2 Cats in a Car
June 24, 2007 2:44 PM   Subscribe

PetFilter: I am about to travel over 1000 miles with two cats in one car. The cats get along together. Both are healthy, about two years old, and hate car trips (usually because it takes them to the vet). We are only going to stop once for the night. I need your advice, opinions, and experiences to make this move easier for all involved.
posted by contog to Pets & Animals (20 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
We moved two cats by car from California to Texas (three days, two nights). We had their carriers in the trunk and put the back seats down, letting them roam free during the drive. One of the cats is a lap cat, so to keep him from interfering with the driver we attempted to put up a barrier between the back and front seats -- I think we tried hanging a sheet across but it was pretty much useless (there may be barriers designed for dogs that would work better). We also had the cat box in the car in case they needed to use it. We had water available at all times but only fed them in the morning and at night.

We didn't drug them or anything. Our one cat who is very adventurous had the time of his life on the trip. He liked looking out the windows, sitting in the space between the back seats and the rear windshield, etc. Our other cat, who is much more timid, absolutely hated it. She was very anxious and depressed during and after the trip -- I'm not looking forward to moving her over a long distance by car again. If your windows are tinted, this may make it easier on the cats by keeping the sun off them. Ours weren't tinted, but they could (and did) hide in the trunk.

We stayed the first night at a relative's and the 2nd in a Motel 8. I think most motels will welcome cats and other small animals.
posted by puritycontrol at 3:04 PM on June 24, 2007

Get two cat carriers and put them in the back seat. Put the cats in carriers facing each other, some toys/favorite blankies/pillows, snacks and ice cubes (won't slosh like a bowl full of water but should melt quickly enough to keep them hydrated,) in the carriers and, this is going to be the hard part, you're going to have to ignore the crying.

Don't let them out while you're driving. You know that one time an empty soda can slipped under your brake pedal and you had that "Oh shit!" moment when you were trying to stop the car? Well, you can crush a Coke can if you have to. Not so much with a cat. If you take a rest stop roll the windows down a bit an let the cats out inside the car.

Change the litterbox the day before you leave and let them use it a bit so it's familiar. Break it out wherever you're stopping over for the night.
posted by Cyrano at 3:07 PM on June 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

I have done it -- drive across the country in a Geo Metro with a friend and two cats. This is what worked for me.

- harnesses -- you can get leashes that work with harnesses, keep the cats in the harnesses the hwole trip and then make sure you have the leash on them before you open the door. This will usually keep them from shooting out of the car. This way when you stop for gas or whatever, you can put their leashes on and hold on to them
- if you stop to eat or do whatever, make sure there is a shady place in your car they can hang out in, put up a window shade or tarp or something. I would not leave the cats in the car if it's hot out for very long at all, and not at all withotu some water and/or shade.
- litter boxes. when we were doing long jaunts, we'd have a mini litter box behind the seat filled with that piney stuff. I think the cats used it once or twice but then we didn't feel like we had to take them out and walk them which was ridiculous and not very effective anyhow
- water in the car. have another littler box which is empty but with a deep dish of food and a deep dish with a little water. if your cats are stressed it wouldn't be that weird for them to not eat or drink much but having it available means you don't have to worry as much.
- We had the cats free ranging in the car, this may not be for everyone.
- find a place to stop that is pet friendly, no one wants to have to sneak a cat into a hotel room and it's a bad idea for a TON of reasons. There are pet friendly places to stay, plan your stop in advance.
posted by jessamyn at 3:09 PM on June 24, 2007

In case you didn't see it...
posted by emyd at 3:09 PM on June 24, 2007

Anecdotally: the last time I drove with a cat she started panting and whimpering oddly after several hours on the road. We took her to a roadside vet and found out that she was severely dehydrated from the warmish back seat and all the quiet panicking she'd been doing. We had to pause and get her to drink water (during which pause she escaped for a while and led us on a merry chase around the village green).
posted by Eater at 3:20 PM on June 24, 2007

My ex girlfriend drove across county with her cat. Let it out of the box and stopped at a gas station in the middle of nowhere in Nebraska. You got it, cat escaped, and ran off across the prairie. She spent three hours trying to find it, call it, but then had to go on (new job calling.) Tragic, so please take care if you let them out on the road.
posted by A189Nut at 3:40 PM on June 24, 2007

We moved our cat from California to Pennsylvania a couple of years ago. Kept in in the carrier in the back seat. Draped a towel over the carrier to keep things shaded. Always had water in the carrier with him.

He screamed continuously until we slipped him some valium that we'd gotten from our vet. Get some pills just in case. If you don't need to use it, great. If you do need to use it, you'll want to have it.

The only time he wasn't scared or drugged out of his mind was in the motel room. He spent about 30 minutes sniffing around then would climb up onto the bed and fall asleep.

Oh, and just an FYI, some states technically require vet records when moving a pet. I doubt it would ever come up, but it's probably best to have everything in order.
posted by Eddie Mars at 3:56 PM on June 24, 2007

speed for you, valium for them.
posted by DenOfSizer at 4:30 PM on June 24, 2007

Take benadryl. Seriously. Start the trip without giving them anything -- some cats will be totally happy to look out the window and hang out in the backseat. Other cats give you about five minutes before they start with the screaming and the whining and the screaming and the frantic pawing at things and the screaming.

I am not a vet, but my roommate (who is a vet, but not your vet, so standard disclaimers apply) has advised me that it's a good plan to take a packet of standard benadryl pills on trips with cats. If a cat can't seem to settle, give them a benadryl. It works like magic. Our cat is quite large, so if you have a smaller cat, it's maybe best to start with half a pill at first.

Obviously, check with your vet before you do anything, but this is an easy, low-cost and reasonably low-stress way to deal with it.

Also, make sure that your cat has access to a litterbox for the whole trip -- we put a small box in the cat carrier. Water, too -- it's one thing to feed your cat only when you're stopped for the evening, but at the very least, make sure that you offer water every time you stop the car. Try this in advance, but some cats will drink out of a water bottle, the drippy kind that you use for rabbits or guinea pigs. If your cat will use it, putting one of those somewhere the cat can reach is a good way to make sure that they have a stead supply of water.

Check frequently to make sure that the cat carrier isn't sitting in the sun. Hang one of those annoying baby shades up, if you want. Finally, make sure that the carrier is somehow secured, either on the floor in the backseat (and so sort of wedged behind the back seat and the back of the front seat, if that makes sense) or belted in somehow -- the last thing that you want is to be in an accident and have your beloved cats turn into projectiles.
posted by meghanmiller at 4:35 PM on June 24, 2007

We had a long trip with our cat in the car, and he was anxious at first, but we found that fussing over him was just making him more wound up. We left his carrier in the back seat, open for him to go in our out however he wanted. After an hour or so he settled down and spent most of his time sleeping in the carrier.

In my experience, they sense your mood. If you're anxious about how they're going to be, they'll be anxious, too. If you're cool, they'll figure everything will be fine and settle down. (after the initial "oh shit, the vet again" panic is over)
posted by ctmf at 6:08 PM on June 24, 2007

We drove 7 days from MA to CA with 2 car-hating cats. We had a station wagon so we installed a pet gate behind the back seat and set up the entire back of the car with the 2 pet carriers, a small bowl of food and water in a tray and a litter box. Each morning we placed the carriers in the back, opened the latches then closed the car hatch.

By the end of the trip they were starting to bolt the moment the carrier doors were unlatched, so having a second person was handy for keeping them corralled so we could get the back of the car closed, but it was the best system we could come up with so that they weren't entirely cooped up in the carriers the whole ride.
posted by platinum at 6:11 PM on June 24, 2007

I've traveled long distances with 2 cats a couple or three times, 1 cat several times. In all those adventures, I finally came up with one that made current cat happy -- put her carrier atop stuff (suitcase, pillow) in the front passenger seat so she could look out the windows. She could almost look me in the eye, and we talked for much of the 8-hour drive. I think she didn't feel like she was plunged into the depths of a scary machine that maderumbling noises and moved! She seemed fascinated by all that passed her window until she got tired of the excitement. When we got to the motel (rest stop before the next 8-hour drive), she explored for about an hour, then got her canned turkey-gravy treat and settled down for the night.

I would never, ever let a cat out at a rest stop if it weren't on a leash. A friend did that, thinking her longtime companion cat would come when he was called. Um, yeah. He's a cat (*was* a cat). He went wandering and never answered her plaintive calls. She even enlisted a family eating nearby, but nobody could catch the bugger. We guess he decided to live the coyote life (this was in New Mexico).

Oh, as for drugging the cat -- I did that a couple of times until deciding to let 'em go sober. To my surprise, it was much better for all without the drugs. I found -- at least with my cats -- that if I talked to them the way I do at home, they were more likely to chat and do their little "ow's," and less likely to scream. YMMV, however.
posted by Smalltown Girl at 7:20 PM on June 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

I drove across the US with two cats who wound up having an excellent time. I started them out in the carrier, and once they stopped screaming (about three hours later), let them out to roam the car. I had a small litter box made from a shoe box on the floor on one side of the back, and food and water on the other. They quickly learned to leave me alone, and they spent much of the time lying side by side on the giant cooler I had on the front passenger side, looking out the window. I took along a spare car key so that I could leave the car running with the air conditioning on when I stopped for breaks.
posted by puddinghead at 7:58 PM on June 24, 2007

We drove our cat from San Francisco to Seattle and have done some shorter trips too.

Before we left for the SF to Seattle trip we did a few short rides to get her used to the car and so we would know what to expect; we'd drive 30+ minutes to a park or cemetary and let her out for a "walk" and then drove home. We found out that she was a reliable speedometer: she would meow faster as the car went faster. Luckily over the longer trip she stopped meowing after a while.

Definitely get harnesses (make sure they fit well) and leashes. We keep the harness on whenever she's in the car so we can quickly snap a leash on. We've kept her in her carrier and had her out on a lap depending on her mood. She's usually content to sit and look out the window and meows at the big trucks.

Not sure where you're traveling, but La Quinta Inn & Suites is usually pet friendly. Some places let you have a pet but not leave it alone in the room whereas with La Quinta we were able to go out for meals.

We always offered her water at rest stops and kept an eye on the temperature in the car. We also would try to get her to use the litterbox but she always held it until we set up her litterbox in the hotel at night. We've had one "bathroom" accident on a short trip since then, but not the long one. Bring cleaning stuff (towels and cleaner) -- driving & breathing in a kitty-soiled car is not fun.

Good luck!
posted by girlhacker at 9:24 PM on June 24, 2007

I suggest that you turn up your radio to drown out the yowling. No matter what you do, you aren't going to make them happy. Being cats, they will let you know this. Loudly.

Don't leave them in the hot sun, give them food and water, and try to keep them confined. I recently moved with my two cats loose in my car and they wanted to sit in my lap the entire way. Yes, both of them. A cat carrier is your friend.
posted by Ostara at 9:58 PM on June 24, 2007

I've done it several times with several different cats.

1000 miles is not that far. It's about 15-16 hours in the car.

Rule #1 - Do not let the cat(s) out. If you do, there is a good chance that's the last you'll see of the cat. If you value your animals, act like it. They do not need to get out at the rest stop. You do.

Observation #1 - Cats do not generally like to go places. For the first hour, they will complain, but then will find a comfortable place (usually the driver's lap) and sleep fitfully, only complaining when disturbed. They will try and get on the dash and under the pedals, so don't let them. Otherwise they'll wander and holler for a while. Consider it practice for child rearing...

Rule #2 - Do not let the cat(s) out. Harnesses, leashes, crates during stops.

Observation #2 - Cats can concentrate their urine, and while you'll need a litter box, it won't get used much. I moved from West Texas to NC, from Colorado to DC, from DC back to Colorado, from NC to Vermont, plus two recent trips with two cats back and forth from Vermont to Ohio, with two or three cats each time. No poop on any trip in the car. Very little pee.

Rule #3 - Cats can die in a hot car. Practice thermal kindness if you leave the car. Generally, it's best to let passenger out and you alternately, so you can manage the beasts in the entrance/exit interval. Treat them like babies... some folks say they are very much mentally like two year old humans. No one leaves baby humans unattended. Provide some shade.

Remember, to you, time means something. This is two one day trips in sequence. You can handle it knowing it has an end. However, Kitty lives in the eternity of the current instant. They are immune to reason, but they do sense panic and tension, so don't panic, and try and relax. People are in labor longer than it'll take you to do your relatively short trip.

Good luck!

BTW, once you get to new house... minimum 3-5 days (prefereaby a full week) of inside time to let them establish that new home is a safe place before letting them out, supervised initially. This will assure they don't try and head back 'home'.

Oh, and on the drugs, see your vet. There are kitty tranquilizers, but if you give your kitty benadryl as suggested earlier, remember the analogy to a two year old. Would you give your baby drugs based on advice from meFi? (If so, sell the cats before you move!) Cats are not people. THey metabolize benign human foods/drugs differently than we do... witness chocolate and aspirin. Dosage is weight, age and health dependant. Get a professional opinion on this aspect. You'll need to know how much, when, and what to expect from any drugs.
posted by FauxScot at 3:08 AM on June 25, 2007

Bach Rescue Remedy is a great natural method of mellowing your cats. Here are some related articles: 1, 2. Here is a store locator (I find it works best if you just put in your state instead of trying to get specific with city or zip - it only gives exact matches.)
posted by candyland at 6:20 AM on June 25, 2007

If you do the carrier thing and your cats get along well, it may help to keep them together in a larger carrier.

I had a cat who was a terrible traveler. We'd gotten him an oversized carrier so that he could stand up and move around, but it didn't make much difference. He'd cry for an entire eight hour trip, he'd hyperventilate, one time he even managed to pass out on my lap. We had to dose him pretty much anytime we took him anywhere.

And then, we got a second cat. The first time we took them on a trip, she settled down on the floor of the carrier facing the door and dozed off. A light bulb went on for the panicky one...why freak out when you can just take a nap? He sat down next to her and did the same thing. After that? No more crying, no more freaking out, and even no more Valium.
posted by gnomeloaf at 6:40 AM on June 25, 2007

We followed this advice exactly last year during our move, which was longer than yours, and everything turned out quite well. We did not sedate them. I have had cats react poorly to it and we did not want to risk it. They cried for the first hour or so in the mornings but went to sleep soon after and stayed that way until we stopped. I strongly suggest you keep them in carriers at all times (you do not want to risk an accident or an escape). Best of luck.
posted by melissa may at 7:50 AM on June 25, 2007

i'm behind the ball here with no time to preview other responses...but i have done this several times (one of my cats has logged over 15 thousand miles, the other approx 10k). One cat adores car travel and is never happier than when she is in her crate (sized for a small-med dog, rather than a cat) with a good view of the window. The other cat is an unholy terror in the crate, he howls and shoves his pathetic face against the bars and makes sighing sobbing crying noises for DAYS STRAIGHT. get used to it. I wasn't going to drug him, the first trip, but about 250 miles into it, there was clearly no other option so picture me pulled over to a roadside picnic table enlisting the help of two leathered motorcyclists to restrain him while i shoved the pill down his throat. That trip we made a deal I would always use the air conditioning also, and he was much happier. The happy cat will use a tiny litterbox that fits in the back of her cage, but the unhappy cat will not, so I stopped putting it in altogether. Put blankets etc in the bottoms of cages so that they don't slide around so much when the car is in motion. and it's more comfy. Neither of them play noticeably with any toy i put in the cage, so I stopped bothering. the happy cat is good on a harness and thus wears it the whole time and gets to take leg stretching breaks. The other cat just freaks out more when he has it on, and if you take him out of the car, just skootches on his bum till he can hide somewhere so I stopped bothering. Good luck!
posted by Soulbee at 9:29 AM on June 26, 2007

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