The commuter cat
December 19, 2020 10:07 AM   Subscribe

I would love to get a cat. I live alone in a one-bedroom apt. The only thing stopping me is my partner lives 2 hours away, and I am often visiting him (sometimes for a weekend, sometimes for 1-2 weeks at a time) as my schedule right now with COVID is much more flexible than his (I can work remotely, he can't). We will probably be living together in 1.5 years.

My question: Would it be shitty to be transporting the cat between two places, with a decently long car ride each time? If so, I won't do it. My sense is maybe the cat and I would both not like this (though I'm more concerned about the cat's feelings). But I've also never really had a cat as an adult.

Very interested in what the cat community at MeFi thinks about this.

Thank you!
posted by namemeansgazelle to Pets & Animals (42 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It depends on the cat I suppose, but the vast majority would not like this and it would be at best a giant pain and confusing for your pet. I would not do this.
posted by Threeve at 10:10 AM on December 19, 2020 [5 favorites]

Some cats would hate it, some cats would be fine. Almost all cats are totally fine for a weekend alone. I'd plan on leaving the cat for weekends and taking with only for longer trips. Probably it's better odds to acclimate a kitten to frequent road trips than an older cat.
posted by SaltySalticid at 10:11 AM on December 19, 2020 [7 favorites]

I'd plan on leaving the cat for weekends and taking with only for longer trips.

Better: Leave the cat for weekends, and use a cat sitter for longer trips.
posted by JimN2TAW at 10:18 AM on December 19, 2020 [17 favorites]

It super depends on the cat. A young outgoing cat who gets used to being in the car would be fine, people do this sort of thing all the time.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 10:21 AM on December 19, 2020 [9 favorites]

Yeah, I think it depends on the cat, but most cats don't seem to like travel as far as I've heard. In the beforetimes I went out of town for the weekend at least once a month and frankly, that's one of the reasons why I don't have a cat.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:28 AM on December 19, 2020

Nooooooo, don't transport the cat. It can be enormously stressful for them, they simply do not reap the enjoyments of the travel experience like dogs do and they are so, so much happier just snoozing the weekend away waiting for you to get back. Plan to leave the kitty alone for weekend shorter trips and get a sitter for the longer ones.
posted by anderjen at 10:31 AM on December 19, 2020 [4 favorites]

I’ve had several cats, and they all hated riding in a car. I even switched to a mobile vet because the ten minute ride to the vet’s office was a hellfest of yowling. Cats are fine for a weekend alone. For longer, I’d suggest having someone come in to check on it every other day. It’s not the best life for a cat, frankly.
posted by FencingGal at 10:33 AM on December 19, 2020 [2 favorites]

About 17 years ago I did this for about a year with my young cat. It failed miserably. I'll be honest - I think I broke my cat, but it's hard to quantify this statement. She needed stability and consistency, and I failed to provide that for her. I worked out of town, but the town I worked in was horrible, so every weekend I came back to my parents, dragging her along with me. I still feel guilty about this - I'm so glad my mom got attached and adopted the cat from me, and she lived 15 more years with my parents. She became aloof, skittish, bonded with pretty much no one, and really only tolerated my parents. The travel and lack of stability and a real, consistent home for her in her formative years did not do her any good.

I still feel guilty, after she's passed and many years have gone by. Don't do it. Get a cat when you're settled and the cat can stay in one place for long periods of time.
posted by cgg at 10:34 AM on December 19, 2020 [12 favorites]

If you decide to get a cat anyway, please get a bonded pair from a shelter so that you won’t be leaving a cat completely alone this much.
posted by FencingGal at 10:39 AM on December 19, 2020 [5 favorites]

Out of the many cats I’ve owned only 1 has liked car rides and then only for about 15 minutes. The others all cried/yowled for the entirety of the trip. My nerves would be shot if I had to listen to that for a 2 hour drive.

Is it possible for you to foster for now during times you won’t be traveling?
posted by MadMadam at 10:42 AM on December 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

My cat loves the car, and car rides, to the point that he will jump into any vehicle at the slightest opportunity; visiting repair people have had to ask us to get our cat out of their trucks. He started as an office cat who came home on weekends, eventually joining in the daily commute to work, and ultimately accompanying us on multi-day trips a few times a year. Now, in COVID times, we take him with us when the cabin fever strikes and we need a joy ride.

A different cat yowled until we were past the vet's office, when she'd settle down, knowing that we were going to a place she liked.

TL;DR It depends on the cat and whether they have positive experiences with the destination.
posted by carmicha at 10:45 AM on December 19, 2020 [7 favorites]

The cat will be fine if you pick the right cat, though may take a little while to get use to it. I know a guy that lives in a van with 2 cats & they are happy & well adjusted & follow a reddit of truck drivers that have cats as pets in their trucks as they drive all around the country and the cats just nap on the dash or bunks & seem chill.

I'd make sure the cat is an indoor cat only as switching territories outside repeatedly could be stressful depending on the other cats in the area, keep things like food & litter consistent & in consistent locations & times so changes are minimal I'd suggest getting an adult but young cat from a rescue & explain the sort of personality you'd like, you'd probably want a particularly chill, curious & confident cat, or heck they might have an older cat that meets all your requirements. I'd look at harness training your cat too maybe for the drive for an extra bit of security if something happens & you need to take the cat out the car.
posted by wwax at 10:54 AM on December 19, 2020 [2 favorites]

I can’t read anyone else’s reply because it’ll make me feel bad but I promise you you can leave a cat for a weekend.

The traveling doesn’t seem realistic to me. Cats are more attached to their turf and their routines than their people (I am loathe to admit that and my cat absolutely loves me! But she’d rather snooze the hours away in her domain than go through the trauma of displacement just to be with me.)

A sitter can make sure the food and litter situation is okay and be a warm body to snuggle or play with. My cat ignores sitters but if I’m gone more than 3 days I feel it’s just more responsible to have someone check in.

You don’t have to get two; that advice is standard more to encourage people to reduce shelter populations.
posted by kapers at 10:55 AM on December 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

How often would you be leaving your cat for the weekend?

How often would you be leaving your cat for a week?

I wouldn't do this planning to travel with the cat. Cats are territorial. They're naturally both predator and prey. They survive by understanding their territory well: What kinds of prey is available, what threats are present, how they can avoid those threats, etc. When you put them in an unfamiliar environment or move them around a lot, they get stressed and scared.

While it's possible that you could get lucky and adopt a cat that isn't stressed out or traumatized by frequent travel, it's more likely that you'll adopt a typical cat. And you're probably not going to be able to "train" a cat to like this.

Like, you are getting anecdotes about people with cats who traveled fine, but there's no way to guarantee this outcome.

But cats usually do fine being alone for a little while in their own territories, so you could leave them at home. I wouldn't do this if you were planning on being gone half of the time, but being gone one weekend a month, or one week every few months? I don't think that's a big deal. They will be happier with company, because they are social creatures, but it's not traumatizing in the same way that moving them around can be. Hire a sitter to check in on them and they'll be fine.

And two cats is also a fine amount of cats to have, if you can adopt a pair that get along. (There are often bonded pairs available for adoption.) I've had two cats in a one bedroom apartment and it's fine. You just need to be really on top of the litter boxes.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 11:26 AM on December 19, 2020 [2 favorites]

I did this with my cat for a few years when I was living and going to school in one place and would often drive home to visit family 2 hours away for a weekend or for holidays. She had no problem just napping in her carrier during the trips, but I had been traveling back and forth with her since I got her as a young kitten. Most cats do hate car trips, but this arrangement would be totally ok for some of them.
posted by CarolynG at 11:26 AM on December 19, 2020

Weekends are fine. Maybe you'll get lucky on the travel, but you need a plan for the longer trips if your cat doesn't like cars or being in a new place so often.

In my personal circle, I know both dedicated socializers of kittens and people who tried out famously human friendly breeds, and they are absolutely *not* guaranteed to work. You can determine some things by getting an adult from a shelter, but how you can evaluate "likes car rides and frequent changes in territory" with certainty is beyond me.
posted by mark k at 11:59 AM on December 19, 2020 [5 favorites]

Do note that weekends are not automatically fine. Not all cats free-feed. Some will gorge themselves on any food you leave out, throw it up, and have none for the rest of the weekend. You can't do this with cats who need to be fed on a schedule rather than free-feeding. However, you can also get a sitter for the weekends if necessary.

Just wanted to throw that out there if that's not been considered.
posted by brook horse at 12:07 PM on December 19, 2020 [5 favorites]

Yeah you can definitely gamble on a wee baby kitten that you acclimate with serious dedication (it can work! People have cats that live in their backpacks on camping and hiking trips, people have cats that come canoeing with them), or you can work with rescues to find the more adventuresome adults. Foster orgs and rescues know which of their cats like the car--they do a lot of transporting!

But the important thing is to know what you'll do if kitty does not will not cannot like the disruption. Do you rehome? Do you hire a catsitter? Do you reduce your trips so as to afford the catsitter? If you have a plan and commit to working the plan, go for it. But if the current travel schedule is non-negotiable, and you don't think you could rehome or relinquish a kitty once you'd chosen it...then it seems like a better idea to wait.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:07 PM on December 19, 2020 [7 favorites]

It actually doesn't sound like what you want is a cat. Cats bond to their territories first, and then their humans second. That is why moving cats is so awful for them, because you are displacing them from their territory, which is their sense of safety and belonging, it is stressful and done frequently damages their physical and psychological health. A dog? Have you considered a dog? There are dog breeds that are very cat-like (whippets, greyhounds, for example), but are happy to travel. That is because to a dog, you are their territory, well, really their pack. Get a pet that can be happy in the circumstances that you shape for it. Pets can't choose.
posted by nanook at 12:24 PM on December 19, 2020 [6 favorites]

I think, like anything else, the cat will adapt. What if the cat likes your bf place better?
posted by AugustWest at 12:28 PM on December 19, 2020

I don't suppose your partner would like to have a cat? That way the cat could stay put and you could come to it.
posted by LadyOscar at 1:04 PM on December 19, 2020 [8 favorites]

(You can also get an automatic feeder if you have a cat that needs to be fed on a schedule. I wouldn't trust one for more than a couple of days, because you don't want something awful to happen if it stops working, but if you're gone for that long you can always hire a sitter.)
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 1:29 PM on December 19, 2020

"Seek a Maine coone or a Norwegian forest cat in your area (50m?) (Very mellow breeds)"

Please don't rely on the breed to determine a travel-friendly cat. Our Norwegian Forest Cat is, yes, very mellow, but also reacts so badly to time in the car that we walk him to the vet, even in the depths of Buffalo winters. (He is very well-insulated, I promise.) He also - until we found a pet-sitter that he loves - would get sick from anxiety every time we went away, even for a weekend.

I know a group of cats that live in a van 50% of the time with their human, and 50% of the time in a house with the same human. They all seem to have acclimated just fine as adults - but their human went about it slowly, without the pressures of impending regular trips, and with alternate plans in the event that it was a bad experience for the cats (collectively or individually).

What will you do if that turns out to not be the case? It's not a point in favor or against, but something to think about. Cats, like humans, are individual and not entirely predictable. If you commit to a cat, you're committing to whatever that cat is, not what you hope it will be.
posted by okayokayigive at 1:34 PM on December 19, 2020 [6 favorites]

My cat loves car rides, I got him when he was two. He wears a harness with a leash clipped on it and then the other end of the leash plugs into the seatbelt thing, so he can't bolt when I open the door upon arrival. He looks out the car window like a dog and when it's warm he actually hangs his head out too.

He also likes to walk around outside on his leash and smell all the smells, people often come up to me and want to ask how I got him to do that, and my answer is, he just likes it, I didn't have to train him for this. He has done a few very long roadtrips with me (11-12 hours) and was fine, I kept a top entry litter box in the trunk for him. He was a little annoyed the first few times I put a harness on him and then he realized the harness meant getting to go outside and explore and now he's fine with it.

If you get a younger cat and gradually acclimate them to traveling and being in new environments with you, you really can have a feline travel buddy! Maybe you can foster a kitten or a younger cat and see if it is compatible with your lifestyle, before making a permanent adoption commitment.
posted by zdravo at 1:35 PM on December 19, 2020

It's not just the car rides that are stressful for cats. It's also being in a different space. Cats are soooo not dogs. If you're lucky it'll hide under the couch at your partner's, if you're unlucky it will hide under the couch meowing loudly and then piss on your bed.
In other words, it probably won't be happy with being relocated every now and then.
Nthing Leave the kitty on weekend and get a cat sitter for longer visits.
posted by nantucket at 1:46 PM on December 19, 2020 [2 favorites]

Most of the cats I've known travel very well. When I was a child my family took our cat with us for weeks long camping trips across several states. I've only had one cat that hates travel.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 1:54 PM on December 19, 2020

Some cats get really bothered by sitters or missing "parents" and will pee everywhere.
posted by slidell at 1:55 PM on December 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

My experience with my mom's cats (all of whom she tried to acclimate to long car rides from a young age) was that it varied based on the individual cats. One of them loved being in cars and would try to get into a car whenever she could. Another one tends to get carsick and doesn't like it very much (though Feliway seemed to calm her a little.)
posted by creepygirl at 2:05 PM on December 19, 2020 [2 favorites]

It seems to just depend on the cat. I have only had cats who HATED the car, but my folks have one who regularly goes on a 10 hour drive with them and is fine. I'm afraid it's not worth the risk in a way, much as I think cats make life better, because if you get a cat who hates the car, you're going to be stuck deciding whether to rehome, which can be really sad.
posted by less of course at 2:23 PM on December 19, 2020

Definitely depends on the cat. The last cat we had was pretty laid-back, I don't think she loved travel but she didn't seem to mind being in cars and carriers too much. We even did an international relocation with her and it went fine. She was also a free-range eater and was fine by herself for 1-2 days.

Current cat is definitely NOT a free-range eater (eats everything on sight), so petsitters are a necessity if we go out of town. She also fights carriers pretty strongly but seems okay with car rides oddly enough. No clue how she'd handle longer distance travel, hoping we never have to find out.
posted by photo guy at 2:46 PM on December 19, 2020

My sister's cat was totally into travel. She took that cat all over the place from a very young age, and had no problems, the cat just curled up somewhere sunny and napped same as at home.

Precisely zero of mine were ever ok with traveling, but had no problems being in the house alone, sometimes for a month at a time so long as somebody dropped in every day or two to keep them fed and watered and their litter box cleaned. It was almost disturbing how their behavior was no different before and after.

Making a 1500 mile move by car with them involved a 20+ hour long chorus of yowling with only the overnight stop as an intermission. (It wasn't quite that bad, they would settle for short periods on occasion) They didn't seem severely stressed, as they ate, drank, and toileted fine at stops and upon arrival, but they were loudly displeased in a way they never were if they were sitting in a carrier for a while at home. It's definitely not something I would force on them on the regular.
posted by wierdo at 3:38 PM on December 19, 2020

Maybe you already consider and dismissed this idea, but could the cat live at the boyfriend's?
posted by sm1tten at 3:53 PM on December 19, 2020

You may be able to find someone who wants to catsit in exchange for staying in your apartment- someone with roommates, for example, who would enjoy having space to themselves temporarily.
posted by pinochiette at 3:53 PM on December 19, 2020

Agree it’s dependent on cat and hard to “train” - either they don’t mind, or they do and no amount of anything will resolve it. I had one years ago who traveled every weekend and loved the car, couldn’t wait to hop in the carrier to go; most other cats I’ve known howl and cry the entire time they’re in a car. The chill kitty was fine at another location, would happily hop on a sofa or bed and relax - she was found as a stray kitten. I’ve seen one other friendly male who’d jump in UPS/FedEx trucks and random cars, but they’re the only two I’ve ever known who don’t HATE travel, so you have a needle in haystack task to find a suitable kitty.
posted by OneSmartMonkey at 4:19 PM on December 19, 2020

Several years ago I adopted a kitten and shortly thereafter acquired a partner who lived a half hour away. I would pack my things, put the kitten in a carrier, and bring her with me when I stayed over, sometimes for three or four days. The kitten grew into a cat while travelling back and forth this way. These days though she travels less, she knows what a carrier is and what it means. She isn't excited to travel, but doesn't complain when she is in the carrier.

Her "brother" cat, adopted later as an adult, haaaaaaaates the carrier and it has become very, very problematic to take him (these days very, very infrequently) anywhere, as he cries and pees, and sounds disturbingly like a frightened child.

My theory has always been that because I adopted the first one as a kitten, she got used to travelling early on. The other one, adopted from a shelter, I think associates the carrier with being taken away forever from his home.

Success in doing this depends on the getting right combination on your cat's personality and how they were socialized, I believe. You may adopt a cat that takes to this fine. You may not. I would be prepared for either possibility, when adopting.

Hope that helps.
posted by Crystal Fox at 4:24 PM on December 19, 2020 [2 favorites]

I'd say leave the cat and install a furbo cam/dispenser at home to watch over it, plus an occasional sitter.
posted by kschang at 4:53 PM on December 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

I have friends who love kitties but didn't love lining up cat sitters when they went out of town. So they decided that when they had a feline changing of the guard in their house, Next Cat would be a traveler.

They didn't leash train Next Cat, but they have taken her everywhere they go, in a soft-sided, cylindrical carrier (something like this one) that doubles as a lounging space when they're not in the car. I've also seen Next Cat in her tube when her humans are sitting outside in lawn chairs in the summer.

And judging by the photos that I've been texted, my friends' plans for Next Cat have worked out quite well.

I think you have to start with a kitten or a younger cat, and I second the suggestion by zdravo to start with a foster animal.

Fostering may not be for you. I did it once for a very short time and I got the sads when the kitty went to his forever home!

In that case, here's my second suggestion: Wait to get a cat until you move in with your partner. That way, whether or not your feline friend likes to travel won't have to be a factor in your decision-making.
posted by virago at 5:31 PM on December 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

>"Seek a Maine coone or a Norwegian forest cat in your area (50m?) (Very mellow breeds)"

just popping in to provide a counter to this. my heartcat was a big male Norwegian Forest Cat who was very sensitive to the point of becoming so upset if i left him too long that he'd refuse to eat unless i sat with him and petted him.

breed doesn't matter. it's all about the individual cat and the relationship the two of you have.
posted by hollisimo at 8:13 PM on December 19, 2020 [3 favorites]

Why not a dog? It seems to me that small dog would be much better suited for what you're proposing. Dogs adore car rides and relish road trips.
posted by keep it under cover at 8:16 PM on December 19, 2020 [4 favorites]

Buy a bonded pair and hire a pet sitter. A dog is a huge commitment, and the suggestions to leave the cat at the boyfriends when you're only there on weekends seem to be missing the point to me, because then it's basically his cat and you visit it a couple days a week. A bonded pair with someone to check on them would probably be your best bet.
posted by Amy93 at 8:30 PM on December 19, 2020

I kind of did this for a while for a friend whose cat stayed with me for increasing periods - from 1 or 2 weeks to a few months at a time. The first time, kitty arrived and shot straight to the furthest corner under my bed and didn't come out for days - didn't use the litter tray, no food, no water. I was calling my mother pretty much wailing that the cat was going to starve to death. Then one day I came home from work and sat on the edge of the bed, close to despair. The still very portly ginger kitty appeared, climbed on my lap, purred like mad - and that was that.

We swapped him back and forth many times for a few years, about 45 minutes journey each way. There was a fair bit of car puking initially so we knew not to feed him for a while beforehand - I think the journey was worst for him. On arrival he would race under the bed and sit there until some sort of switch was reset in his kitty brain. It went from being days that first time to about 10 minutes latterly.

Kitty was very affectionate with me at my place - but didn't like it if his owner came to visit or if I visited owner. One time I stayed at their place for a week to mind him when they were away, and kitty was a bit confused, extra weird and grumpy.

Overall, I think it can work but really, really depends on the cat's personality / preferences.
posted by ElasticParrot at 8:49 AM on December 20, 2020

Nthing that this is very much going to depend on the cat. My guy is a frequent traveller...I often spend the weekend (in the before times) or upwards of one to two weeks at my mom's house, or he stays there while I am travelling for work. He doesn't like being put into the crate, but settles down quickly for the ride (about 1.25 hrs). He's spent so much time at my mom's that it is his second home...he has a routine there, and is happier in that situation than having someone he doesn't know well entering the house. Leaving him alone for the weekend hasn't been an option because he A) is a snarf-and-barfer and B) has to eat wet food due to kidney issues.

On the other hand, my mom's current cat does not travel well at all - imagine emittances from every orifice - and has to be sedated to go to the vet.

When I was a teen, my family took a yearly ten day boat vacation on the Great Lakes (a 30 footer). We got a new cat one of those years and introduced him as a kitten to the boat (he had a harness for when the vessel was underway). He loved it, and for ever after we had to watch him when the boat was open because he'd march right out and jump in, waiting for us to cast off.

If you do this, as others have mentioned you should probably get a kitten or very young cat who is not set in their ways. Make sure you introduce the cat gradually to the car...let it explore the vehicle just sitting in the drive, then take some very short trips, making it as pleasant as possible...treats, clicker training, whatever your preferred method is for introducing something as positive experience.
posted by Preserver at 11:05 AM on December 21, 2020 [1 favorite]

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