Litterbox issue when traveling by car with cat
July 17, 2008 3:43 PM   Subscribe

I am getting ready to move 1000 miles with my cat. I have a crate for him, and a litter box to travel with. But I'm concerned about when he might have to use it during the trip because I would like to keep him in the crate (as recommended by just about everyone I've talked to.) Is it ok to have him in the crate for 8 hours and give him occasional food and water and then let him use his litterbox when we arrive at our destination each night? Around the house he often goes that long without using his litterbox...but I'm just not sure if that will be ok.

I don't really want to get a larger crate that I can put a litterbox in b/c I don't think he'd like laying next to a litterbox for 8 hours a day.

Some have suggested putting a harness on him and having him go outside, but he's an entirely indoor cat, and I honestly don't know that he'd know once outside (and probably freaked out) to do his business.

I'm also wary of taking him out of the crate in the car because it can be challenging to get him back in.

Any advice is much appreciated!
posted by kathleenl to Pets & Animals (19 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
When I drove from St Louis to Portland, in a geo tracker, with 1 person and 2 cats, once we got out of the cities, we just let the cats wander around the inside of the car, so they had access to the litter box whenever they wanted it. After a few freaked out trips around the car, they settled down to sleep out the experience. Usually by the time we were ready for a rest stop, the cats were calm enough to put them back in the crate as needed.
posted by nomisxid at 3:59 PM on July 17, 2008

Unless he's very, very comfortable being in the car, it's very, very unlikely that he will want to use the litter box during the trip. I think your plan is spot-on: Keep him in the crate for the 8 hour stints and let him relieve himself when you get to your night's destination.

Take a roll of paper towels, because sometimes cats traveling in carriers get upset and pee or poop in their crate. This does not necessarily mean, however, that he'd gladly get out of that protected space and into a litter box to do his thing.

Also, if he's at all skittish or a hider, make sure he can't get underneath the hotel room bed, because it can be a major pain in the ass to get a cat out from under there when they're scared.

He'll most likely do just fine. What you need to worry about is all that god-awful "YOU'RE TAKING ME TO THE VET, AREN'T YOU? YOU'RE GOING TO KILL ME, AREN'T YOU?" meowing that he'll do.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 4:08 PM on July 17, 2008 [3 favorites]

Oh, and I think it's great that some people do fine with cats loose in the car. My experience doing that has not been at all good: during the freak-out period, they get near the pedals while I'm driving the car. Then they get under the seat and won't come out, even at the destination. That's why I recommend the crate the whole time.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 4:10 PM on July 17, 2008

We moved out cat from west coast to east coast a few years ago. We had no problem leaving him in his crate while driving and letting him out only once we were in our hotel room for the night. We did make a point to stop every few hours and give him fresh water.

He was very, very freaked out the whole trip. Be sure to pick up some valium from your vet to help calm things down. If you don't need it, fine, but it was not fun to have a screaming cat in the back seat for a three day drive.
posted by Eddie Mars at 4:10 PM on July 17, 2008

My cat was much better in the car than yours, it seems (sprawling on the seat beside me -- ah, those were the days) but I did make a very long trip once and had a cat box wrapped in plastic on the floor. I figured if she acted distressed, I'd uncover it for her to use. I don't remember any problems on that two-day drive.

He'll proably be okay for 8 hours. It's not that long. Just remember that he could get desperate and he will then make a fuss or do his business inside the crate, which you then need to be prepared to clean.

Might be worth it to get your cat used to the car. They sure like looking out the windows sometimes, and it's nice to rest one hand on them while you're driving. Getting fuel must be done with care, and lock the doors against any pranksters.

Forget the harness; he's stressed out enough. If you decrease his stress with your touch and voice and being prepared for what he might do, the trip could be a breeze. Why don't you take him for a couple of rides and find if you can calm him and he is not one of those cats that goes under the seat or near the gas pedal, where you think he may get hurt, and then caterwauls for the entire drive.

As for getting him back in the crate. It's like a jack in the box with claws. You have to hold the front claw units and push the accordion into the box. It doesn't hurt him. This is one of those rare moments with a cat that you must be the boss.

Most cats enjoy sitting in a cardboard box. If yours does, you can save one with an old towel or blanket in it. It becomes a favourite bed. And a nice way to carry him to the car, too.

PS you're going to drive 1000 miles, not kilometres, in 8 hours???
posted by Listener at 4:13 PM on July 17, 2008

Just personal experience from moves like that, but cats seem to clench for the duration in the car, with or without a litter box. Once there's a pit stop for the night (hotel, crash pad) they unclench. The Way of the Cat.
posted by quarterframer at 4:15 PM on July 17, 2008 [2 favorites]

I've moved a couple of times with 3 cats, going similar distances. They were in their crates the whole trip and held it. Even when we got to our destination, they were more likely to want to explore and/or find a perfect hiding place before they cared about finding the litter box.
posted by saffry at 4:33 PM on July 17, 2008

My poor cat has had a few cross country moves and I would generally agree with the previous posters. However, mine was too freaked out to use the litter box during rest stops.

For most of the trips she was able to wait until we stopped for the night. On the last trip, however, she had to go midway through. Luckily, we were able to tell that she needed to use the litterbox and were able to open the door to the crate so that she could get to the litterbox on the floor of the car. She wasn't all that trilled about the situation but she used it.
posted by mcroft at 4:41 PM on July 17, 2008

I moved my two cats a similar distance a couple of years ago. I did place a disposable litterbox on the floor in the back seat just in case, but neither cat had any interest in using it (or eating and drinking either) for the entire duration of the trip - they really didn't even want to come out of their carriers, even to be held. When I arrived at my destination and got them all settled, they hid out for a couple of hours and eventually started eating/drinking/litterboxing. It would be a good idea to have a litterbox, food and water on hand just in case, but don't be surprised if your kitty just wants the safety of its carrier.
posted by mewithoutyou at 4:45 PM on July 17, 2008

Response by poster: Thank you everyone for your truly helpful comments. I think I will stick to keeping him crated for the drive and then let him use his litterbox when we get to our destination each night. He is such an indoor guy that I think ImproviseOrDie is right, even if I took him out in the car he would be too freaked to know to use his litterbox. I have extra pads for his crate in case he makes a mess, and will bring lots of towels.

Oh and just to clarify I am driving the 1000 miles over 2 days...not 1000 miles in 8 hours, (I wish!)

Thanks again!
posted by kathleenl at 5:40 PM on July 17, 2008

My ex-girlfriend drove many miles cross country to a new life with her cat and let him out of the crate. She stopped for gas in Nebraska, the cat was asleep, she opened the car door, and the cat was out in a flash, and took off. She stayed several hours searching and hoping, but he never came back, and eventually she had to move on to get to her destination and new job. Maybe he's still there, I hope happy in the great outdoors, or adopted by another...
posted by A189Nut at 6:00 PM on July 17, 2008

I would like to quadruple beg you to make sure the cat cannot get under the hotel bed. I had an hour long nightmare where I basically took apart the hotel furniture to get my cat out from INSIDE the boxspring.

This is not something you want, it will ruin your day, potentially cost money, hurt the cat (mine was tangled into the springs), etc. If the cat can get underneath, you will want to block it somehow, only let the cat out in the bathroom, etc.

I was driving 3k ish miles, was going to do it over 3 days. After that nightmare, I drove for perhaps 20+ hours straight to get there in 2 days so I wouldn't need to have the cats in a hotel again.
posted by ceberon at 6:01 PM on July 17, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for the hotel warning. Thankfully we're staying with a relative the only night we would have needed a hotel and they are going to close all bedroom doors to prevent the cat from finding an unfortunate hiding spot.
posted by kathleenl at 6:15 PM on July 17, 2008

When I helped a friend move, she had these absorbent pad things designed for carrying crates, in the crate with the cat. I can't find anything online about them, my google-fu has failed big time, but basically they're like puppy pee pads. Not for long term use, but was really good at soaking up accidents. He went in regular litter when we stopped at the motel - we let him out.

(Also, don't take a nervous cat out of the carrier to put on your lap & soothe. My friend did that and her cat peed on her. :) )
posted by sandraregina at 7:30 PM on July 17, 2008

Response by poster: The absorbent pads for the crate is a great idea. I googled and I found these and I think I am going to order some for my cat's crate and my dog's. Better safe than sorry. Thanks for the suggestion!
posted by kathleenl at 8:16 PM on July 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Chiming in on the drugs for the cat. I moved 750 miles with two cats and sedated both of them with pills from the vet. They stayed in their crate and were oblivious to everything around them during the trip.

Once you arrive to your final destination, I would suggest keeping them in one room only with litter, food, and water for a few days for the drugs to completely wear off. This allows them to acclimate to the new place and not use the (only) bed as a litter box. Hopefully, YMMV.
posted by bach at 8:45 PM on July 17, 2008

I drove from Indiana to California in three days with two cats who had panicked on all previous car trips.

I prepared by stopping by the vet for some Kitty Kat Valium, enough to keep them chill for the duration. I had separate crates for them, and plenty of paper towels and wipes for the accidents that I expected as the byproducts of car panic.

Sure enough, the first day, they freaked out, despite the meds, and I had to stop several times to sponge out their crates. They had calmed down by the time I stopped for the night, and at the hotel they ate and used the litterbox, even though they did stay low to the ground and sort of skulked around.

They behaved so well that first night, though, that I didn't drug them when I started out on Day 2. They maintained their sanities, so I let them out of their crates by lunchtime. For the remaining day and a half, we three had a lovely time in the car, and they happily sunned themselves in the back window or cuddled on my lap.

They never used the litterbox or ate while the car was in motion, nor during the 5-min bathroom breaks where I left them alone in the car (always in the shade with windows cracked and water available). They always waited until we got indoors at the end of the day. They didn't seem in any discomfort. Cats can wait it out.
posted by oceanmorning at 10:21 PM on July 17, 2008

I drove a lot with two cats, usually around 8 hours at once. One would, as they say, clench for the entire trip. The other would, invariable, vomit and poo 25-45 minutes into the drive (and massive amounts -- it was unreal), then be fine the rest of the trip (arguably because there was nothing left). Bring extra towels etc, and a big garbage bag to store soiled ones.

Try to avoid giving your cats food and water the night before the trip -- doing this really helped my cats. I never did two day trips, but I'd probably not leave food out overnight, just give them some for a few hours in the evening, then take it away. Don't bother feeding the cat in the car.

Also, avoid driving with a baggie full of catnip on the passenger seat.
posted by jeather at 8:09 AM on July 18, 2008

We moved from New York to Kansas in a two-day drive with one cat, and from Kansas to Chicago in a single day with three (oh, how they multiply!). In both cases, we ended up letting the cats free inside the car; they were very well behaved (mostly napping or looking out the windows), but YMMV, of course. We kept an enclosed litter box (the sort with a flap and a handle on top, almost like a carrying crate) on the back seat; the box wasn't used much on the Kansas-bound two-day trip (that cat preferring to go once we had reached our destination for the night), but it did see use with the three cats during the Chicago-bound single-day trip.

A lot depends on the temperament of your cat, but I don't think having a litter box available at all times can hurt.
posted by korpios at 12:45 PM on July 22, 2008

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