Cat advice, vacation rental advice
August 12, 2021 12:19 PM   Subscribe

Any last minute tips to minimize stress for my cat (tax) as we head off for vacation?

I'm renting a house with some friends for a week. It's a two hour car trip to get there, and is my first post-Covid overnight away from home. It's my cat's first vacation ever.

After going back and forth for a while I decided to bring him, as vastly superior to boarding him somewhere and probably better than having a cat sitter give him 15 minutes of attention each day. But I have no travel experience with him so not sure how he'll react. He is fairly chill and friendly overall.

Any advice to minimize the stress on him? I'm bringing familiar toys, his cat bed, etc. and otherwise taking a common sense approach and hoping for the best.
posted by mark k to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If I'm being honest—leaving him home with a cat sitter that gives him 15 minutes of attention a day will be far less stressful to him than having him endure 2 hours in the car (if he's not used to traveling), and spending a week away from his territory.

Don't take it personally, but most cats are homebodies, and would rather be at home, with or without you.
posted by vitout at 12:25 PM on August 12, 2021 [36 favorites]

How will you transport him? Crate? If so, start getting him comfortable in it now. Feed him in it, help him see it as a place of comfort. Put a dirty t-shirt of yours in it, let him 'nest' in it. Leave it out and open at all times. Leave it out an open in the rental home. When you get to the rental home, leave him in the crate and give him a small room to roam in. He won't need free roam of the house probably until you're ready to leave the vacation home.

Also get him used to wearing a collar/harness and/or possibly walking on a lead. This will help you in transporting him.

Try some car rides now and see how they go, and see what his reaction to them is. Is he interested and curious, or cowering in fear?

But also agreeing with vitout that bringing him with you may not be vastly superior to a cat sitter.
posted by hydra77 at 12:29 PM on August 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

I would also strongly vote for him staying home with a catsitter. It will almost certainly be far less stressful. Boredom is better than stress.

If you decide to bring him anyway, choose ONE room in which he will stay the entire time, set up everything he needs in there, and MAKE SURE PEOPLE KNOW TO KEEP THE DOOR CLOSED lest he bolt or hide somewhere deep within an unfamiliar house. I had to bring my cat to a family member's house once due to a renovation on my own, someone opened the door to the room where I'd secured her, and it took me over three hours to find her, burrowed up in a teeny-tiny crevice in the ceiling of the unfinished basement. (Mine is also chill and friendly so I wouldn't necessarily use that as a gauge for how they will behave in a completely foreign environment.)
posted by anderjen at 12:30 PM on August 12, 2021 [12 favorites]

So you don’t know yet how well your cat can handle a car ride? My cats are normally chill, and yet absolutely hate even the shortest car ride. After a couple of minutes they howl and after five minutes they get carsick. It can be torture for all parties involved. If you really want to do this cat road trip, then try a few “test rides” beforehand to find out how your kitty does.
posted by oxisos at 12:50 PM on August 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Hi all, "this is a bad idea" comments are noted and appreciated but I really don't need more people chiming in to say that.
posted by mark k at 1:01 PM on August 12, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: This really depends on your cat. MOST cats, as many commenters have noted, would prefer to stay home and have a sitter come in to check on them and scoop litter, feed them, etc., daily. But this is far from being universal. One of my friends had a pair of cats (brothers) that LOVED travel. They wanted to be wherever their humans were, and delighted in exploring (pet friendly) hotel rooms. My coworker has a super social cat as well who loves coming to work on a leash/harness. It can be super variable.

I would say that if you have a cat who is normally cool with car rides/being in a carrier, etc., the more important thing would be that there's a small/medium room with a door he can stay in at the destination. Giving him free run of a whole, unfamiliar house right away would likely be overwhelming and potentially unsafe, as there's no guarantee the house has been "cat-proofed" (which is remarkably similar to child-proofing).

If your cat HATES car rides and tends to scream the whole time and/or poop himself in rage-fear, definitely get a sitter, but otherwise it'd be worth a shot if he is a particularly social kitty.
posted by aecorwin at 1:02 PM on August 12, 2021 [3 favorites]

If you're going to take the kitty on a two-hour car ride, maybe ask your vet about something to chill the kitty out for the ride?

My vet has me dose my tuxedo cat (often referred to as "Murder Cat" by others) with Gabapentin before each vet visit. It's available as a pill or in liquid form (probably easier to get pills for one-offs) and it calms her down substantially.

That's for the car ride each way. For the week while there - keep kitty in a single room that's got lots of toys and items with a familiar smell, etc. Lots of discipline to make sure kitty does not go walkabout. Be prepared for your cat to find a hidey spot and stay there. Just leave out water and food and monitor to make sure that the food is eaten.

We have 7 cats. Some would fare OK except for the car trip, others would probably hunker down the entire week and be nervous wrecks.

Also - I'm going to assume that kitty will bunk with you during the week. There's a very good chance kitty will interrupt your sleep substantially. My cats respond to any disruption in routine with a big spike in nighttime activity and neediness. Back when I used to travel I knew when I got home I wouldn't get much sleep that night or the next. The few times I've traveled / moved them to unfamiliar territory, they waited for the house to be quiet and then paraded all over the bed where I slept.
posted by jzb at 1:23 PM on August 12, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I have three traveling cats and have done about a dozen road trips with them over the pandemic. They don’t love being in the car but settle in great at any lodging; they are usually right at home within 15 minutes. I will say that if yours isn’t used to having other people around keeping them in one room is probably a good idea.

I generally have done longer drives so you may not need all of this, but I bring: copious treats, harnesses for stops (put them in before opening doors at gas stations etc - the one time I did not, this happened! I put them in small carriers for going between car and lodging, but use a large crate in the car with room for a small litter box and a water bowl so they have room to stretch out and access to the necessities. If I’m staying more than a day or two I also bring a large litter box that is more comfy for them, but for a day or two the small one is fine. And I bring a hand broom to sweep up litter and blankets/towels to cover furniture.

I have never needed a sedative (for me or them) but I do get motion sickness meds; one of mine occasionally gets pukey otherwise. I also plan to stop more frequently than I would without them so I can check on them. I wouldn’t bother on a 2 hour drive though.
posted by tinymojo at 1:26 PM on August 12, 2021

Depending on when you are leaving, I could possibly stay at your house and catsit for you (I see you're also in the Bay Area?). I'm doing that now for someone else.
posted by pinochiette at 1:39 PM on August 12, 2021 [2 favorites]

Feliway spray… calming pheromone
Puppy pad under his blanket to catch pee
Minimize jostling… make sure he’s flat and maybe towels under the carrier to minimize bounce.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 1:42 PM on August 12, 2021

Best answer: It really depends on your cat and if this is something you want to do with him in the future, why not try? Especially since you're close enough that you could bring him back home and arrange a sitter, I'd say absolutely go for it. He may love it.

Last year we went on a three-week road trip with our indoor 18-year-old cat (Papapichu) in tow who had never done anything like that (but had successfully flown on planes four times without complaint because she was near her favourite person). We planned our first stop close enough that we could bring her to my mom's house if she hated it, but it turned out that she was absolutely in love with it and was maybe the happiest I've ever seen her on those three weeks. Her people were there, she was good. So go for it - you never know!

To make sure she was comfortable, we brought a couple of blankets she knew and our own bedding, plus obviously treats and food. Otherwise, she was pretty comfortable, but she was the type of cat that was pretty versatile and chill as long as her people were there and past the age of toys, really.
posted by urbanlenny at 1:52 PM on August 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: We used to take our cats on vacation with us (stopped only because the venue didn't allow it) and they always seemed to enjoy it. It really did seem less traumatic for them than having us be gone for two weeks. That was back when we used to let our cats outside; one cat particularly loved walking along the top of the sea wall, looking down at the water, and another loved lying on a shady screened porch looking out into a forested area. They never got lost, but one of them did get accidentally shut into a room that was being repaired for a couple of days, so we thought she was lost. Fortunately that worked out okay.

We always let the cats out of their cages in the car once we were on the road, as it was a ten-hour drive. For a two-hour drive it might be better to just keep them in their cages. The only problem was that one of the cats seemed to think the safest place to be was under the brake pedal, but we were able to discourage that. It is very important, as tinymojo noted, that nobody along on the trip open a car door unless the cat is absolutely known to be safely contained! Friends of ours lost their beloved cat that way, at a rest stop, when they were moving to a new home, because one person thought the cat was caged and the other person thought the door wasn't about to be opened; sadly, they never recovered her.

We found that one minor difficulty of traveling was wanting to stop at a fast food place to eat along the way, pre-pandemic, but of course not wanting to leave the cats in a hot car with the windows shut because that can be deadly. Sometimes we found a shady spot to park. Drive-throughs are an obvious solution.

One time we had packed up and were leaving the beach house to go home, everything very stressful because we had a two-year-old child, and our cat would not come. We could see her but not get her. Finally I had the others drive away as if they were leaving, and I sat on the steps thinking hard about other things; after just a few minutes, she came to sit with me, and I grabbed her and did not let her go.
posted by metonym at 2:26 PM on August 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Honestly, I travelled with my cats a lot and none of them gave a crap. They were well behaved enough to just hang out in the car, staring out the windows, and when they got to their destination they figured "Huh, new home. Dibs on the couch".

For future reference, I have previously boarded cats at The Cats' Inn (which is pretty near you, I see). The cats have personal cages, but if they seem mellow enough the staff open the cages and let them wander around all day or go to special kitty vacation rooms (with nice views). It's nice.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 2:29 PM on August 12, 2021

Not exactly to your question but you should be at least prepared for your cat to make more mess than at home -- puking, minimally, all the way up to litter box accidents and clawing furniture. I have found that being prepared to deal with that and not getting upset that the cat is having a challenging time in turn helps with the cat's stress.
posted by sm1tten at 4:14 PM on August 12, 2021

If you do decide to do a sedative for the ride, try it out before the big day. One of my cats did fine and slept the entire bus ride, the other freaked out and I didn't know why. Bonus points for me being in a foreign country and trying to communicate with the vet with my broken Korean and his broken English.
posted by kathrynm at 4:30 PM on August 12, 2021

What a cutie! Your cat may want to hide when he arrives at the new place.... maybe bring an extra towel or a blanket that smells like home that can make the cat carrier a cozy cave, or figure out some piece of furniture in your room that would work as a hideyhole if you drape the towel over it. When we arrived at our new temporary digs, the cats spent a lot of time under the bed and in the closet.

Our cats also go gaga for the probiotic powders, so it was the way to get the reluctant one to eat even when he was sulking. You might want to get some high-value add ins... dried anchovies are another favorite of our cats, we get them from the Korean grocery store, the fish flakes sold in the pet stores are over priced bonito flakes. Oh! And I found the Pet Natural calming chews to be helpful for our cats when they've had to travel (there are packs labeled as for cats, but I currently have a bottle labeled for dogs and cats and the effect seems the same to me and the bottle was way cheaper).
posted by spamandkimchi at 4:30 PM on August 12, 2021

If your adorable kitty doesn't already have a microchip, get one now, before you leave. It's the size of a grain of rice, and takes less than a minute to place under the skin.

Hopefully he won't try jumping out of the car or going on a walkabout, but this will be a hedge against that.
posted by dum spiro spero at 4:36 PM on August 12, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: My two cats travel with me quite a bit and have always done just fine. The first time I took them on a long road trip I picked up some sedatives from the vet, but they’ve never needed them; obviously ymmv.

I keep them in carriers in the car and do not let them out under any circumstances; they sleep the whole time and this way they can’t get lost. When we arrive at our destination I place them, their litter box, food, and their beds in one room and let them chill in there. I may have particularly brave cats, but they always start sniffing around the door and want out to explore within a few hours, and generally don’t have a problem acclimating. They seem to think mom=home.

My cats have done this to the tune of 8-10 hours vs your 2; don’t stress too much and enjoy your trip!
posted by nancynickerson at 5:57 PM on August 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

Cats *LOOOOOOOVE* to hide when they're in unfamiliar places. He may disappear for hours and you may never even find out where he's been.

I got our kitteh a Tile hanging off her collar (along with a metal tag w/ phone number). An Airtag should work fine too. It's nice to know she's still in the house and not seeking her fortune elsewhere.

Two hours isn't a lot for a road trip, but consider whether you want to let him free-roam (maybe with an enclosed litter box in the car) or stay in the carrier. A test road trip might be informative.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:13 PM on August 12, 2021

Best answer: Brought my female cat on a road trip a few years ago, and she did just fine.

You can use the towel method to get your kitty into a carrier. What I do, a few days before a grooming or vet visit, is get the carrier out and put it in the living room, with a towel in the bottom. I leave the door open, so she can sniff and explore.

The night before the car trip, I get a big towel out and leave it on the coffee table. Then I use said towel method to get her into the carrier (she resists being put into the carrier).

I put the carrier in the back seat, side door facing inward, to minimize her ability to see things whizzing past while driving. She will yowl and cry for a bit, then calm down (for short trips, usually just before I arrive, but on the longer trip, she was fine and got used to it quickly).

Since we were staying in hotels, we unloaded her first and put her into a bathroom, with the door shut, along with her temp litter box and food and water dishes, and opened the crate door. Then we would unload the luggage from the car.

Before leaving, very important to put the cat into the small space (room or bathroom), and shut the door before doing all the packing and high activity of loading the car, as this might signal the cat to hide. If you can get the cat into the crate at this time, do it, but at least they will be inside a small room (bathrooms have less hiding places than bedrooms). Because it is not fun trying to catch a cat before they run under a bed and fall and skin your knee on the carpet.

After everything is unloaded at your destination, you can check on the kitty and maybe crack the bathroom door, then go about your business and wait for them to explore the place. Be prepared for them to hide a day or two (or they might come out at night when it's quiet, you will notice if the litter box has been used). Some cats will get used to a new place very quickly.

FYI, I did try letting another cat roam free in the car once, and he was frantic and yowled and crouched in the back seat and on the back shelf, obviously terrified of seeing all the trees going past. I personally would not recommend letting a cat stay out of a carrier in a car, especially if you've never done it before with this cat.

If you are leaving early on your last day, put kitty into the bathroom the night before, or do it first thing when you get up and are feeding the cat. If you have the carrier in there, with a towel or soft bedding, they will most likely go into it to sleep, if not, at least it will be easy to catch them with the towel method and place them into the carrier.

Also, look around the new place and put away any breakables, such as glass or ceramic knickknacks on shelves.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 3:45 AM on August 13, 2021

I have a traveling cat (here she is surveying part of her international real estate portfolio) and we've done both short and multi-day road trips together. She doesn't really enjoy riding in the car but she is usually quite happy to settle in and explore new places with me.

Two hours is a pretty short car trip, I would just keep the cat in his carrier the whole time, and would also expect him to yell at the top of his lungs the whole time (my cat sure does). A lot of people say this is automatically unsafe but for longer car trips I have always had better luck with letting her out of the carrier, since she'll nap in the back or quietly hang out with me up front rather than scream and thrash around the entire time.

For settling into new lodging I always bring her favorite blanket and toys plus her food and (space permitting) usual litter box. I start out by setting up all her "infrastructure" in one enclosed room (or room plus ensuite bathroom) and spending some quiet time with her there—I want her to feel secure and also to associate the new place with "my human and food". The next day she is generally feeling curious about exploring the rest of the suite/house so I'll open that up to her after checking for possible outside escape routes, as well as move her food and litter box to a more suitable place. She is also harness-trained so that gives us some options for supervised time outdoors.

There are a few times she has responded by hiding in the new room very quietly and effectively so be prepared for that—I once had to take apart a motel room bed and box spring to extract her.

From my cat's standpoint I think the new group of people would be more stressful, maybe a lot more so, than the new house. Are the other guests cat-literate? I would be extra mindful of setting up an enclosed area as the cat's safe territory, and potentially would restrict him to that area unless I was there to supervise—it's pretty easy for someone to leave a door or unscreened window to the outside open by accident.
posted by 4rtemis at 3:46 AM on August 13, 2021

The time I traveled with my cat, he freaked out and hid most of the entire time I was in a place with other people (normally he’s very outgoing), but when we went to a place where it was just us, he seemed relatively happy. He never ate normally for the entire trip, so I know he was upset on some level, but was playing with me and trotting around with his tail up and coming out to meet people.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 6:58 AM on August 13, 2021

My *friend*, took her cat on vacation to a house in the woods. I warned her that it was a bad idea. Another vacationing friend accidentally left the door open, and the cat ran out. It got lost in the woods and she never found it. There had been a hawk circling the house before, it disappeared shortly after. Anyone who displays that kind of poor judgement with an animal doesn't get to be my friend.
posted by nanook at 8:58 AM on August 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Went there and back again; I took the cat and it was definitely the correct choice for him. He hid under the bed when we arrived. For about five minutes, then started exploring the room. After the first night I eventually let him roam the house and he generally gravitated to where humans were, even commandeering a chair in the sun room where he could chill with us. I know how he reacts when alone for even 18 hours, and (the car ride itself excepted) he was much happier with us.

Lots of good advice and it's all appreciated, I marked the ones that were most relevant for our experience. The smelly blanket he sits on at home especially seemed to give him a nice safe spot.
posted by mark k at 8:58 PM on August 22, 2021 [2 favorites]

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