Long driving trip, escaping cats, how do I contain them?
November 30, 2007 9:16 AM   Subscribe

I have a 25 hour drive ahead of me (Chicago to Seattle), and I am taking 2 cats. The problem I am worried about is the food/water/litter situation, as I have one cat that will run away if given the smallest chance.

We adopted 2 cats. They are both full time indoor cats.

One is very friendly, easy to pick up. She has walked outside our house a couple of times (because she's also curious), but leaned against my leg and wouldn't go further because she was nervous.. though I can't count on her staying nervous forever.

The other one is friendly as long as I move very slowly. She'll come cuddle as long as I'm safely not moving in bed. I heard from the adoption agency that she had been abused, etc as a kitten. Now what this means is that if you're in a enclosed space with her, or are too close, or move too fast, or talk too loud, etc etc, she freaks out and sprints for the nearest exit. She is strong and fast. She has never walked out the front door because if I'm walking to a door, she's on the other side of the house. She is very hard to pick up, claws like mad, etc.

So if I'm sitting in a car with her, if I let her out of the cat carrier for food/water/litter, she will most certainly hide under the nearest seat and dig her claws in tight.

I'm driving to seattle, 25 hours. Figure I'll take 3 days. The hotel stay isn't a problem, I'll somehow drag that darn cat out from under the bed eventually.

My current driving plan is to drive around 4-5 hours at a time, then stop for gas, and let the cats out of the carrier. I assume they can last for 5 hours at a time without needing a break? I'd have food/water/litter available to them. Somehow I will sneak out the car door and slam it behind me to get the gas, probably take a short walk while they do their business. Now I'm very concerned about trying to get back in the car. One cat will want to come play, the other one will want to sprint out the door I think. So both could potentially end up outside of the car in the middle of Wyoming, and at least the scared one I'd never get back.

In summary, long drive, cat going to run if I open a door.

Any idea about how to contain a cat inside of a car? Most likely I will drive my wife's car, a VW beetle convertible. I've thought about putting up some type of barrier to keep them locked in the back seat and trunk (there is a passthrough), but anyone with cats will know that if you leave the tiniest hole, they will figure out a way past it. I can't imagine building something good enough to keep them safely in the back seat so I don't have to worry about escapes.

Any feedback would be appreciated :) And I already looked into shipping the cats cargo, but I've had multiple people recommend against it, and I need to drive out there anyway with the car.
posted by ceberon to Travel & Transportation (23 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I've done this twice, halfway across the country both times. We just let the cats out and put the rear seat divider down, they pretty much hid under the seats/luggage. When we stopped for gas we put them back in their crates, or closed the backseat to keep them in the trunk, then got out. We put a litter pan on the backseat floor and used this pellet litter, instead of the normal clay clumping stuff. It didn't really matter, since I don't think either cat used it ever.
posted by sanka at 9:26 AM on November 30, 2007

Half a Benadryl powdered and mixed in wet food per cat. When cats get snoozy, attach collars. Attach leash-type things to collars.

Now cats are sedated and controllable.

Repeat Benadryl dosage every eight hours or so. Done right, there will be little need to barricade them in, just put down some newspaper in the case of panicky bladder control issues. Make a litter box available, and make sure cats stay hydrated -- in my experience stressed cats will get hydrophobic.

IANAVeterinarian, but I have had to take cats on marathon road trips.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 9:28 AM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

what about putting them in a larger, dog-sized crate, one that will fit in the back of your car? you could keep everything in there - food, water, litter, blankies.
posted by pammo at 9:30 AM on November 30, 2007 [2 favorites]

I've done an 18 hour drive over two days with two cats. Neither of mine can tolerate the carrier for long periods of time- one managed to bust out, the other cried and shit all over himself. So, they ended up being free in the cab of the truck. My scaredy cat (the shitter) stayed under the truck seat the entire time the truck was moving. Occasionally I would call his name, and he would meow back. His more outgoing sister would split her time between hiding with him, and coming out to gingerly explore (mainly sitting on the seat). They saved their pooping and eating and drinking for the overnight, and neither tried to escape.

Your cats "normal" behavior will probably be different. I imagine your shy cat will hide the moment you let her out of the carrier. And your friendlier cat may be much less outgoing. The car door does not so much represent "freedom" as it does another scary loud moving thing that they want to avoid.
posted by kimdog at 9:39 AM on November 30, 2007

Seriously, second the tranquilizer - your vet should be able to even sell you something appropriate.

I used to drive coast to coast with a really nervous, active rabbit. A little tranq made her a happy, content passenger basking in the sun in the front seat (yes I should have put her in the carrier), who managed the weird smells of cheap hotels with only a little anxiety.

Safer and more pleasant for all involved!
posted by beezy at 9:44 AM on November 30, 2007

Our vet gave us some Ace (Acepromazine) for sedating our large, clawfilled, longhaired, 15lb bruiser for baths. I've pimped it on Ask before, it worked like a charm for us. We also had to sedate him during apt checks in college (it was that or he was out on his furry ass, so . .) and never a peep. He just slept like a furry baby.

Talk to your vet first, but a sedative might make the whole thing a lot easier for everyone.
posted by Medieval Maven at 9:56 AM on November 30, 2007

I've done this too. Be sure both cats are confined to a crate whenever you exit or re-enter the car, move them to/from a hotel, drive through hairy traffic, or drive in bad weather. This constrains their ability to get out, get under the gas/brake pedals, push on the power window buttons, or otherwise get you or themselves into trouble.

You can let them roam around inside the car whenever you feel comfortable. If this never happens, that's probably not a problem.

Inside the crate you'll want a blanket, nothing else. Food and water can spill, upsetting them. Car sickness can affect cats too (although rarely) so it's best to not mix movement and food. They aren't likely to play with toys. Cat nip is just a bad idea all around; crazed cats in a box hurtling along the freeway? No thanks. But a sedative is a good idea, although I've found it extremely difficult to actually drug my cats. They've never actually swallowed the drug when I give it whole, and they're not at all fooled by the mix-it-in-their-food trick.

My cats have always preferred to be able to see out the car windows, so I've always put their crates up high enough that they can see out. This seems to make a huge difference for them. I recommend using a fairly large crate, but not big enough for a Doberman. They like constrained spaces (hence the propensity for climbing under beds). It gives them a sense of security. Put the crate on top of luggage and secure the whole pile well with bungee cords. You don't want it to fly off the seat; this will upset and maybe hurt them.

Give them food and water twice a day, when the car is stopped, and you're not getting out of the car. Just pull over to a rest stop, let them out of the crate if they're inside, and feed them. Have their litter box available to them at the same time. Give them enough time to eat, clean themselves, and relieve themselves - should be no more than 15 minutes, but you can of course take longer. Pet them, talk to them, read a book, whatever. This should be a comforting time for them. Again, crate them before leaving the car to go to the bathroom, stretch, empty the cat litter box.
posted by Capri at 9:58 AM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

In my experience, cats that are good travellers are rare. Even my very laid-back cat is freaked-out by car travel. I Nth the advice that you get tranqs from your vet. Also Nth the advice about collars and leashes.
posted by adamrice at 10:02 AM on November 30, 2007

Nthing the crate suggestion, in conjunction with sedatives. We did this twice with two cats: From Northeast WI to Missoula, MT and back again. They were dosed with vet-dispensed Valium before the ride. We didn't have a crate but we used two largish cat carriers. We filled the bottom of one with litter. Removed both doors, and wired the two carriers together, mouth-to mouth and laid the assembly in the flattest spot in the back of the car. The cats were placed inside, and they were drowsy so they didn't make too much of a fuss until the drugs wore off a few hours later. It was a very tight fit for two cats squished together but it was serviceable. They did meow the whole trip; expect a lot of noise. If the cats had to urgently potty, there was litter in the "next room". We unwired one side of the carrier assembly to let them out when we got into our hotel room for the night. Your cats definitely need to be confined; it is much safer than keeping them loose in the car, and *please* don't use a collar and leash -- they could strangle themselves. Go to any vet and explain the situation; s/he will give you sedatives for the cats. They are very inexpensive and it is a very common procedure. I think it was about $6 for our cats' pills. One thing to be aware of; if you use sedatives the cats may have trouble walking/standing for a while. This is normal. So dope 'em up and cage 'em in, and you'll all be fine.
posted by cuddles.mcsnuggy at 10:14 AM on November 30, 2007

definitely keep them in a carrier, and have leashes for them to let them out at rest stops to go potty.

or, don't put them in a carrier and just be sure to fasten the leash before opening the door (this is what we have done for over 20 years).
posted by misanthropicsarah at 10:45 AM on November 30, 2007

They are unlikely to eat or drink much in the car; offer it at stopping points or get a gerbil bottle if you're really worried they'll need water. For litter, you might grab some of those disposable litter pads (it's, like, all glued down) but they may not use it in transit. You may want to bring spare towels, since in my experience they tend to go in their crate padding even when litter is available.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:45 AM on November 30, 2007

I did a cross-country drive with two cats. I just put puppy pads in their carriers to catch their leaks and never let them out of their carriers except at nights. It's probably the easiest solution, given that giving a cat a pill is a chore in and of itself.
posted by parilous at 10:46 AM on November 30, 2007

If you decide to try for leashing the cats - you'll definitely want to use a harness, not just hooking the leash to a collar. Collars are designed to slip off with enough force, and if they're too tight to slip off, they're too tight.

Which brings us to the harness. In my experience, "cat" harnesses are fairly flimsily constructed; one of my cats broke the main joint of his -- and my cat's used to the harness, having been put in one since he was a teeny kitten. We use a harness for a small dog. It's adjustable in just about all dimensions, although it was clearly intended for a slightly different body build.

Many cats, once they are in a harness, just flop over and won't move, won't even try to walk anywhere. This doesn't sound too bad for a long car trip, but be aware that they don't like it at first.
posted by amtho at 11:07 AM on November 30, 2007

As everyone else said, get a sedative from your vet. You shouldn't even need to bring the cats in, just call and explain that you're going on a road trip.

When I took my cats on a long road trip I left them out of their carriers and put a litter box on the floor, which they did use. Once the sedatives kicked in neither of them were going anywhere, so I didn't try to keep them in their carriers.

I think the fewer transitions the better, so if you don't need to stop, don't stop on their behalf just so you can drag them outside to use the bathroom (which, really, they probably won't, but they might escape). My car ride was 24 hours, and we did it without stopping (except for gas, obviously), and I think 24 hours of car riding was less traumatic than three days of in and out of cars and hotels would have been.
posted by robinpME at 11:21 AM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

Keep them in a crate (I like the big oversized-with-everything-inside-of-it espoused by pammo). Don't let them wander the cabin while you drive, lest one decide to wedge himself behind the brake pedal while you're at speed*.

It ended well for the cat. Not so much for my car.
posted by jamaro at 12:06 PM on November 30, 2007

Feliway, a crate, and (as amtho suggests) solid, well-fitting harnesses. Rather than wrangling the cats in and out of their harnesses, you should probably leave them on for the duration.
posted by tangerine at 1:46 PM on November 30, 2007

If you can't get to the vet, don't use benedryl tablets.... use children's liquid benedryl. Much easier to get into the cat. Attach a leash to them whenever you let them out. They'll probably just roll over and fight with the leash, but that's better than running away.
posted by happyturtle at 2:08 PM on November 30, 2007

We did this with 2 cats in cat carrier and a mid-sized dog harnessed in between, all in the back seat. The cats were in normal carriers with the door facing seatbacks. They had a harness on, unattached to anything, as a "just in case" measure. The harness served as a quick handle on their backs if I needed it suddenly. We drove morning to evening (8-10 hours) for 5 days without problems. There were no accidents, but one cat was slightly anxious. We got gas in the morning, stopped for lunch and gas, then gas in the evening at motel. At motel, I first setup food, water, and litterbox. I made sure we had dinner already. Essentially, the animals were the last thing to unpack and only when we were sure to stay in the room. If we had to leave the room unexpectedly, I grabbed the cats and put them in the bathroom. In the morning, I put them in their carriers first but left them in the room while we packed the car. So, they were the last things packed, too. My cats were super-neurotic. The dog was let out at every stop, on a leash. All 3 survived. :) We did this coast-to-coast trip twice.

So more than anything, I advise you get harnesses, leashes, and don't let them out of their carriers. It's not necessary and you're only creating more risk. Furthermore, think through your stop and go strategy to minimize activity around the cats.
posted by ick at 3:40 PM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

Keep the cat in the crate and consider getting Pet Ease, a natural homeopathic solution. When we drove 10 hours in the car with our cat, our vet recommended it we try it in lieu of a tranquilizer. http://shop.robbinspetcare.com/cats/petease.html Good luck!
posted by greenchile at 3:40 PM on November 30, 2007

Also, if you're avoiding an overnight stay for some reason, you could always harness and leash the cats to a door knob, headrest pole, or something like that. I did have to do that once for the dog, but I don't remember why. Still, I recommend heavily that you avoid all of these complications by simply not letting them out of the carrier in the car.
posted by ick at 3:47 PM on November 30, 2007

See this post:

How do you find pet friendly hotels?

There's a lot of good info about traveling with pets (including a longish answer from me about my own experience driving from Oregon to Maryland in 2005 with four cats. Yes. Four cats. I survived, and so did they!)
posted by Corky at 4:12 PM on November 30, 2007

Quibble: Pet Ease isn't 'homeopathic', it has herbs in it, which means it may actually work, unlike a sugar pill.

My wife and I took our cats on a two-day move in a rabbit hutch filling the back seats of our car. It worked, although one of them, the big fluffy white one, (Yes, I mean you, Stormy), would cry a bit when we started going. Cooing at her did nothing, but scritching her with a finger through the bars helped. After a few hours, she'd be lolling on her back, wanting tummy rubs.

Where was I going with this? Oh yes. Rabbit hutch. It worked.
posted by sebastienbailard at 8:31 PM on November 30, 2007

take them on a few car rides before you leave on your big trip?
posted by low affect at 9:00 PM on November 30, 2007

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