Friday, February 5, 2016

Traveling with Cats

(This is a continuation of my travel posts from December-January.)

We arrived back in Oxford at the beginning of January after a two-day drive from New Hampshire (this after a two-day drive from Virginia to New Hampshire after Christmas). Along the way we were able to stop in New Jersey to have lunch with a close friend, and we had an awesome dinner in Danville, Pennsylvania, where we stopped for the night.

New Jersey:  Crowding in to catch a glimpse of the kitties in the car

A surprisingly healthy dinner of black bean
cakes at a brewery in Danville, PA

If you ever find yourself driving across Pennsylvania on Route 80, I highly recommend getting off at Exit 224 and stopping at the Old Forge Brewing Company for lunch or dinner. We were lucky to be there on a "live music" night and enjoyed our dinner while two local guys played songs by the Eagles, Lyle Lovett, and Hall & Oates. The waiter - heavily tattooed and decked out in the hemp and glass bead necklaces popular back in the 90s - was super friendly and very attentive. The menu was extensive, with many daily specials and more options than just your usual burgers and fried bar food. It was a really nice break after a long day of driving - so nice that it actually felt kind of like a date night!

Anyway, the point of this post is that we did all this driving across ten different states in the company of our three cats, so I thought I would write a little about traveling with cats. And yes, you read that right - TEN different states: Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire (not to mention Washington, D.C.). It was a long haul, but well worth the time spent trapped in the car.

We traveled cross-country with our two older cats a couple summers ago (from Ohio to Oregon), and we've now traveled with all three cats to the east coast and back twice. We've gotten really good at catching the cats and loading them into the car, moving them and their accessories in and out of hotel rooms, and setting them up at their vacation locations.

The first thing to keep in mind when traveling with cats is to keep them guessing about your departure date and time. We found that if we wait until the day we're leaving to get their cat carriers out of the basement, they all run and hide, and it can take up to an hour to locate and trap everyone. Additionally, the whole experience of chasing, cornering, and forcing them into a cage is rather traumatic, especially for our black cat who is a total schizo.

Instead, we make sure to get our suitcases and cat carriers out several days in advance. All the cats run and hide when we do this, but over the course of the following 2-3 days they get comfortable with the presence of the cages and subsequently let their guards down - just in time for you to make your move.

Suitcase out; Cats lulled into a false sense of security

We've also learned that Minnie (the schizo black cat) needs to be caught first. At the first sign that something is amiss, she will hide - and she's a good little hider. She can roll herself into a tiny ball and hide in the shadows at the back of a closet or place herself directly in the center of the under-bed region of the California King, where you can barely hope to reach her. She's also quite a runner, and I swear she can turn her bones to liquid if you manage to grab her - it's like trying to hold soup.

Part of Minnie's usual daily routine, though, is to come up on the bed in the morning, right around the time we are waking up. She likes to settle in between us for some pets and snuggles, and we've learned that this is the time to grab her. One of us will hold her tight while the other runs to get the cat carrier. Before she knows what's going on, Minnie is contained and we can start loading the car. 

The other two (Milo and Zelda) are easier to lure and catch, so we wait until the car is ready before catching them. All you need to do to catch Milo is pretend you are preparing some wet food for him and the fat boy comes running. And Zelda, being a kitten, is still so afraid of missing out on anything that she is pretty much underfoot the whole time and can easily be grabbed. 

The second thing we've had to work out when traveling with three cats is the car arrangement. It used to be that Minnie and Milo were contained in a dog crate, with access to a covered litter box. This kept them from climbing all over the driver or shimmying under the seat to get under the driver's feet. With the addition of Zelda this year, we've had to rethink this arrangement. 

Zelda is still too small and active to be trusted loose in the car, so she now rides in the dog crate with her own little litter box and food and water dishes. The big cats have graduated to free-roaming, with a litter box, food, and water available to them in the back seat. This works out well since Minnie prefers to sleep under the driver's seat and Milo likes to ride on top of Zelda's cage. Over hundreds of miles of travel, we haven't yet had a problem with them crawling on the driver. 

Now, I'm not going to pretend that the cats are perfectly happy with this arrangement. Though they have become very good travelers, the first hour or two in the car is always a chorus of disturbed yowls and complaints from all corners of the car. Zelda hates to be contained in the dog crate, so she will usually flip her litter box over within the first 10 minutes, spilling litter into her food and water and into the car. It took me over an hour to vacuum up all the cat hair and litter from every crevice of the car when we got home.

That's the other thing about traveling with pets. Our car is no longer in pristine condition. The seats show signs of claw marks, there will forever be cat hair woven into the cloth surfaces of the car, and there are water bowl stains on the carpets from particularly tight turns or sudden stops. But oh well. We drive our cars until they die, so we probably won't ever try to sell this car. Side note: We drove our last car (a Jeep Cherokee Sport) until all the electronics had died enough to make the car actually unsafe to drive (aka headlights would turn off without warning while driving 60 mph on a moonless night).

Finally, stops are a necessity on all long road trips - to get gas, to get food, to go to the bathroom, and sometimes to spend the night in a hotel (be sure to book a pet-friendly hotel ahead of time, and be prepared to pay about $25 extra for your pet). My biggest fear is that one of our cats will make a run for it when we open the car doors at a rest area off the highway, so we make sure we know where each cat is in the car before opening any doors. Then we make sure we have what we need, open the door, get out as fast as we can, and close the door fast (making sure that no cats are going to get their head slammed in the door). Once we're back in the car and ready to leave the rest area, we make sure to locate all 3 cats inside the vehicle (this involves a lot of reaching under seats and poking at furry masses). So far, we've been lucky to have no escapees!

So, that has been our experience. To be clear, we are not crazy people who take our cats everywhere. We only bring them along when we are driving somewhere and will be gone for several weeks. If you've ever paid to board your animals, you know that it is pretty cost-prohibitive beyond a day or two. Also, we miss our babies when we're away! ;)

To summarize, when traveling with cats:

  1. Get the cat carriers and suitcases out well in advance so the cats get used to their presence. 
  2. Catch them and load them into the car in the order of "hardest to catch" down to "easiest to catch."
  3. Figure out an arrangement that gives the cats access to food, water, and a litter box for long trips (a covered litter box with a door flap helps to control the smell). 
  4. Make sure the cats cannot crawl under the driver seat to get under the driver's feet (This has happened to me on the freeway - you do not want this to happen to you!). You can shove a towel under the seat from the front to close up the opening.
  5. To prevent escapes, make sure you know where the cats are before opening your car doors, close the doors quickly after you exit the car, and make sure the cats are still in the car before driving away from any pit-stop areas.
  6. You'd better be okay with your car getting a little trashed because cats, like dogs and kids, don't care if your car stinks, gets ripped, or has food spilled into every crevice.


  1. Cute pics! -- Caroline

  2. I love you. And the stop you made it NJ made my month.