Traveling with cats, U-Haul edition
August 9, 2019 3:05 PM   Subscribe

Next weekend, my boys and I will head for the Twin Cities. I need your best tips, especially any non-intuitive ones, for making sure my critters are as comfortable, well taken care of, and safe as I can make them.

I have already consulted the Internet at large for tips, which was helpful, but it never hurts to check in with MeFites, right?

I have two male cats, 3 and 4 years old.

I've gone by a local U-Haul and checked that their hard sided cat crates fit on the passenger and jump seat of the size truck I have rented.

I'm planning on keeping each day's drive to about eight hours, so they won't be stuck in their crates longer.

We'll stay at motels which welcome pets both nights. They'll have a disposable litter box and water available at all times in the room. They'll have their own familiar plates and water dish. I'm bringing bottled water in case they think local water tastes too weird. I'll also have some familiar toys and blankets to lay on that smell like home.

I'll give them some catnip or silvervine as we drive for stress relief.

Maybe I should try a stress relief spray?

I have two concerns.

1. I'll need to stop for a restroom every so often. If I can get to a big box store that allows pets, like Lowe's or Home Depot, or the pet stores, I'll bring them in with me.

If I have to leave them in the van while I run in, they've got gel cooling mats in their crates, and a sun reflector covering the windshield, to reduce heating in the cab.

I'll also run the AC on high for a bit before I get out.

I worry about whether this would be enough, though.

I'm very fast about bathroom breaks, but still...

2. Litter box issues.

I've seen conflicting thoughts on this: some say cats will just hold it, while others say they'll just go in the crate.

I don't want them to deal with either. I could get some litter pads for the crates, which would help with clean up if they do go in the crates, but I don't know if they'll use them at will.

They'll be in harnesses during the drive, so I can leash them and take them out on a bit of grass after a few hours. Don't know if they would take advantage of this.

I am willing (not thrilled, but willing) to bring some of their used litter to put on the grass to let them know they can eliminate out there.

Anything I've forgotten? Any tips or tricks? Personal experiences?

(See my profile for the cat tax).
posted by Archipelago to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Two years ago I drove from TX to Southern California with my cat in July (hot).

I had not planned on the restroom break issue (you're planning way better than I did). What I wound up doing was taking the cat out of the car with me and leaving her in her crate on the bench or sidewalk in a shady spot right outside of the rest stop/gas station/wherever. It was 100+ degrees and it got very hot in the car very quickly.

I was reasonably sure no one could cat-nap her and I took very fast breaks. We all made it.
posted by pantarei70 at 3:21 PM on August 9

I semi-regularly drive around 9 hours with my two cats, in different weather (including very hot and very cold).

I bought a large soft-sided carrier sized for a medium sized dog. It's large enough to put a small litter tray in the back and still leave them room to lie down. They usually use it at some point during the trip. I wouldn't expect a freaked out cat to use the grass in an unfamiliar environment.

I don't leave water in their crate because they knock it over, but I'll put some in a dish when I stop for gas. As far as leaving them in the car when I take a restroom break - I've never had an issue with that because I never take more than a couple of minutes and the car doesn't heat up that fast. I also generally only use the restroom when I get gas, so I'm usually parked under the awning instead of in the direct sun. Personally, I just don't trust people enough to leave them outside the car.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 3:31 PM on August 9 [3 favorites]

Bring unscented wet wipes to help clean them and the space up in case of accidents on the road.

A light colored tarp or sheet on top of the crates can help a huge amount with heat - don't discount light colored fabric in general for this trip, including for yourself.

Ice cubes are a good way to offer them water without it sloshing around everywhere.

It totally depends on the cat for bathroom issues. I think this is a wait and see kind of thing, honestly. Offering a litter pad isn't going to be bad even if they don't use it. I have cousins who bring their cat everywhere with them, and they have a big wire crate that's large enough for a litterbox that they've zip tied to the side of the crate for longer hauls. But most cats go 8 hours without needing to use a litter box every day, it's just the change and unusual environment that makes this so unpredictable. So don't beat yourself up if accidents happen - that's what wet wipes are for.
posted by Mizu at 4:42 PM on August 9 [2 favorites]

I would 1000% NOT leave an unattended cat in a carrier outside of a vehicle. One nosey child needs half a second to open the carrier and then your poor terrified kitty is an escaped kitty.

Get gas, the cat stays in the vehicle under the gas shelter. You run in to pee. Get a tiny litter tray that fits into the floor well of vehicle. Put a cup or two of dry litter in the pan, set it in the floor. With windows up let kitty down into the box. If the cat needs to pee, they might take a few minutes. Accustom the cat to the new tiny box at home as an optional box before you travel.

For hotel stays, bring a blanket or sweatshirt you have slept with. Put it in the travel box or wherever you want the cat to sleep at night.

Bring high value jackpot treats that your cat goes bonkers for to use in case the cat decides they’d like to hide in a hotel room or god forbid gets outside.

Use felliway in the vehicle if it has a calming effect on your cat so the cat is less likely to try to bolt in case of mishap.

Cat may decide it wants to travel outside the box and roam the cab with you. This is very dangerous with some cats. It is not recommended.
posted by bilabial at 4:42 PM on August 9 [5 favorites]

I ... do not see the requisite cat pix tax.

Be sure that they are chipped and that the chips are registered with their new address. I'd mark the crates, too. Great call on the harnesses ... you never know when they will bolt. I would never leave a cat unattended outside of the locked U-Haul. They'll be fine on quick bathroom breaks.

Good luck!
posted by 2soxy4mypuppet at 5:05 PM on August 9 [3 favorites]

When I drove with a cat, I'd stop halfway and let her out of the carrier. I'd put down some food and water, and I'd have a disposable baking pan with some litter in it for her to use. All of those things seemed welcome to her. She also seemed to appreciate the chance to stretch her legs, explore the car, and sun herself on the dashboard for a while.

She was a really good car rider, though. When break time was over, I'd open up the carrier, and she'd go right back in.
posted by thelonius at 5:26 PM on August 9

- If you use anti-stress spray, test in advance: spray it on a towel, let that air out a bit so the propellant dissipates, then try it out with them.

- I had good luck with anti-stress collars, but not spray (this was for a vet trip). The spray - the sound, the smell - was not agreeable. BUT your cats might be easier -- this was a fussy cat.

- I wonder if there's a Feliway diffuser for cars?

- They'll probably hate harnesses if you haven't tried them already, but I find them immensely helpful for travel.

- I've seen gizmos for sale in pet stores that raise the level of the front seat so that the cat can see outside the car while it's moving. I can imagine some cats being terrified, but I've had several cats who were really comforted by being able to see the movement of the car. I've heard that it helps humans, at least, with motion sickness.

- Prepare yourself for a lot of meowing. It will calm down.

- Maybe bring bottled tap water from your old house -- a lot of it, so they can gradually adjust to the water in their new place. Water stored in plastic bottles for a while definitely gets its own flavor. Definitely don't use mineral water.

- I'd bring some cooked plain chicken in case regular food isn't tempting enough.

- I'd also bring some large blankets, towels, etc. that haven't been washed for a while. You might end up making a tiny cat fort (chair covered with blanket, or just a big area on the bed covered with a blanket or towel, or something like that) in the hotel rooms and in your new place.

- If you plan to listen to the radio while you drive, maybe start getting them used to that sound. The sounds in travel are loud, constant, and probably huge for cats.

- Definitely pack something that you can use to cover the carriers - cats are often less nervous and quieter in a small dark space.
posted by amtho at 6:29 PM on August 9

I recently made a 2-long-days car trip with 2 cats and 2 dogs. Now that I have stopped twitching, I can offer this advice:

1. Use a sharpie to write your phone number on the harnesses, just in case.

2. For bathroom breaks, roll up to a highway exit hotel (La Quinta, Hampton Inn, etc.) and pull up under the canopy at the front door. You can leave the car there with windows open for ventilation while you run in and pee. (One time there was a gardner working around the front and I left the car running under his eye...) Hotels like that have bathrooms in their lobby levels and I've never gotten the side-eye for running in and using it. If you're taking a road trip, you're their target customer!

3. If you stay in a hotel overnight, let them out of the carriers in the (closed-door) bathroom and let them roam around in there and eat/pee/etc. and decompress a little bit first. Then check behind the bed and other furniture to see if there's a space they could wedge into where you couldn't reach them. What you don't want is to open the carrier and have two pissed cats bolt out and go right behind the bed and stay there until you have to take the bed apart to get them out.

4. My n=1 ... I had both cats in individual hard carriers in the back seat of an SUV, facing each other so they could look at each other through the wire doors. I sprinkled a bunch of catnip on the crate pads and they just got high and zonked out the whole time. Barely made a peep, and only one cat threw up once on a very winding stretch of road. I did not offer either water or litter during the trip, and they didn't seem to care. I did feed them at night, but they ate sparingly. These are 9-year-old domestic inside-cat sisters who had literally never been anywhere except to the neighborhood vet before this long trip.

Good luck!! I'm sure you'll be fine! I was SOOOOO worried about this before I did it, but for me it turned out super easy and fine. Wishing the same for you!
posted by mccxxiii at 6:36 PM on August 9 [4 favorites]

if you're feeling super paranoid about possible escape attempts, you might feel comforted by pre-printing missing cat flyers. leave some space to write details regarding where exactly they escaped, but have the pictures/description/contact information all pre-printed.

It will be fine, just talk to them so they know you're there and paying attention to them.

I was a passenger on a roadtrip with a cat, and while he sang the song of his people for a while at the start, I was in a position to reach into his cage and give him some soothing touch. It seemed to calm him. Not recommended technique if you are driving. your cat may vary.
posted by wires at 8:27 PM on August 9 [1 favorite]

My friend just took a 9 hour car trip with her cat, and used regular benadryl as a feline sedative - 1 mg per pound dosage
posted by Jon_Evil at 8:45 PM on August 9 [1 favorite]

If you're worried about the car being too hot during bathroom breaks, get an extra key made so you can leave the a/c on and lock your doors. I'd want to limit any chance for an escape far from home. I've seen pet stores use hanging water bottles that cats could lick the end of. The cats were using them so it seemed to work.
posted by stray thoughts at 8:47 PM on August 9 [1 favorite]

We just did a 4 day trip. We had done practice rides and had two people, so we were comfortable letting the Dashy Cat out in the car. She perched up on top of a high box, watched the world for a little while, and conked out. See if you can elevate the boxes, almost all cats prefer a high viewpoint.

Like others, she did not pee or eat during the day (except once when she wanted a snack, she meowed and dug at where I'd put her kibble. She's a pretty communicator). She didn't need, or even seen to notice, the feliway wipes.

I think the idea about canopies of the roadside motels is pretty good. Also, you can order online from a lot of places these days - Starbucks, mc Donald's, for sure, which will shorten any out of car time.
posted by Dashy at 10:17 PM on August 9 [2 favorites]

I drive cats (and dogs, and the occasional rabbit) for rescue transports, so my experience is with unfamiliar animals who are already stressed. Obviously ymmv with cats that you know. But, the stress level is may be similar, and cats under stress often act in unfamiliar and unpredictable ways.

Take Cats on practice runs before you go. Get them used to the car, and to the crate(s) you will be using, to the sound of the road, to the sounds of the car (radio, turn signals, horn, wipers, etc.). A little familiarity will help them be calmer. Experiment with different kinds of music, or podcasts/talk radio/audio books, and with silence.

I STRONGLY suggest you do not ever let them out of their crate anywhere except in a hotel room, that you have already vetted for hiding spots and escape routes (under the bed, up in the box spring? out the window that the cleaning staff left cracked open?) Please don't let them out to roam freely in your car, and NEVER while the car is moving. Sure, your cat MIGHT be the one who goes to lounge on the dashboard all casual, and happily goes back into his crate, or he could be the one that dives right under the drivers' seat and refuses to come out. There is no way for an adult-sized human to get a cat out from under a car seat without opening the door, which gives the cat an opportunity to escape.

If you use a big crate for the car, and smaller crates to carry Cats in and out of hotels, or bathrooms, do not attempt to transfer them to the carrying crate while the car door is open. A sudden noise, like a slammed door three rows away in the parking lot, at just the wrong time can scare even the calmest, most sedated, friendly cat, and then you spend the rest of your vacation in one place, while you try to trap your cat. Not a fun vacation for either of you.

And if you have time before you leave, while it's easier and you're not stressed, collect your cats' vet info and any important medical info. It wouldn't hurt to collect the names and contact info for any rescue groups, emergency vets, animal control facilities, lost cat facebook groups*, and animal poison control numbers in the areas you will be passing through. If something should happen, it would be nice to have this already, instead of panicked searching at a rest stop in the middle of nowhere.

Good luck!

*One example: Lost Cats Minnesota
posted by SuperSquirrel at 5:07 AM on August 10 [5 favorites]

I'll give a benadryl experience (since joh_evil) mentioned it. I was taking my two cats from Ulsan to Daejeon, South Korea in a move. I had the vet give both of them some benadryl before leaving so they would be calmer for the bus trip. They were each in their own carrier. One was fine. The other one was not. She had open mouth breathing and it scared me to death. I'm on the bus noisy bus trying to talk to the vet (which was challenging in the quiet of the office on a good day) and getting more and more worried. I couldn't get off the bus. Thankfully everything turned out okay. But I won't give her benadryl anymore and may not give the other one any either should the need arise. You didn't mention it, but if you're thinking about it, I suggest trying it out at home first.
posted by kathrynm at 9:17 AM on August 10

Thanks for all the awesome answers!

Sorry about the cat pics they don't want to upload from my phone. There are pics in my previous cat question, if you want to check there.

Don't worry, the cats will never be allowed to roam the cabin. Too dangerous; one likes to climb my torso and get in front of my face whenever he can, for example. Such a meatball.

I wish I had room to set them up in a large crate with litter etc, but those trucks have no room in the cab at all.

Thanks esp for the tip about looking for hiding places in the hotel room. Hadn't thought of that at all. My boys are EXTREMELY food motivated, so i'm 95 pct sure I could lure them out, but under new circumstances, who knows.

Stopping under motel canopies for pitstops is a great idea, thanks.

I'd never leave them sitting outside a gas station restroom unattended, because I am paranoid, even if I'm on the other side of the door.

I'll bring my own food with me for lunch/snacks, so that reduces time away from the vehicle.

There's a ton of great advice in here. Thanks, folks. We really appreciate it.
posted by Archipelago at 9:25 AM on August 10 [3 favorites]

I would ask your vet for gabapentin rather than using benadryl if you really need to sedate them, and also ask them for any advice they have. I think the hanging water bottle idea is great - one of the biggest issues with moving a cat is dehydration.

I will second advice for harnesses, and never letting the cats out except in a motel room. If they are not chipped, get them chipped.

If you're renting the carriers, I would recommend wiping them down, putting in a towel or pee pad both for comfort and for possible accidents, and putting catnip or treats in when you put the cats in. The carriers will smell to the cats even if they don't smell to you.

Good luck!
posted by bile and syntax at 12:08 PM on August 10 [1 favorite]

I did this (except in a ford explorer) moving from chicago to southern VA. We let the cats roam free in our (pets allowed) hotel room while we went downstairs to get breakfast. Our slightly more skiddish cat managed to somehow get inside the back of the dresser. The style of dresser was typical for hotels, in that there is no space under it, he somehow managed to squeeze into the space between the dresser and wall, and got caught behind the drawers. He was in a position that opening the drawers, you still couldn't see him. We spent over an hour looking for him, with the help of hospital staff.

This is all to say that cats really do not like unusual smells and areas and behaviors, and in response will behave in a way that they've never behaved before, so prepare for that. Neither of them would use the litter box, even when we stopped and gave them the opportunity, until it was nighttime and they had been in the same room for several hours.
posted by FirstMateKate at 12:54 PM on August 11 [2 favorites]

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