90th iteration of a cat transportation question, with apologies
January 22, 2023 4:16 PM   Subscribe

It looks likely I'll be crossing the country by car with not one but two cats. I've posted about it before but now it's more specific so, begging your indulgence...

1) My parents gave me some of the Amitriptyline they use for their car-averse cat. Any experiences with Amitriptyline? The thought of two days of howling is making me want to just take the stuff myself.
2) Is there a car carrier that fits two cats but is also portable? I know there are big back seat ones that you can't take out of the car, and I'm way too concerned about getting the cats into a motel room from the car and losing them.
3) Do I need to do the harness thing for the car or can I just put them in the large carrier, take it into the motel room, and merely have to deal with getting them back into it?
4) What do I do about water such that it won't slosh all over but they can drink?
5) What else am I not thinking of?

I'm really nervous about this. It's coming as part of a huge life upheaval and I'm probably extra crazy about it. Any advice and words of reassurance that I'll get through it are appreciated.
posted by less-of-course to Pets & Animals (12 answers total)
I used to travel regularly between my home town and grad school with two cats. It was about a nine-hour drive, so no issues with motels, but I still had the paranoia about loading and unloading them.

I used a soft, collapsible dog kennel that was big enough for the two cats, a small cardboard box lid with litter, and a water dish. They only ever used these a couple of times.

The important thing was not opening the kennel while the car doors were also open. So, I would take out the litter and the water before I opened the car doors (to avoid making a mess), and then close the kennel back up and carry the whole thing inside. This was awkward, because of the size, but the main weight was the cats themselves. The kennel was lightweight because it was made of a duffel-like fabric.

If I couldn't carry the kennel, I probably would have used either harnesses and a leash (that I was comfortable were VERY secure), or tried transferring them to a smaller carrier before opening the car. It probably depends on the set-up of your car. I positioned the kennel facing forward, and could access the door from the front seat, and remove the entire kennel from the side or rear.

If I had to stay in a motel, I would probably keep the cats in the bathroom - with a familiar kitty cube or something for shelter. Or I would carry a second, collapsible kennel to give them more space overnight. I wouldn't have been comfortable with them loose in the motel room.

I never drugged them because my vet recommend that I only do that if necessary. My experience was that they quieted down after an hour or so. I would talk to your vet before you drug them for multiple days in a row.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 5:13 PM on January 22 [3 favorites]

How are the cats generally when they are in the car? Did a cross country drive with 2 cats once (4 days). Didn't use drugs for them but they only howled for a bit over an hour on the first day and then gave up. We used a dog crate that took up the back seat of the car so that we could see them and because one of them needed to be able to have litter box access, used a small cake pan for litter. They wore their harnesses the whole time and we'd open the side door of the crate which pointed to the door of the car to transfer into their regular carriers to go into the motel rooms. One did make a break for it so I might recommend clipping a leash to the harness immediately when you open the door before doing the transfer if you try this way. Other friends have moved cats just in their carriers but for shorter moves. They were not too interested in food or drink while we were moving and the one without health conditions was uninterested in the litter box unless we were stopped. You could give them water when you stop for breaks. The other thing we did was to make sure that they were locked in the bathroom or in their carriers if we ever had to open the motel room door. We did not need it for this pair but puppy pads with grippy things underneath would make cleaning up carriers / crates easy in case of any accidents.
posted by oneear at 5:20 PM on January 22

With the caveat that all cats are different.....

-Try out any meds you plan to use before the trip. Your vet can also prescribe stuff.

-I wouldn't put both cats together in one carrier - even if they are generally buddies, the carrier would need to be very big before I could imagine this being a positive - cats get generally sensitive during moves, and I think giving them there own space is good.

-cats don't need water or food while traveling. They do need to be kept cool - sorry if this is obvious, but if you are doing this move in the summer, don't leave them in a hot car - they can quickly overheat. Cats can also hold their urine for at least 24hrs. Still, it is all stressful for them, and so I think it's good to avoid super long driving days.

-I have never used a harness for moving cats, and think it would likely add to the stress. I load the cats into the motel room first, then get there litter/food/water set up, then I release them. Obviously be careful when entering/exiting the room, but I have found my cats are generally too freaked out to be in the mood for exploring beyond the motel room - that said, the basic Wyndham are a cheap pet friendly option where the rooms usually exit out into a hallway (as opposed to a parking lot) and are my preference.
posted by coffeecat at 5:41 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]

Strong rec for these litter boxes.

You already know that cats prefer high spots. Our cat does best in the car when we have her preferred sleeping box on top of a big storage bin in the backseat. That way she can see out of windows. We keep a harness on her in the car, and clip a leash on it to get her in to hotel rooms (but ours is not an escape artist at all) - no crate involved.

She doesn't eat or drink or pee during the day in the car.
posted by Dashy at 6:47 PM on January 22

I keep a litter box in the footwell of a back seat that's enclosed in an IKEA bag for easy in and out. It also helps contain the mess!

My cats and I are experienced in travel so on longer trips I may let them roam around -- I keep a blanket on my lap so they can't get into the driver side footwell with the pedals because that is super dangerous. Fortunately, they don't really go on the dashboard but again this is not something for your first time! I have two separate cat carriers, one for each.

I have never used any medicines for my cats on trips but a lot of people do. One cat loves travel and the other dislikes it.

I keep their water bowl half full and a small container with cat food. They really only eat at motels or if we're stopped. (I've camped in the car with them.)

It was a tough learning curve in that my one cat peed on pillows in the back seat but eventually adjusted (and now loves it.) If you stay at motels, bring clean up supplies like a mini-broom and dustpan and plan to tip $5-10/night for clean up. My one cat likes to hide under beds or even IN mattresses, upholstered chairs, etc.

I'd try a practice run where you drive maybe ten minutes to try a drive thru, hang out in the parking lot, then go home. Or do even a day trip to a place an hour or two away to test your setup!

Don't open the door unless they're secured. Turn on the childlock for windows.

Have a second set of keys so you can keep the car running and locked if you need to go shopping or whatever. That way you can control the climate. I'd also cover their cages with a blanket and turn off the engine if it were a cool day and I just was going to the bathroom for a few minutes. Wear your keys or always keep an extra set on you so you can get to them. I'd sometimes eat outside and bring their carriers with me, set them on the ground (I'd ask permission, of course, but people always said yes!)

I'm less conservative and more experienced than many when it comes to car travel with cats. An even more careful approach is wise but this works for me. It's hard but after the first day or so, it will be much easier, I promise. After a few days, you (the human ;-) become trained and most cats (start to) adjust. Good luck!!!
posted by smorgasbord at 7:26 PM on January 22

I think I’ve written about cats and hotel beds elsewhere, but if you do let the cats stretch their legs in your hotel room, beware faux platform bed frames which make you think they can't get under the bed. In reality, the “platform” is only three sided and will leave a gap next to the wall which allows the cats to get under the entire bed. If this happens, you’ll have to lift out the mattress and box spring to pry them out. The solution is to jam extra pillows into the gap between the platform, wall and bedside table before letting them out of their carriers.
posted by carmicha at 9:08 PM on January 22 [3 favorites]

When we travelled cross-country (TX to NJ over three days and the reverse several years later) with three, we put two in one large regular hard sided carrier and the third in a smaller regular hard sided carrier. We placed them on the back seat with the doors facing each other so all the cats could see and smell each other, with a little water and a little food in tall bowls. There were no litter boxes in the car and the cats did not seem to need them (though we came prepared in case they peed on the towels in the carriers in fear or upset).

Our drive was three days and with two drivers, we had one person in the car the entire time. We stayed overnight at La Quinta because that was where we could have the cats. We used this litterbox or something very similar in the hotel, but I like the one Dashy recommended even better. They cried the whole time, poor babies, and we sang to help keep them relatively calm. They survived the journey both times just fine without meds.

We did the same thing when we moved from Austin to Dallas with two cats and it was successful for them as well. Good luck on your move and hope you and kitties have an easy move!
posted by gentlyepigrams at 9:12 PM on January 22

I’d seriously consider getting the cats chipped before the trip.
posted by theora55 at 6:01 AM on January 23

re: the harnesses, the idea is to put the harnesses on when you're transferring the cat, not to leave them on the whole time.

my cats were pretty docile, but it was still possible that some loud noise would startle them, that i would trip, that the strange circumstances would result in unexpected behaviors, etc. the suggestion isn't that they need the harness in the kennel for some reason. the idea is just not to have any doors open with the cat unsecured.

(if you go this route, you should start acclimating the cats to the harnesses at home by just letting them wear them a while, so they're not wearing them for the first time)
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 8:08 AM on January 23

If you get meds from your vet, make sure you give them a trial run before hand. When I took a bus moving between 2 cities, I had both my cats sedated. One was fine. The other freaked out on the meds and panted and moaned the whole way. The rest of the bus hated me for sure.
posted by kathrynm at 11:22 AM on January 23

We didn't put a water bowl or anything in the car kennel once it was in the car, we just gave them lots of water (mixed Fortiflora probiotics into it so they lapped it up avidly) as soon as we got to the hotel room (La Quinta all the way across the U.S.). We also didn't bother setting up a litter box inside the kennel after the first day of travel. It was clear that they were too miserable to fuss with it and it made the kennel heavy and messy.

You've gotten some conflicting advice on keeping them together - you know your cats best! Our cats always do better traveling together in the same carrier, they are littermates who snuggle and nap together every day. Other cats may not need to be physically together.
posted by spamandkimchi at 11:34 AM on January 23

I don't think it's a good idea to have small animals loose in the car- they fly around very easily if you step hard on the brakes and can easily be injured or killed. I like soft carriers than can be fastened down with seatbelts. We have this one by Mr Peanut. Our cats don't mind the soft carriers but they hated the hard carrier. Over the last three years our cats have been on numerous 6 hour round trip rides in this carrier (they each have their own) and it's held up well. Most of the important bits are easily washable.

If you feed your cats wet food you shouldn't have to give them water during driving. Most vets I've talked to say not to tranquilize them because of motion sickness. Obviously don't start them on brand new food just before the trip.

Personally I would get a larger folding tent type thing for them in the hotel room. Cats can easily get wedged in very tight places if they are scared, upset, or just exploring.
posted by oneirodynia at 8:45 PM on January 23

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