Travels with Fluffy
December 17, 2018 7:35 PM   Subscribe

Have you ever (successfully) taken your cat on a road trip? In a mid-sized car? Bringing your own shelter along (a small travel trailer towable by a mid-sized car, a sturdy-walled tent, yurt, or similar portable shelter)? What worked? What seemed like a good idea at the time but didn't work? Please tell me your car adventure cat stories! (There are many obviously bad ideas one could think of. I don't need/want to hear those stories.)
posted by eviemath to Pets & Animals (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I drove completely across the country in a very small car with another person and two cats. It worked out well. The cats wore harnesses in the car (and I think short leashes, more like handles?). We gave up the backseat to a litter box and some food and water for them. Their carriers were there and open so they could chill out if they wanted. We didn't give them medicine, they were mostly chill. The big deal was every time we stopped we'd have to make sure the cats were secure before we opened a door. The one thing we hadn't thought of was toll booths, opening the windows. Could be amelioratesd with EZPASS. They were brought into (pet friendly) hotel rooms at night in carriers if possible. The cats did not eat or drink much in the car so it was pretty important that they got downtime somewhere at night. Some people say it's better to really make sure they can't get into the front of the car, get under the pedals, etc. This was not an issue we had at all. So much depends on your cat's personality. One of the cats liked to sort of look out the window a little. The other was just sort of surly and yowly a lot of the time.
posted by jessamyn at 7:53 PM on December 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

I wish I wasn't qualified to answer this. With two experiences. But not because of the cats. The cats were mostly fine... it was the circumstances that sucked. (Unwilling homelessness between rentals. Our housing market is TOUGH. Especially if you have HUD.)

Two years ago, I lived in a large tent with four cats and a (small) dog for about six weeks in October-November. It was either pouring rain or snowing/ice the entire time. I had two large-dog size kennel/carriers (heavy plastic kind) that I could confine them in when I wasn't comfortable with them loose in the tent, and two litter boxes. It was a normal tent, they did not try to scratch through the walls, but one did manage to unzip a zipper enough to escape when I was sleeping. (Boyfriend likely did not get the zipper completely closed.) We used twist ties after that to ensure no escapes. This was in a safe place where I didn't need to worry that someone might enter the tent and mess with them. Especially since they had blankets they could cuddle in, or I could cover the kennels with blankets, they stayed plenty warm enough. One was elderly, two middle aged, and one kitten. We all survived and they didn't seem too disturbed or later traumatized by the experience. (My dog was a little less thrilled, but he really picks up on my emotions, and hates the disruption of moving. He even gets concerned these days if I merely rearrange furniture. Also, he was never left alone in the tent. We homeschool, so one of my teens always had him if I was at work.)

The second wasn't exactly a road trip, but close enough. Last year, my daughter and I lived in a Subaru Legacy for about six weeks, November-December. Along with the same dog and three of the same cats. We had two regular cat carriers and one the next size up. We had a litter box in one carrier, one cat had her own, and the other two preferred to share the larger one. Since it was again winter, we didn't need to worry about the car getting too hot, and so long as the carriers were covered with blankets when we weren't with them, and the dog had blankets to snuggle in, they were plenty warm.

Definitely learned some things from the car experience. The cats did not mind being confined to the carriers during the hours we were at work. They were checked on every 1-2 hours, allowed to roam and use the litter box while the dog was taken potty. They were loose in the car during the hours we slept, but preferred to sleep in the carriers most of the time even then. They kept "night watch" perched on the backs of the seats or on the carriers. I have a very low tolerance for litter box smell, so it was cleaned frequently: at the end of every potty break, and before bed and in the morning. I wiped out the carriers with disinfectant wipes every evening. I also had a citrus odor-absorber in the car. I was told afterward that you couldn't tell that not just us people, but four animals had been living in the car.

After a couple of food and water spills, we tracked down enough attach-to-the-carrier dishes to prevent spills.

The most surprising thing, though? These are cats that used to complain through an entire short car ride. It didn't take long (less than a week) before they simply didn't care anymore. Parked car, moving car, it was all the same to the cats. They remained purry and snuggly and happy. They never tried to escape the car, though we were very careful and it was rare that we opened the doors when they weren't confined in the carriers. At the end, they made the transition back into regular housing just fine, though they might have been a little kitty-zoomy-er than usual for a few days.

(OH - and despite having a co-worker whose cat likes to ride on their lap in the car, that does NOT work for me. Mine want to be on the dash or the backs of the seats, and I really don't like them moving around, so they don't get to be loose when the car is moving.)
posted by stormyteal at 8:16 PM on December 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

If you go the drug route, make sure it tastes good and that they’ll eat it.

I mean, it sure would suck being in a Denny’s parking lot trying to use an eye dropper while wrestling with a maelstrom of claws, fangs and bad intentions.

Or so I’m told.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:33 PM on December 17, 2018 [4 favorites]

I drove 2000 miles with a cat in the cab of my truck, and the dog in the back (with a topper on). The cat's litter box made a bit of a mess because my covered litter box didn't fit in the passenger-side footwell. I slept in my truck that trip, so I kept a few pillows and blankets on the passenger seat. She was happy as a clam, mostly she just hung out on the pillows and looked out the window. Every once in a while she'd hop through the back window into the back of the truck to nap with the dog, or would ride on my lap. The only regret I had was wearing dangly earrings while in stop-and-go traffic.
posted by Grandysaur at 8:59 PM on December 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

We've only taken the kitteh in a tent once, and it went okay. The plan was to leave her in the car, but she was howling at the raccoons, so we took her in. She didn't claw at the tent, just spent the night curled up with us. But YMMV, and it depends on what kind of creatures are in the area. If skunks have been skunking around, she'll hiss at the trees.

We have traveled a LOT with her in a mid-sized SUV. There's an enclosed litter box on top of a blanket on top of the luggage in the back, and she just free-roams and goes to the potty when she wants, usually when we're driving down a windy country road. Food and water is always available. She has tried to run a couple of times, but she's always been an indoor cat, so I think this makes her hesitate before going too far.

The kitteh does want to go down and work the pedals, and sit on your lap while you're driving, and meow for thirty minutes for no reason, so it helps if there's someone else to corral her. And you've got to watch the temperature, of course -- if you can't tolerate it, chances are she can't either. Also make sure she's got a hiding place, and you know how to extract her from it.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:06 PM on December 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

I did two cross-US moves in a fully packed Volkswagen Jetta with my cat, staying in motels along the way. It was a pretty painless experience. The one piece of common advice that did not work for me was to keep her confined to her carrier. If I let her out, she curled up and napped in the back or lounged on the passenger side of the dashboard. I never had a problem with her getting underfoot or otherwise interfering with my driving.If I kept her in the carrier, she yelled and thrashed around so much it was a distraction.
posted by 4rtemis at 10:19 PM on December 17, 2018

I drove about 13 hours one way (and 13 more back) with a cat in a Nissan Sentra. We had a litterbox in the backseat floorboard for him. He was wearing a harness, attached to a pet lease with a seatbelt clip on the end, so we could stop without worrying about him making a break for it. He was fine and moved around the car a bit, but also napped in the sun a lot. He sometimes wanted to sit on one of our laps. He did not get motion sick but he did lose his appetite during the drive and only ate a little bit of dry food. He got overheated easily and we kept the AC blasting as it was summer in Utah and Arizona, in July. I recommend the pet seat belt thing. I can't speak to tent camping or otherwise having a cat in your own shelter.
posted by zdravo at 10:56 PM on December 17, 2018

I went with my high school boyfriend and his parents 10-12 hrs from CA up into Oregon. We took a truck with a windowed camper on the back, and the camper was all covered in old blankets, and had a litter tray and some dry food. He was a chill cat anyway, and looked pretty happy lying around with sun streaming through all the windows.

I've driven short distances with my cat (2-3 hrs)... She lounges in hey carrier like Cleopatra and yells the whole time. She's pretty relaxed.... Maybe the truck camper is key?
posted by jrobin276 at 11:16 PM on December 17, 2018

I'll add that when I did the harnessed cat in the back seat, I made sure the leash was too short for her to climb down into the footwell and get under the pedals.
posted by Hactar at 2:20 AM on December 18, 2018

Has the cat been in the car before? One of our cats panics and hyperventilates during car rides, one of them just chills out. They both sometimes decide to perch on our shoulders, which is super distracting for driving and very uncomfortable. So make sure the nails are clipped so they don't dig into your shoulders. Also make sure they are ok with the harness/leash if you're gonna go that route. One of our cats is Houdini. And yea expect them not to eat or use the litterbox that well, so you'll need to get in early and give them time to relax. Bring wipes/lysol in case they make a mess in the car. But overall it's doable.
posted by at 5:16 AM on December 18, 2018

I can tell you about towing with a mid-size car and this is just one anecdote. A friend bought an older (10-20 years old) car that she was assured could tow a small uhaul trailer. She only made it about ~1000 miles before the car gave out and was trapped in Ohio for a week. Test out the car and trailer combination a bunch before you set out.

I recently brought two different cats home in carriers. I sat next to them in the back seat and both kept meowing, sounding distressed and chewing the door when the carrier was on the seat. If I lifted the carrier, they were a little calmer, but they both settled right down when I held them. Most cats need to see out the window to be comfortable in a moving car, at least at first. I had a cat who would go sit in the back window and be perfectly calm on car rides. Obviously you don't have to hold them the whole time, but have a place they can be up high and look out the windows.
posted by soelo at 7:30 AM on December 18, 2018

I drove cross country with two cats in a minivan packed with all my earthly belongings. It was stressful for me. The cats stopped freaking out after the first few hours, but they never liked it; each found a hiding spot in the car and pretty much just slept there.

Total failure: Harnesses. It took 0.05 seconds for them to Houdini
Happy success: they used the litter box like champs and did not defile the car
Relief: I was worried they would try to escape any time I opened the door, but actually they were terrified of outside
Agree with others: don't cage them. Give them free range inside the car.
Protip: wear very tough gloves until the cats are no longer freaking out. In the first hour, one of them gave me a very deep bite on my thumb and I was bleeding all over the place

Cat-friendly lodging was a big source of stress for me, so if you're bringing yours with you, it should be better.

Takeaway: unless you know your cat is into road trips, I wouldn't do this for fun
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 8:00 AM on December 18, 2018

I’ve done multiple long car trips with two cats. I mostly kept them in a cat carrier, seatbelt restrained. This is because when they were let out, they tended to want to be under my feet - very bad for driving. They were freaked out and wanted to hide, but also to be near me. I kept a small litterbox on the floor of the backseat and gave them potty breaks whenever I stopped. Tried to offer food but they were never interested. I don’t know if it was because of stress or motion sickness (one of them did vomit during a winding stretch once). It went ok, but if I ever did this again, I would probably go the medication route.
posted by Knowyournuts at 10:18 AM on December 18, 2018

We routinely take a 10-12 hour roadtrip with one of our cats. It's point-to-point, there's no camping, so I can't speak to that. But in the car he's fine.

We keep him in his hard-sided carrier when the car's moving, and we take a break every 2 hours during which we let him out of the carrier (within the car) to stretch his legs and use the litter box. We're careful about not opening the car doors if he's loose, unless he's being securely held.

We keep the carrier in the backseat and the uncovered litter box in the backseat footwell. We bring a scoop and plastic bags for disposing, and after he uses the box we'll scoop, bag, and (once he's in his carrier) go throw away the bag. He doesn't want to eat or drink during the trip except cat treats, which he gets liberally every time he gets back in the carrier.

He does talk a lot, but it's mostly when we're on non-highway roads with their turns and variations in speed - that's carsickness time for humans too - but once we're on the highway at constant speed, he sort of zones out. When we get to our destination he's ready to eat and run around.

He's ok with this because he's a very adaptable guy. Our other cat is not, he's anxious and clearly scared of the car (he clams up and sits there with eyes wide), and I wouldn't readily do a trip like this with him.

It's a two person operation the way we do it, so there's always someone with him in the car at rest stops. In the summer, the car heats up really fast, so finding shady parking spots and running the AC are essential.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:45 AM on December 18, 2018

I've only traveled for several days with a cat once. An oversized dog crate (big enough for the cat to stand up fully and move around a bit), propped up on other materials and bungeed in place such that she could see us and also see out the window seemed to keep her happy and quiet.

Letting her out for a mid-day litter break inside the car did not work well. She refused to use the box. Extracting her from under the seats required ten minutes laying on the ground beside the car while slowly unhooking individual nails from the upholstery. The next four days we just kept her in the crate for around 8 hours and she was apparently fine and happy at the end of the day.
posted by eotvos at 4:57 PM on December 18, 2018

eotvos, what did you do with the cat at night, outside of the car?
posted by eviemath at 8:13 PM on December 18, 2018

Knowyournuts, it sounds like your road trips were also multi-day? What did you do with your cat at night?
posted by eviemath at 8:15 PM on December 18, 2018

We (my husband and I) drove two 12-hour days with two cats in the back seat of one car, moving halfway across the country. They were in two small dog crates — big enough that they could stand up and turn around. The crate bottoms were padded with old towels and disposable puppy pads, as one cat has a history of vomiting and defecating in the car.

Our vet said no sedative would be really safe. She said a quarter-tablet of Dramamine might help the carsick kitty — but Dramamine is bitter and we could not get the cat to take it, even inside a pill pocket.

The cats yowled for the first five hours each day. They also restarted yowling any time we called each other on hands-free and they heard the other human’s voice (we were driving two cars). They also restarted yowling when we got off the freeway to stop for the night. The carsick kitty pooped within the first 45 minutes, but then nothing else happened. Using multi-layers of puppy pads made it easy to just pull over and yank out the soiled pad.

They did not want to eat or drink on the road, though we offered (bowls that clip inside the crate).

We stayed at a La Quinta, who have a chain-wide policy of allowing pets. We put their litter box in the bathroom, food and water in the main room. Having read horror stories about cats climbing inside hotel bed frames and having to take apart the bed to retrieve them, I duct taped the bed skirt to the floor all the way around. One cat hid in the bathroom all night; the other cat came and slept on the bed with us.

I don’t really love the idea of doing it again, but ultimately it worked out.
posted by snowmentality at 4:44 AM on December 19, 2018

Thanks, everyone! To clarify: I'm looking for stories of what you did at night with your road trip adventure cat that do not involve staying in a hotel or the house of a friend or family member.
posted by eviemath at 6:43 AM on December 19, 2018

eotvos, what did you do with the cat at night, outside of the car?
We were staying in hotels that allowed pets, and set her up with food, water, and a box and let her have free run of the room each night. No help for camping, I'm afraid.
posted by eotvos at 3:22 PM on December 19, 2018

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