My cats (Nora and Ida) and I are finally starting to feel relaxed and settled after a long month of packing, sorting, and cleaning that ended in a 600-mile road trip to our new home in North Carolina. As a cat writer, I know a lot about cats. I probably know more about cats than I know about anything else. That, paired with the six months I had to prepare, transformed this potential disaster into only a tiny blip of anxiety.
I started out by deciding exactly how I would transport them. I have two carriers, but they didn’t seem right for traveling that far. To the vet, sure. But 600 miles? When I thought about the perfect transport vessel, there were a handful of requirements:
- I wanted it to be big enough for them to stand up, stretch out, and even play with each other if they wanted.
- They are best friends and I knew they could keep each other calm, so I wanted them to be together in the same crate.
- I wanted the crate to be big enough to allow a small litter box, to eliminate the stress of holding it in.
After some thought, a medium-sized dog crate seemed like the best option. It would be large enough to fit both cats and a litter box, plus it would fit easily into the back seat of my car.
I left the crate on the floor for a week leading up to the move, with the door open so the cats could sniff around and get familiar with it. I lined the bottom with the sheet off my bed. It smelled like me, it smelled like them, and I knew they’d associate it with safety and comfort even if they weren’t so sure about the new crate. It worked! A few times I even caught Ida lounging inside.
One of my main concerns was that I didn’t know what to expect from the trip. Nora and Ida (3 and 4 years old, respectively) are young, so I suspected that they might be more open to change and adventure than if they were older and more set in their ways, but neither of them had been in a car for a year or two. It hadn’t been necessary, since we used a mobile veterinarian. I wasn’t particularly worried about Ida, who is consistently brave and adventurous, but Nora is a bit of a wildcard and vacillates unpredictably between being a roaring tiger and a scaredy cat. I needed to determine whether it would be necessary to get a sedative from our vet for her.
To get a grip on what I could expect, I took the girls for a test drive a few days before our actual departure. On the morning of the test run I gave them a supplement specifically formulated to make cats feel calm and relaxed, then I spritzed the crate and car a few times each with a pheromone spray. The pheromone spray mimics the pheromones that cats rub on things when they feel safe and is intended to make them feel familiar and comfortable with their surroundings, even if everything is moving and changing. We drove around for a couple hours, running last-minute errands. How they reacted kind of blew my mind. They sprawled out, snuggled up together, and barely made a peep (I think it helped that I had laced the crate with treats). By the time we made it back to the apartment, I was feeling much better about the move.
When moving day arrived, we scooted them into the crate, secured the cat tree to the top of the car, and set off south. The trip went smooth, other than Nora preferring to sleep in the litter box rather than the soft bed I had created for her. But that’s just what cats do. They prefer the stinky things. I gave them water when we stopped at rest stops, I scooped the litter when Nora would let me, I slipped treats every once in a while through the holes in the crate, and before we knew it we were crossing the North Carolina state line, almost home.
I can’t say that my tactics will work for everyone trying to move long distance with cats. I’m well aware that all cats are different and that I won the lottery by having two cats that are so chill and trusting. But I do think the larger dog crate, test drive, calming supplement, and pheromone spray added significantly to my success. And, remember, be generous with the treats! Each move with each cat will bring its own set of concerns and challenges, but I hope this will at least give you some ideas and starting points if you are ever faced with a similar situation.
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