically, I'd consider leaving them. Cats often take a while to get used to a new place and a weekend isn't that much time to acclimatize.
posted by jessamyn at 9:06 AM on November 1, 2016 [3 favorites]

Please hire a cat sitter.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:09 AM on November 1, 2016 [3 favorites]

If your cats do not like travel and do not like the new place, it's not worth the trouble. (If they only didn't like the travel, you could manage it.) You can leave a cat alone for 1 or 2 nights.
posted by jeather at 9:10 AM on November 1, 2016

I also have a vacation place that is 90+ minutes from home. And a cat. He gets stressed out by the drive, and though he eventually adapts to Vacation Place, it takes 24 hours or so for that to happen.

I recommend doing what we do: leave the cat at home with full food and water and a clean litterbox if you're just leaving for the weekend. Cat will be fine. We only bring ours with if we're gone for more than a long weekend.
posted by craven_morhead at 9:10 AM on November 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

Yeah, given plenty of food and water kitties will be fine on their own for a weekend. For longer visits, ask a friend/relative (or hire somebody) to check in on them every few days; I used to do this for my sister & brother-in-law's cats and they were totally fine.
posted by usonian at 9:13 AM on November 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Agreeing with everyone else to leave the cats at home. I heard one time that dogs are at home with their people, but cats are at home in their home. They are just not happy being moved around, and it takes them a long time to adjust.
posted by something something at 9:15 AM on November 1, 2016 [4 favorites]

I leave my cat at home; we switch to dry food for the weekends (which he is very excited about), and have a cheap webcam we point at his food bowl. He's been fine for up to 4-4.5 days like this; any longer than 4 days and we ask a friend to check on the little guy and to scoop his litterbox.

We suspect he actually spends the entire time sleeping, since he looks super miffed that we're back and making him chase things/sitting on his spots/closing doors that clearly don't need to be closed.
posted by larthegreat at 9:15 AM on November 1, 2016

Thank you for the answers so far- just want to add that the other cat has food issues (likely from being starved on the streets before we adopted him) and cannot limit himself when around food. He'd gorge himself at the onset, then they'd be starving for the remainder of the weekend.
posted by Neeuq Nus at 9:16 AM on November 1, 2016

I have an automatic feeder. They cost about $50 and are well worth it for weekend trips. You can purchase wet food auto feeders too, if your kitty only eats wet food.

I also use a cat water fountain and leave out a few extra bowls of water just in case.

My Nest Cam makes me feel a lot safer about all this because I can spy on her. She does nothing but nap and run over to the food bowl when it dispenses.
posted by sockermom at 9:19 AM on November 1, 2016 [16 favorites]

If an automatic feeder does not work, can you take just the food issue cat and leave the other cat at home?
posted by jeather at 9:24 AM on November 1, 2016

Agree here that bringing the cats seems to be absolutely no net positive for them at all. Clean litter box (maybe an extra one), Automatic feeders and plenty of water (you can get those ones like office coolers that refill as they get used) and a cat will be totally fine for a long weekend.

They may not even care that you are gone too much, but be pleased to see you when you get back rather than stressed for 2 days every week.
posted by Brockles at 9:29 AM on November 1, 2016

Get an automatic feeder or hire a sitter. Your cats are telling you that they aren't ok with your plan and you have to listen. Part of having a cat is that you don't get your own way all the time.
posted by bleep at 9:30 AM on November 1, 2016 [3 favorites]

Yep, my parents did this for years and the cat was fine. Leave plenty of water out in more than one place (if you're paranoid and you don't keep toilet cleaner in the toilet, you can leave the lid up just in case) and get an auto-feeder for your binge-kitty. It's so much less stressful for the cats than relocating every week.
posted by fiercecupcake at 9:49 AM on November 1, 2016

Even just paying a neighbor's kid (And it's a great 'first job' for a kid, so you can make some bonus points with the neighbor) to come over a few times and put food in a bowl/scoop litterbox is going to be better for everyone. Cats, especially indoor cats, NEED their territory to be stable-- unless you've raised them from kittenhood on the vagabond way of life, they're always going to be freaked out by this weekly upheaval... misery for them, no fun for you, no one wins.
posted by The otter lady at 9:49 AM on November 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

I agree on leaving the cats at home. As far as the food issue goes, I know we're out of the norm on this (as has been discussed on previous threads), but we get someone to come feed our cat even if we're just gone for one evening. I think this would solve your problem.

Not that it really matters, but the reason we do it is:
  1. We don't want to mess up his routine of getting wet food at dinner time
  2. He is used to having his litter box scooped multiple times per day, and we've had cats with litter issues in the past, so we don't want to risk anything that will put him off of the litter
  3. If we just put a bunch of dry food down, he'd gorge himself. We used an automatic feeder with our previous cat, but it failed multiple times (got stuck and didn't open at the appointed time), so we have a hard time trusting them
  4. It just makes us feel better to have someone check on him and the house
  5. In the scheme of things, it's pretty cheap to have someone just come for a few minutes to deal with these things. We view this as a cost of having a pet and traveling.
I'm definitely not saying that you absolutely mustn't just put down food and go. I know most people do that, and we've done it with previous cats as well. But if you're concerned about food issues, it seems like the way to go...
posted by primethyme at 9:50 AM on November 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oof this does not sound like a good situation. Definitely nthing the advice above. If an automatic feeder doesn't work out you can pay someone to come on Sunday to feed the cats.

They may even like a little alone time. We were coming home to a messy house so my husband set up a security cam and we found out that our dog and cat like to tear through the house together and jump on all the beds.
posted by pintapicasso at 10:40 AM on November 1, 2016 [5 favorites]

I don't agree that this is impossible, but it sounds like one of your cats was seriously frightened or otherwise traumatized by the new place. You'll need serious behavior/therapy approaches to remediate this. Basically, give your cat a few weeks to calm down, then start the whole weekend vacation process over. Things like:

- Help the cat re-learn that the car and carrier isn't always awful. Maybe get a new carrier, actually. Put him in there for short stretches at home with frequent treating -- SHORT at first, so he doesn't have time to completely freak out -- and gradually increase the time. Then start carrying the carrier to the car for short stretches, then start / stop the car, etc.

- Completely change the smell of the vacation home - I'm talking deep cleaning carpets, all linens, painting walls, etc. And use Feliway also. It needs to seem like a completely different place to the cat.

- Be aware of the possibility that predators outside, or other cats, are freaking / have freaked your cat out. Take steps to hide that from the cat.

- Give your cat a great place to hide out while seeing most of the interior area of the vacation place, so he has some control and sense that if a predator approached, he could get away.

- This is exactly the type of thing that Jackson Galaxy is best at: figuring out how to make cats feel safer. Read a lot of his stuff, watch his videos, check out his book on "Catification" of spaces.

- When you reintroduce the cat to the new space, treat it like relocating the cat to a new house: start in a tiny room with the door closed for the entire first two weekends. Then start to let the cat explore a bit.

Your cat is deeply afraid. Getting past that won't be trivial at all. If this is important to you, you'll have to seriously invest time in it. Also, you probably do need to be prepared for this to not work.

Just hoping he'll get over it isn't going to work; each time he's put into this situation, the past fear reinforces itself and increases, making the whole thing _more_ scary.

However, I do get that just leaving the cats in the other house every single weekend for the rest of their lives is not a good solution. There are feeders that could help, you could get a person to come be with them, but they are your friends and they should be with you, especially since the weekend is when you'd have the most time to spend with them.
posted by amtho at 10:59 AM on November 1, 2016

Dogs feel "home" based on proximity to specific people / other dogs, so you can travel a dog and as long as it is with its pack it'll be ok and pretty happy. But cats feel "home" based on being settled in familiar places- so moving a cat basically makes it miserable no matter who it's with. Cats do not like travelling and this will probably never be fun for them. It takes them like 4 days to settle down- weekend trips are too disruptive. I wouldn't travel a cat unless the stay at the new place at minimum 2 weeks or ideally even longer.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 11:44 AM on November 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

Can you spend a few weeks at the house (once) so the cats have time to feel safe, with a slow introduction, room by room? Then perhaps the next time they come to the house maybe they'll remember it?

Otherwise, or maybe even still, bring them up just every other weekend or so. It doesn't have to be all our nothing.
posted by hydra77 at 11:49 AM on November 1, 2016

Cats are bonded to a place. They will be unsettled and scared in a new place and you being around will be little comfort. They are stressed by being out of their home territory and moving them back and forth between their safe home territory and a terrifying new place isn't good for them. If you were permanently moving to your weekend home, the habituation techniques suggested would be good. But, you're not trying to create a new home territory for them, you're trying to create two home territories, which they seem quite disinclined to do. You've already tried things that could have worked with other cats (calming treats/ gels/ aromas/ pheromones), but they're not working with your cats.

Get an automatic feeder and consider having a pet-sitter check in with them on your weekends away if that will make you feel better. Being at home without you for a weekend is far less stressful for them than being taken with you to the terror place every week.
posted by quince at 11:58 AM on November 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

He'd gorge himself at the onset, then they'd be starving for the remainder of the weekend.

Daily cat sitter or auto-feeder, then.
posted by JimN2TAW at 2:50 PM on November 1, 2016

« Older Philosophy Training   |   Is the use of the FBI logo in a small part of an... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.