How to move long distance with a cat

May 21, 2021|

This will likely come as no surprise to cat owners, but cats get stressed out easily. Felines are particularly sensitive, in part, as a matter of evolution. They are both predators looking for prey, as well as prey for other animals, leaving them doubly responsive to their environment. 

And one of the biggest stressors in a cat’s life can be a change in surroundings. Cats are creatures of habit, and any disruption in their routine can cause anxiety. 

So what happens when you move, arguably one fo the biggest disruptions of routines for both animals and humans? 

Long-distance car rides are not particularly pet-friendly. There’s no getting around that. But you can follow these tips to make the experience a little more bearable for cat — and you, the owner. 

The first decision you need to make — and it’s a big one — is how you’re going to transport your kitty on the long trip. The best way is in a cat carrier. Just make sure the carrier is roomy enough for your cat to stretch out, walk around or nap and dream of catnip, if she chooses. 

Make the carrier extra cozy and inviting by placing blankets or other soft things in the bottom. 

Ideally, you’ll want to introduce the carrier in your home a few weeks before your long-distance move, in order for your cat to get acclimated to it. Place the pet carrier in a comfortable part of your house before you start packing, and leave the door open so your cat can move in and out and explore freely. It’s also a good idea to put a favorite toy, treats or something your cats love in the carrier to build positive associations before the actual moving day. 

When it comes to the actual move, the cat is obviously not going to ride in the moving truck. Let’s repeat just in case: Your cat is not going to ride in the moving truck. (Hey, you never know.)

Instead, you should place the carrier in the back seat of the car in which you’re riding. (Again, this is obvious and it should go without saying, but the trunk is also a no-go.) For extra safety, you can secure the carrier with a seatbelt. 

If you can, position the pet carrier so that the door faces forward, allowing the cat to look out and see you. 

The best time to travel is during the day, when cats tend to be calmer and less active. This is the time they’re likely curled up sleeping on a windowsill at your house, and they may well snooze in the carrier. And even though it’s best to travel during the day, be mindful of your cat’s temperature. Keep the carrier out of direct sun to avoid your cat from becoming overheated during the long trip. If it’s a particularly scorching day, you may want to wrap an ice pack or two with towels and place them inside your cat’s carrier as a sort of DIY feline air conditioning system. 

You can also spray the carrier with one of the many products on the market deisgned to calm anxious kitties, such as Feliway Pheromone Travel Spray for Cats. These products work by supposedly mimicking a cat’s F3 facial pheromone, which cats deposit when they rub their cheeks against things — a way of marking an area as safe. Do these sprays work? Well, studies have found them to be effective in some situations, though those studies were often funded by the makers of the products themselves, so it’s unclear. Anecdotally, at least, the sprays do seem to help. 

If you’re only going for a short trip, say under six hours, your cat might be just fine to ride in the carrier the whole way. 

But if you’re driving cross-country, for example, you’re going to have to let the cat out occasionally to take care of business. 

Which brings us to the litter box. The easiest thing to do is to buy a disposable one. Like the carrier, you might want to introduce it in your home before you move, so your cat can get used to it and begin using it. 

Before you head out on the long car journey, fill the disposable litter box with fresh cat litter and place it on the floor of the car. 

When you let your cat out of the carrier to use it, make sure you’re stopped in a safe place. The last thing you want is a freaked-out feline darting around your car and clawing everything in sight while you’re doing 80 down the interstate. 

You should also make sure that your cat has plenty of water to drink. Bring along your cat’s water bowl and a jug of water from your old home. (Apparently cat’s can be finicky about water that tastes different from what they normally drink.) Only give your cat water when you’re stopped. Placing the water bowl inside the carrier while the car is moving will only end up sloshing water around and soaking everything inside, including your pet. 

And when you do let your cat out of the carrier during the road trip, make sure your car doors are closed. You definitely don’t want your cat bolting for freedom at a rest stop two states away, leaving you stuck potentially trying to chase down the wayward pet. You should also make sure your cat is wearing a collar with ID, including contact information and a phone number, in case your cat does get lost. 

Water is one thing, but you may not have to feed your cat during car travel. If your cat is prone to motion sickness, a full stomach is only going to lead to vomit all over the carrier. (Veterinarians can often prescribe anti-nausea medication if this is a big concern.) You should be fine just feeding the cat in the morning before you pile into the car and at night, wherever you land. 

If you need to spend a night or two on the road, make sure to have a pet-friendly hotel already picked out. Although, in some cases, “pet-friendly” means the hotel allows dogs and may not look so kindly on cats. Make sure to ask specifically about cats. For starters, here are several hotel chains that should welcome your feline friend. 

In order to make your cat as comfortable as possible inside the hotel room, you may want to bring familiar-smelling items from home, such as a pet bed, that she can sleep on. 

Once you’ve arrived at your new home, you’re not quite out of the woods yet. You still have work to do to ensure your cat’s stress levels don’t rise to panic territory. 

Designate a single safe room for your cat that you set up first. Decorate it with familiar furniture from your old home and items that comfort your pet. Add your cat’s litter box and a bowl of water. Then shut your cat in the room to keep the animal sheltered while the movers unpack and generally make a lot of noise and commotion in the rest of the house. If your cat is looking particularly stressed out, you may want to keep them in the safe room for a day or two until they get used to being in a new place. 

Once the movers have gone and the rest of the house is beginning to take shape, let your cat out of the safe room to explore your new home. Your cat should begin to encounter familiar smells and start to feel at home. 

To avoid the chance that your cat may run away or go in search of her old home, you may want to keep the cat inside the new house for a couple weeks. 

Moving long distance with your cat definitely isn’t easy. But if you plan well, you can cut down on your animal’s anxiety, as well as your own, and execute a reasonably stress-free move.

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