Operation: Los Gatos to Los Gatos.
March 14, 2021 5:40 PM   Subscribe

We are in Seattle with two cats. at some point we will need to get them (and us) to San Francisco. We are thinking of doing a straight shot, in some kind of large vehicle with a lot of cat medication involved. looking for feedback/advice. Cages? Vehicles? Routes? One of the cats is a certified escape artist (even said so on her cage when we rescued them), so we don't really want to deal with getting them in/out of a hotel. Thanks in advance.
posted by evilmonk to Pets & Animals (26 answers total)
I regularly traveled 9-10 hours with two cats in a large soft carrier containing water and a small litter tray. By large soft carrier, I mean one that would be suitable for a large dog. They didn't like it all that much, but they also didn't do terribly. No medication or stopping needed. 13 hours would probably be fine.

But for a lot of cats that wouldn't be fine. I think what you do will depend a lot on how your cats handle travel (and each other). Have you ever traveled with them before?

Have you talked to your vet about the trip?
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 5:49 PM on March 14, 2021

Take I-5 (South) to I-505 to I-80 (West)

There's construction near Salem Oregon, and near Corvallis Oregon. Otherwise you'll be okay. Take chains in case Southern Oregon has snow. You should be pretty good otherwise.

Google claims about 13 hours of driving. That's long, long, long. If you want to break it up, spend the night in Grants Pass or Ashford.

Keep the escape artist in her cage. You don't need the hassle, and it won't kill her to spend a bit of time in a cage.

You don't mention what other gear you're taking. In general, for long distance driving, a bigger car/SUV/Van is more comfortable, at the cost of fuel economy.

Cat cages, absolutely, or you'll need a cage for one of you instead.
posted by blob at 5:49 PM on March 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

Start feeding the cats their meals in the cage now.
posted by aniola at 6:09 PM on March 14, 2021 [2 favorites]

It's going to depend a bit on the cats, but I know that mine managed to make the whole run from the WI/MN state line out to Seattle without too much discomfort. The fully tame/manageable cats were in hard sided cat carriers, and I let them out (in the car - STOPPED, cats WANT to get under the pedals) to stretch and use the litter box a couple of times along the way. My semi-feral cat was in a large wire cage with a carrier in it to hide in, and a litter box.

They were all grumpy from Chicago to our first overnight stop (where I did get a room - the feral cat stayed in his cage), but from there out, they handled some very long days. As a bonus, the semi-feral cat was far less feral by the end of the trip - the first night in our new apartment was the first time he sought me out to cuddle with.
posted by wotsac at 6:20 PM on March 14, 2021 [3 favorites]

Leave Seattle at 6am and plan to do the drive in one fell swoop with each cat in their own large carrier. Budget for 14ish hours. It'll suck for the kitties but it will definitely be worse making them sleep in a foreign space and then have to re-cage them on the morning.

Make sure they have food & water in their cage but don't be surprised if they don't eat.
posted by nathanfhtagn at 6:20 PM on March 14, 2021 [3 favorites]

Take kittehs for a test drive beforehand to see how they react. We've let our cat free-roam, though two cats might be a little dangerous. You've gotta figure out how litter box stops will work, maybe during the test drive. Never tried medication, tho we always had food and water available.

Hotels can be bad. Ours always hid under/inside of the bed right before we checked out. Also, weird things might freak them out. For our cat, it was ferries.

Big SUV or minivan would work, just pack everything tightly to avoid shifting baggage.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 6:31 PM on March 14, 2021 [2 favorites]

We routinely road tripped various cats from MN to and from NH for years. We had a carrier but let them free in the car. We set up a litter box in the hatchback (we set the cat in the litter box at the first potty stop for the humans, and they never had trouble figuring out what to do from there). Food/water dishes on the floor between the front seats. We smuggled them into hotels and out again. The cats did more or less fine with all of this. Neither were certified escape artists, but one was extremely anxious and neurotic, and she still did fine.
posted by shadygrove at 6:39 PM on March 14, 2021

Get them harnesses (not collars) with ID tags on them, and also get them microchipped just in case they somehow get away from you.
posted by hydra77 at 7:17 PM on March 14, 2021 [3 favorites]

We did Seattle to LA with a single cat, stopping one night in Redding. I think stretching it to SF (or Los Gatos) would be ok, especially if you have two drivers and can trade off. It's a long drive, but doable.

We got a large soft-sided dog crate, and kept the cat in that in the back seat (he had basically the whole back seat). We also had a soft-sided carrier that we used to transfer him securely between the house and the crate. We put him in the carrier in the house, then one of us got into the car with him still in the carrier, closed all the car doors, and transferred him into the crate. That way even if he did somehow escape, he'd be contained inside the car. Not ideal, but better than completely loose. Our rule was that the car doors could not open unless he was closed inside either the crate or the carrier, no exceptions.
posted by primethyme at 7:47 PM on March 14, 2021 [4 favorites]

If you do need a hotel, keep the cats in the bathroom instead of roaming the room. Theyll have some room to stretch their legs but less places to hide, and theres the extra door to prevent escape. Probably want to skip your shower though.

Keep lots of paper towel in the car just in case the cats get carsick (or worse, diarrhea. Ask me how i know).

Definitely cages or carriers for their protection and yours. Only let them out when stopped, and make sure theyre wearing a harness (attach a leash when taking then out) so they can be wrangled easier. Harnesses work better than collars. Work on exposing the cats to wearing them now.

Good luck. Itll be a little stressful but you’ll get there soon enough!
posted by cgg at 8:12 PM on March 14, 2021 [3 favorites]

We drugged two cats for a 48hr car trip, and it was a disaster — one of them fell asleep as intended, but the other spent the entire time yowling like a lunatic, and only stopped when the drug wore off. We didn’t give her a second dose, poor lil’ creature.

... so maybe skip the drugs unless you can test it ahead of time.
posted by aramaic at 8:24 PM on March 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

A lot depends on how the cats look. Are they photogenic?
posted by amtho at 8:29 PM on March 14, 2021 [15 favorites]

I've done a long car ride with two cats - one thing to add, the chances are good at least one will piss/shit, so you'll want puppy pads or something like that in the carrier + something below the carrier that's water proof. I'd also buy a bigger carrier so they can stretch out a bit.

We bought CBD treats, which for at least one of them proved to be calming - worth a try. Definitely test any drugs before the trip.

I'm not sure how your cat would escape from a hotel though. As long as you don't open the door until they are in their carriers again, you'll be fine.
posted by coffeecat at 8:59 PM on March 14, 2021

Might be worth contemplating a flight. We’ve flown cross country with our unhappy felines. Xanax (VERY LOW DOSE) was very helpful for them. We brought little treat bags for everyone seated within a few rows of us (ear plugs, candy and $5 Starbucks gift cards) which won us a lot of friends and sympathy when mid-way across the country one of our unhappy cats cried for a little while.

If you drive, put the cats in harnesses that don’t come off (and test their ability to escape from them). No one opens a window or door without all cats in their carriers and carriers secured. When driving with our cats we put down the seats and turn the backseat into cat area - there is a large heavy bowl with some water in it, a litter box, 2 cat carriers. We never travel with cats solo- always need a driver and then a cat wrangler. Xanax and Feliway will be your friends. I’d suggest staying somewhere overnight on route - la Quintas are pet friendly. Alternately, book an airbnb where you can drive your vehicle into a garage before you release the beasts and expect the cats to have an unhappy night meowing int he bathroom.
posted by arnicae at 9:32 PM on March 14, 2021 [2 favorites]

- In addition to all of the above, pheromone collars work great on many pets. They last a month, so put it on a couple weeks before you go, it can help the cats chill throughout the anxiety of the move.
- Calming music works great on many pets, too. Warning for the driver, though: it's kind of sleep-inducing music.
- Thundershirts or alternatives may also help.
- Do your own self care. Pets pick up on the mood of the people they live with. If you're able to stay calm and collected throughout the moving process, the cats will pick up on that.
posted by aniola at 10:02 PM on March 14, 2021

Most vets say not to medicate cats for trips, unless you have a good reason to.

I have done this drive in one day, but it's nicer to do it in two. I think I'd try to wedge in a couple soft-sided crates like these from Chewy. Best thing about those is if you stay overnight somewhere you can just carry the crates in with no cat transfer (double check all crate doors before doing so). I think having pets in crates in case of sudden stops (or worse) is the best insurance (never mind escape artists).

We have stayed in the pet-friendly Ashland Hills Hotel on the drive between Oakland and Seattle. For the price I wasn't expecting much, but the hotel is retro-cute and very clean. Got there too late to get cocktails (pre pandemic). I would totally stay again, pet or no. It's a couple hours past the halfway point, and there is a gas station right across the street.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:41 PM on March 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

As for route, there's really just one unless you want to make a long, scenic trip- which you don't. Take 5, all the way down.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:46 PM on March 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

I have nothing constructive to add, but you really should ask the mods to retitle the post Operation: Dos Gatos to Los Gatos.

If you decide to break the trip into two days I really enjoyed the ride through the Avenue of the Giants. It would add nearly two hours to the trip, though. Good luck to you and your furry friends.
posted by funkiwan at 11:04 PM on March 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

I helped my sister move her two cats from Vermont to Los Angeles. They were in a pretty good-sized cage, taking up most of the cargo area of her hatchback (rear seat folded down). Food/water and a small litterbox in the cage. No medication. Overall it went pretty smooth, the cats were a little nervous initially but then fine. I do think the large cage was important, though, they wouldn't have liked being stuck in an ordinary-size carrier for that long.

Agree that I wouldn't medicate unless the cats are super-nervous in general and their vet thinks it's a good idea.

12-13 hours is maybe on the high end but I think I would do the straight shot as well, just to be done. If you do end up having to stay in a hotel, my only advice would be to inspect the room when you arrive looking for any little hidey-holes a cat might get into. The biggest drama on our trip was when one of the cats climbed up through the box spring and got into a compartment under one of the beds(!). We couldn't understand how he could have possibly escaped, we were incredibly careful with doors and everything--and after a half hour of freaking out, he just casually waltzes back out from under the bed...
posted by equalpants at 1:20 AM on March 15, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: My two cats have been on several multi-day road trips with me this year. Here’s what has worked for us:

-if you can do it in one straight shot, do it. On one trip my friend and I did some 11 hour days and that was preferable to overnight in a hotel; if you do decide to stop definitely keep them in the bathroom, lest you end up having to entirely dismantle a hotel bed like I did!
-keep them in carriers, together if they will find that comforting, separately if they won’t. I didn’t keep food or water inside the carriers because of the potential for mess, but did partially unzip them midway through each day to give to them. Often they just ignored this. I kept puppy pads in the carriers.
-I drugged them on one trip and didn’t on two others and honestly I don’t know that the drugs made a huge difference. My vet gave me trazodone and Xanax and I think the Xanax was more helpful. After an hour or so of complaining they’d both just sleep away the remainder of each day’s journey regardless of whether or not they were medicated.

My cats are old and they’ve become good travelers even having not done much of it prior to this year. Definitely easier than I anticipated; for your escape artist just absolutely do not let them out of their carrier! Mine are the same way. Good luck!
posted by nancynickerson at 4:23 AM on March 15, 2021 [2 favorites]

I moved 3 cats on a 13 hour trip with this cat playpen* in the back of an SUV. There was room for a litter box, and food and water. I draped a sheet over one side of the pen so they could feel like they were hiding if they wanted to. I’ve moved cats many times over the years, and this was the easiest one. The cats just chilled out and slept most of the time, but they had room to move around a little, and room to use the litter box properly. The pen is flexible, so if it’s a little wider than your vehicle, you can smoosh it a little to make it fit. The mesh sides are designed to withstand claws. Now that I know how well it works, I would have happily paid twice as much.

*You can find it on Amazon for about $40, but I’m on my phone and the Amazon link doesn’t want to work because Amazon adds too much crap to the link. Just search for “ ESK Collection ESK48-Blue Pet Exercise Pen Kennel, 48 Inch”.
posted by MexicanYenta at 4:47 AM on March 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

I moved a cat in a huge cage from the bird section of a pet shop, something like this
Essentially recreating the cage I got him from the pound in.
I put a bed (and water bowl/tray attached to the cage (it came with the cage- I think it was for a big bird), plus food tray at feeding times) on one side and kitty litter over the other side (some tarpaulin around the edge of the cage over the kitty litter side) and one of my cat's favourite blankets over the top and some of the edges over the bed side so there was just one view out which he seemed to find cosy. I slept in the car overnight with the cat.
It actually wasn't as bad as it sounds. Fortunately the roads were pretty straight since he didn't seem to like bends much.
posted by hotcoroner at 5:22 AM on March 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

We drove cross country with two cats using a soft-sided pet kennel that extended the width of the back seat (link goes to a search for the Petego brand). Each day they spent about 11 to 12 hours in the carrier (daily drive time was ~10 hours, but loading the car, bathroom and gas stops etc added to their time in the carrier).

The cats are littermates and are notably less agitated if they are in the same carrier. We put folded cardboard on the bottom of the kennel since the cats like that better than the slick material of the kennel, and then some of their bedding so they could burrow into something that smelled like them. We also put a towel on top of the carrier to give them a cozier cave feel, and shield them from the sun coming in the car windows. The first day we included a small litterbox inside the kennel, but one of them was so demoralized that he sat IN the litterbox for half the day and neither of them actually used the litterbox. The other three days we didn't include the litterbox. They consistently held their business until we got to the motel (La Quinta is a national chain that is notable for its pet friendliness). We gave some treats during the car ride, but no water until we got to the hotel room (we mixed it in their wet food and added probiotic). We used one of the calming pheromone sprays, I think it worked some? The first day the non-demoralized one howled and rattled the grate for almost an hour and a half before settling down. I think you can definitely drive it as a straight shot.
posted by spamandkimchi at 9:19 AM on March 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

If one of them is an escape artist, find a well-fitted harness (preferably one of those that wrap around the entire torso, they're harder to get out of) and attach them to a leash that is attached somewhere in the car so that they don't slip out when you have to stop for gas or food.
posted by Anonymous at 1:00 PM on March 15, 2021

Can't speak to the cats as I don't have any, but I've made that trip before both ways. The route Google Maps will suggest for the trip is likely the right one: South I-5 from Seattle into California, then South I-505 bypassing Sacramento, then I-80 into San Francisco. There are plenty of places to stop along that route (I usually stop around Grant's Pass), but it's just doable in one shot, especially with 2 drivers. Do not do a different route unless you want to spend significantly more time on the road and plan to stop and rest for the night at least once.
posted by Aleyn at 4:49 PM on March 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

I took my two cats on a short trip from Ulsan to Daejeon (maybe 2.5 hours). Before leaving I took them to the vet for kitty sedation. One panted and freaked out the entire way. The other slept. Learn from my mistake. Try the drugs before leaving.

(This was a fun conversation to have over cell phone with my vet's broken English and my survival Korean)
posted by kathrynm at 5:59 PM on March 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

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