Here’s What I Learned Driving Cross-Country With My Cats

Tips to make traveling with pets smoother

The thought of driving across the country (from Nevada to Georgia) in a 26-foot-long rental truck is daunting enough, let alone the thought of making the journey with cats. But that's what happened when I packed up one sunny afternoon for the five-day cross-country trek. Benefit from what I learned on my journey with these tips to make the transition smoother for all involved, feline and human.

Get Up-to-Date Vet Records

Do this as far in advance as you can, but no less than three weeks before you leave. Our vet cheerfully made copies of every and all records, and your vet should do the same. Especially important to have on hand are rabies vaccination records; depending on state regulations, you may be asked to produce these at any time, and it just makes good sense to have current records for your pets. If you're traveling to an unfamiliar area, ask your vet to recommend a vet in your new location as well. 

Get Pets Microchipped

Let's face it, when cats get frightened, they have a tendency to bolt. Even the most laid-back animals could dart out when you open the door to a hotel room or arrive at your new destination. Microchipping dramatically increases the odds of getting your furry family members back should the worst happen and they run off. No matter how long a distance you're going, it's something to think about. Plus, microchipping is not as expensive as you think, most animals can have it done for $50 or less. Be sure to provide at least two current phone numbers as your contact information and upload a photo of your pet.

(Cat) Sedatives Can Be Your Best Friends

Cats don't like to be cooped up in small areas for a long time. Who does? Lessen their discomfort with a sedative; your vet can dispense one that'll let you sprinkle it over a bowl of wet food—you'll want to do this at least an hour before you get on the road. This is a godsend when you're in the vehicle—there's much less meowing and whimpering. Test it on your cat/s at least a week before you travel; start out with half the prescribed amount and work your way up if your cats need more. Hint: They're probably going to need more than you think, but you should still test it out. 

Cat with toy

Help Them Feel More at Home

While you can't completely put your cat at ease during your journey, a few little things can go a long way. Stop at your neighborhood pet store and pick up some Feliway; spray this in the carrier, in each hotel room and at your final destination. Feliway contains pheromones and is meant to have a soothing effect on cats. Also, make sure they have a comfy blanket or pad, and also include a favorite toy in the carrier—whether they play with it or not, it's comforting to have something familiar. 

Other Supplies to Take With You

In all the hubbub of the move, it's easy to forget something. Don't mess with litter pan set up; you can find a disposable, pre-filled litter pan in any grocery store. This makes clean up a breeze; buy one for every night of your trip, plus the first night at your new destination (the last thing you'll want to do when you reach your new home is set up a litter box).

You'll also need the same number of paper plates or bowls, plastic forks and cans of wet food, so you can prepare your sedative-laced concoction every morning; make this the first thing you do when you wake up. Buy some dry food for evening meals. Put all of these items in a box marked "pet" in an easily accessible place for unloading so it'll be one of the first things you take out of the vehicle at your destination. 

Make Sure Your Hotel Accepts Pets 

I wanted to wing it and just drive as long as I could for the day. My husband insisted we make reservations at pet-friendly hotels before we left. He prevailed, and I'm glad. Not much could have been worse than pulling into a hotel after a long day's journey only to discover that the hotel won't accept non-service animals. I'm glad we didn't leave it to chance. Besides, by booking in advance, you can accrue points on your favorite hotel's frequent-visitor card. I started with this site and further researched my options from there.

When you're in the hotel room, make sure someone is there at all times with the animal. Not only is this hotel policy, it will ensure your cat doesn't sneak out when the door opens—there's always someone to act as a lookout.

Cat in carrier

Never Open the Carrier En Route

No matter how much your pet implores you with saucer-like eyes, do not open his or her carrier—they've been biding their time, and, before you know it, have slipped out. Once that happens, so many things can go wrong: they can jump up on you, impeding your driving, or just cause some pain by sinking their claws into you. Or, even if your cat gets out and is docile, a sudden stop could send them flying through the vehicle.

Know Where the Pet ERs Are

No one likes to think about a pet being injured during the journey, but should this happen, you'll want to have to list of pet emergency rooms at hand for quick reference. Compile a list of where you can find them in every big city along your route, as well as at your final destination.

The Importance of Water

Animals, just like humans, get dehydrated easily during travel, so the first thing you should do when stopping for the evening, safely inside your hotel room or end destination, of course, is fill up a few large bowls of fresh water. I was surprised at exactly how much my cats drank in mid-October; they didn't even touch the food right way. 

Time Considerations

Allow yourself at least half an hour to get your pet and pet supplies loaded each morning. I'm not a morning person, and I'm happy I got up earlier to allow for some extra time. In one hotel room, we had to completely undo the bed to retrieve a cat who planted himself squarely in the middle beneath the box spring. Don't lose time on your trip because you didn't allow for these possible delays. 

All in all, I made record time on my trip, with very little acting out from the cats. Having a plan in place for them made me stay on target. Here's hoping your travels with cats go just as smooth!