After three moves within four years, it is safe to say we know how to move cross country with cats. From Las Vegas to Dallas, Dallas to Washington D.C. and then back to Dallas – we have gathered all the tips and essential things to know when it comes to moving cross country with cats. Suffice to say, we also know what it’s like traveling with cats in a car. We have driven long distances with a cat in both a truck and a compact car, we have PURRFECTED the art on how to travel with a cat in a car. From finding the right travel litter box to the comfiest blankets and travel carrier, we know exactly what makes a cat purr.
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We would not know the first thing about traveling with cats in a car without our lovely companion, Tiramisu. Tiramisu (Tira for short), is our beautiful medium haired, calico cat. Tira has been a traveling cat since she was only a year old. Throughout the past three moves, she has meowed and purred her way to help us find the perfect course of action to move cross country with cats. From understanding what she wants and needs, we have successfully traveled from coast to coast with her. With that said, I think she is ready for us to stop moving and settle down in Dallas.
How to Travel with a Cat in a Car
Whether you are traveling with a cat in a car long distance or just visiting the vet, you need to be able to make your cat feel at home in an uncomfortable environment. Cats are a lot smarter than people give them credit for. Tira always knows when she is about to take a car ride and will quickly try to hide. Mostly because she thinks its time for her annual visit to the vet. So here are some tips we have picked up throughout the years that have helped us travel with a cat in a car.
The Human Touch
When you travel with a cat in a car, the most effective way to make your cat feel safe is to soothe them with the human touch. After we place Tira in her cat carrier, we immediately walk around the room while talking and petting her. Once she relaxes, we will carefully walk to the car and continue to soothe her with our voice and touch until she feels at peace. It honestly does not take long, which is why we highly recommend soothing your cat with the human touch when you travel in a car, especially long distance.
The most important item you need when you travel with a cat in a car is a cat carrier! Especially if you are visiting the vet, it is always required. A cat carrier can be anything from the classic plastic kennel to a soft-sided bag or a trendy capsule backpack. We try to help Tira to distinguish when she is traveling in a car long distance versus when she is visiting the vet. We do this by always placing her in the classic kennel for the vet and the capsule backpack for traveling.
Kibbles and Snacks
It is always a good idea to pack some food and snacks for your cat when you travel in the car. Depending on the nature of your relationship with your cat, you can give them snacks to keep them calm and nurture good action. Furthermore, for traveling with cats in a car long distance, you will want to make sure you pack enough food for them. With that said, typically Tira always feels out of place and only eats a little. On the other hand, if you have a cat who gets car sick (like my sister’s cat, McLovin), it is best to feed them as early as possible and limit their food intake during the car ride.
Moving Cross Country with Cats
The same tips mentioned above should be repeated when moving cross country with cats. The additional pieces that need to be accounted for are finding proper accommodations, pit stops, and more.
Cat-Proof Your Seats
Cats are very curious creatures. In fact, Tira is probably more curious than George! Therefore, we let Tira out only AFTER we are on the open road for major safety reasons. Cats (especially Tira), need to get acclimated to their new environment for big cross country moves. So to let cats wander the car, you must first cat-proof it. Any cat owner can tell you, no matter how big or fluffy their cat is, they will always find a way to get into the smallest areas. To cat-proof your car, simply stuff bath towels or blankets under the driver and passenger seats. This will help keep your cat from sneaking under the driver’s seat and getting into a very dangerous situation.
Leave Room For Comfort
Tira LOVES to sleep in the dark or on soft, dark-colored blankets. So we make sure to leave two spots for her. One on the floor behind a seat so she has shade and another with a blanket fluffed up on the back seat. Depending on what your cat prefers, make sure to provide comfort to them as best as you can, given the circumstances.
Hotel Accommodations for Moving Cross Country with Cats
When you are planning your route for moving cross country with your cat, make sure you find and book your hotel accommodations ahead of time. The last thing you want to do is drive for ten hours and then try to find a cat-friendly hotel. Trust me, finding a decent cat-friendly hotel is not an easy task, especially last minute.
First of all, I say cat-friendly because some hotels will claim they are pet-friendly, but they actually only allow dogs. Once you find a cat-friendly hotel, you also need to check their policy to see how much the additional fees cost. We have seen some pet fees cost as high as $150 for cats, which is outrageous! Typically, a pet fee should not cost more than $20, give or take. If you cannot find a pet fee online, just give the hotel a call.
Pet-Friendly Pit Stops
Every long-distance road trip needs pit stops. Whether it is for a quick rest, to refuel gas or to eat lunch. So when you are moving cross country with cats, you need to find some pet-friendly pit stops. For us, we would find somewhere suitable such as Firehouse Subs. We typically call ahead to ask if we could bring Tira inside the restaurant with her cat carrier. Most times, restaurants do not have a problem with it. However, there were a few times when we would have to leave her in the car. This option is not ideal, but sometimes you have to make the best adjustments when you travel with cats in a car. So we would either eat in the car or park next to a window so we could always see her. Then we would take turns to visit her every five minutes.
Traveling with Cats in a Car Long Distance – Essential Items to Pack
When you are traveling with cats in a car long distance, it is essential to pack everything you need for a successful trip. Through trial and error, we have found that these items work best for Tira when we take her on long-distance road trips.
Travel Litter Box
Of course, a travel litter box is the most important thing you need to pack when traveling with cats in a car long distance. Just like humans, cats need to use the bathroom on long road trips. At first, we used small cardboard boxes as Tira’s travel litter box, but now we have found the perfect one! This travel litter box is made of durable nylon fabric that is not only portable, but also collapsible. You can easily place it behind a car seat without any fuss because it can fold in on itself without spilling any litter. It also comes with a portable, collapsible food/water bowl. Talk about the purrfect travel litter box.
So, a cat using a travel litter box comes with some cleanup. My best recommendation is to pack some Ziploc bags and pick up your cat’s stool like you would pick up a dogs. Or speaking of dogs, you can also buy and use regular dog poop bags to help clean your cat’s travel litter box.
The last piece to cleaning your cat’s travel litter box is a nice air freshener because nothing is worse than smelling your cat’s nice piece of work in a small, enclosed car. If your cat’s work is anything like Tira’s, not even rolling down the windows can help. So we make sure to pack some air fresheners. Whether they are air freshener sprays or a simple car air freshener, you should definitely pack one when traveling with cats in a car long distance.
Comfortable Blankets or Cat Bed
As briefly mentioned before, we like to make Tira a nice comfortable bed with some of her favorite blankets. So we will always pack at least two blankets for her. You can also pack a small cat bed if that is what your furry friend prefers.
Cat Car Hammock
This is one of the coolest things you can pack for your cat during a long distance road trip. Unfortunately, we do not have wide enough windows on our Honda Civic to buy this for Tira, but we hope you can. This cat car hammock is perfect for cats who love the sun and lounging – so basically every cat. Just make sure you measure your car window. The hammock requires at least a 30″ x 14″ window.
Both paper and bath towels are a great idea to pack when traveling with cats in a car long distance. Just like children, cats can make quite the mess. So it is best to always be prepared for any accidents that may occur on the road. We like laying down a bath towel around the travel litter box and on the nearest seat to make sure any mess does not get on our cloth seats.
Cat Calming Spray
No matter how many times we take Tira on our cross country moves, she is always scared at first. Some cats like my sisters are even worse. They cannot calm down because of the stress. So it is always best to pack some cat calming spray when moving cross country with cats. The calming spray truly helps reduce their stress and does not affect any other animals, children or material. It is also a non-sedating formula that can last for hours. You can spray it within the car, on the cat carrier, blankets, etc and it will work like a charm.
For the cats who love to travel and see the world, a cat backpack is essential. If you plan to do some traveling to National Parks or unique destinations during your move across the country with your cat, this backpack will be perfect. We have even seen people go camping with their cats using this exact backpack! The capsule cat backpack has plenty of space to allow cats to be comfortable while also providing plenty of airflow and an astronaut dome for them to see the world. We wouldn’t say Tira “loves” her backpack, but she doesn’t hate it either. You definitely need to slowly get your cat acquainted with the backpack before taking them on a big road trip.
I hope these tips on how to travel with a cat in a car and/or moving cross country with a cat have been helpful. Moving across the country is hard enough and when you have to also do it with a cat, it can be intimidating and stressful. Just recognize your cat’s needs and prepare accordingly.
Friday 21st of April 2023
Thank you for that article I kind of have been thinking about everything I needed to do you gave me some more good tips and one good thing is I’ve been taking my cat in the car probably 7 times before we make the big trip from California to Illinois because I’m moving and we always had to leave for the showings… so it really help me get her used to it and I had the part of a litter box with the lid that zips on Amazon perfect. And she uses it ! and a harness so they definitely can’t jump or anything but she could walk around the car a little backseat padded and stuff ..thanks for the tips Hopefully and I’m gonna get the spray and someone told me gabapentin also might help them. Relax it’s only like six hours a day.🙏
Sunday 30th of April 2023
Hi, thank you for your comment. I am so happy to hear my post has been helpful to you. Good luck on your move!
Tuesday 11th of May 2021
I have 5 cats and we are going on a 4 day move from Alabama to Oregon. if we got a hotel, the cats would loudly meow and upset the other guests. I don’t see a hotel being an option. I don’t know what I am going to do. The move will be in June and it will be hot! I can handle everything, the smell, meowing in the car, etc but I do not know how to handle the room for them to sleep. I just traveled by myself and I asked a couple of hotels and both said only dogs and then only 2 and $20 per dog.
Tuesday 11th of May 2021
Hi Susan, Thanks for commenting - 5 cats on a 4 day move is definitely tricky. It’s going to be a lot of hard work and extra costs to find a hotel to allow that many cats. However, I think it’s definitely doable. My suggestion is to ask for a front desk or hotel manager. You can also help narrow the search by using Google hotels and clicking “pet-friendly”. Furthermore, AirBnB also has an option to find places to stay that are pet-friendly. I hope this is helpful and wish you the best of luck!
Wednesday 25th of November 2020
We'll be moving from Florida to Oregon in 5 months with 2 cats, one husky and a leopard gecko lol! Should be an interesting adventure but I'm excited for it nonetheless. The only issue I have is that my older cat has always gotten nauseous and thrown up during car rides. I'm worried about him and how he will be able to eat and keep his food and water down, since we will be on the road for 8 days (stopping at a different hotel each night along the way). Definitely going to try the calming spray you mentioned though and hope it works!
Saturday 28th of November 2020
Hi, that does sound like a great adventure! My sister’s cat is a lot like yours - throws up in car rides. My recommendation would be to talk to a vet and look into pills for your cat that helps with car rides. I believe they help sedate the cat in a healthy and safe way.
Monday 18th of May 2020
I’m Loving all of your tips!! We’re planning a very long road trip from NJ all the way to AZ? we’re moving in September!! I have 2 huge scaredy cats for sure and they hate the car!!! I’m so very nervous . My husband will be driving the U-Haul and lucky me will be driving my Saturn VUE with just the 2 cats!! I treat them like there my babies lol there very spoiled. So any tips and information is GREATLY APPRECIATED!!!
Tuesday 19th of May 2020
Hi, thank you so much for reaching out! I am glad to hear my tips are helpful for you during this moving process - I know it is never easy to move. We did it with our cat, Tira, three times within 4 years. Vegas to Dallas, Dallas to D.C. and D.C. to Dallas. So she was exposed to the moving process and always seemed to adjust fairly well. I would test drive with your cats implementing some of my tips in the post because you are having to drive by yourself and letting cats roam in the car unsupervised can be dangerous. I would place barriers/towels under the front and passenger seats, so there is no way for the cats to get stuck or sneak into the driver's leg space (that is the most dangerous). I would also spray your car with the calming spray, give them comfort by adding a bed, blankets, whatever they like. Then have you and your husband drive for an hour or two (hopefully there is something you want to see locally in that distance) and see how they react. I say to drive at least one hour because they are most likely going to cry for the first 30 minutes. Best case scenario, if you are able to drive with someone, that would be the best so someone can provide attention to the cats while the other drives. I hope all of this helps.
Tuesday 5th of May 2020
Oh my gosh! You have no idea how much this blog has helped ease my mind! My husband and I are planning a move to Florida from Ohio in the next year or so and I have been having major anxiety over how to move with our cats. Thank you for all of the wonderful tips, we will definitely be using them when we finally move.
Tuesday 5th of May 2020
Aww I am so delighted to hear that! Every cat reacts to moves differently, but I hope my tips and product recommendations help. Once you get passed the first hour, they tend to sleep most of the way :)