How to move your pets across large distances stress-free

Guest post by Ashley Wright-Cook

In the next few months we will be our first cross-country drive… with two cats. Last time we drove across the country, from Arizona to Virginia, we didn’t have to worry about keeping another living, breathing thing alive and happy. At the time, we were days-old newlyweds upset about leaving our families — it was hard enough to take care of just us.

But now, we are a happy family of four and we are relocating to Washington state later in the year and I have ample time to prepare for a car trip of this magnitude. I wanted to compile a complete list of the best car travel tips and create an inclusive guide for anyone else in my position.

I think firstly and most importantly: know your cat. Some cats are going to be hell on wheels (literally) during car travel. Some will get sick and need sedation. Some are going to just hang out, meow a few times and be fine. Know your cat’s behavior and plan accordingly. Planning well will take some of the stress out of car travel with your cat.

Before Your Trip:

1. Get your pet microchipped if you haven’t already.
There are tons of instances where pets have been frightened while traveling and end up getting away from their owners. In the case of such a heartbreaking event, having them microchipped will at least give them a good chance of being returned to you.

2. Pets need collars (most especially) during travel.
To further keep your furry friend safe and able to find his/her way home, proper identification is key. Have your cat wear a collar with your name, destination, phone number, and rabies tag. I also have my cat Ian’s HomeAgain tag with his name and microchip number which is a good idea too. Your pet will be riding with a lot of collar bling but it’s better than traveling without.

3. Invest in a great, safe carrier.
Some cats will be able to claw through cloth carriers so it’s advised to take your cat in something more durable during car travel.

4. Practice car travel.
When’s the only time Mr. Kitty ever gets to ride in the car? Yeah, on the way to the vet. They remember that, they know that. So, before a long car trip it’s better to get Mr. Kitty accustomed to driving on small trips and coming home. This practice will lessen the anxiety he might feel when he realizes that not every car trip involves him getting shots or a thermometer stuck up his butt.

Bonus points if you let Mr. Kitty “visit” with the car several times before your trip and allow him to deposit his scent. Not pee. His scent, like when he rubs his face or his body on you, but instead does that to the car so he can feel more secure later when he smells the familiar scent in the car on travel day.

5. Get together kitty’s health documentation.
If you’re moving across the country (and states have different requirements), it’s better to get kitty checked out ahead of your car trip and have all of his health documentation with you. It’s also very important for kitty to be up-to-date on his rabies vaccination.

6. Look for pet-friendly hotels ahead of your trip.
There’s nothing worse than getting out on the road for ten to twelve hours and then having to spend another hour or two going to different hotels and searching for one that accepts your pet (well, unless you want to hide kitty?). A helpful website for finding such hotels (like will help make your nighttime arrangements a little easier. Because, let’s face it, you’re exhausted from driving all day anyway.

7. Make sure kitty’s carrier is able to be restrained.
You wear seat belts so why shouldn’t the cat? Abrupt stops can cause carriers to slide, so make sure you’re able to put the carrier in a place that can be restrained with the seatbelt or able to remain stationary (like behind the driver or passenger seat on the floor — the lower center of gravity will cause less movement).

8. Practice with leash and harness.
If you haven’t used a leash and harness and plan to during your trip, practice ahead of time to get kitty used to the feeling of restraint.

Helpful Pet Travel Kit

  • Supply of your pet’s regular food.
  • Food and water dishes. (Put dry food in re-sealable bags or canisters. Canned food is also good and will provide extra water in Mr. Kitty’s diet while traveling which will help keep him hydrated.)
  • Water from home (or bottled water). Different parts of the country have different kinds of water. Keep Mr. Kitty from being sick by using water from home that he’s used to or bottled.
  • Leash or harness
  • Favorite toys
  • Treats
  • Comb and brush and any other hygiene items
  • Flea and tick repellent (perhaps applied ahead of the trip)
  • A sedative (if needed)
  • Litter box, litter, and scoop (and liners?). There are many ways to go about kitty doody duty while on the road. There’s smaller litter boxes for travel and disposable boxes. Choose one that’s right for you. Flushable litter, dust pans, waste bags and wipes are useful as well.
  • Air fresheners for hotel room use.
  • Paper towels for any car messes or accidents. (Paper towels used to line the carrier will help reduce waste contact by absorbing urine away from kitty.)
  • A cardboard, portable scratcher for evening hotel room scratching. Scratching helps kitty cope with the traveling stress.
  • A blanket that smells of home to place in and/or around carrier.
  • Optional: a lavender collar or spray is supposed to help keep your cat calm if he is especially anxious.

Awesome Extras:

There’s something called a SleepyPod which is a mobile pet bed for dogs and cats. It could be a good investment if you’re a frequent traveler.


Tips For Traveling
Feed your pet three-four hours before starting to give food time to settle (and don’t feed/water your pet in a moving vehicle). Feed your pet once a day (preferably during the evening and establish a feeding routine).

Secure carrier in a safe spot and preferably where he can see you.

Plan regular stops for water and time to stretch kitty’s legs. Ice cubes are easier for pets with an upset stomach and freezing water in kitty’s water dish will help against any car spills.

Be a smooth, safe driver and keep the car a comfortable temperature. Oh, and avoid loud music. Yeah, I know you want to blast Megadeth all the way to your destination but kitty can’t take that.

Allow for regular potty breaks. Make sure car windows and doors are closed. Open the carrier door and allow kitty to come out on his own. You can place the litter box on the car floor opposite of his carrier. Allow him to stretch and roam for a few minutes.

Never leave Mr. Kitty alone in the car. Duh, but I have to say it.

Never allow kitty to roam freely in the car. Cats can burrow under seats (and under feet!) which can make dangerous conditions for driving. Small cats can climb up underneath the dash and become stuck and/or chew on wires.

Make sure kitty has some playtime during the day or evening. Traveling is stressful and they need time to relax and play.

Keep the windows up (the open window noise and wind can be unsettling to kitty).

Comments on How to move your pets across large distances stress-free

  1. SO much helpful advice here.
    I found the tip about taking “test drives” in the car with the cats in the weeks before the move brilliant.
    Cats learn not through disciple but by positive association. If they come to learn in the next several days that the end result of the car trip is freedom, hopefully it will reduce the stress.
    Cats hate change. There is no way around that and this is going to be challenging and stressful.
    As someone mentioned, it is best to accept it, know it’s going to suck and roll with.
    I am relocating from ATL to BOS.
    Taking 2 cats in the car. Driving halfway, staying in a pet friendly hotel suite & will drive the remainder of the miles the next day. My furniture is arriving ahead of us and everything will be in place when I arrive with the kitties. That won’t reduce the stress but it at least avoids our arriving & them having to stay the car amidst all the commotion of a moving truck with men stomping about making noise. I can just whisk them in quickly .
    The question I have is, did everyone’s cats actually go to the bathroom in the litter box in the car?
    Did they do this on breaks when you stopped or while the car was moving? Having a hard time wrapping my head around this one ; )

    • Hey, good luck with the move! My kitty did not use the litter box in the car. We had a 3 day car ride and she would always wait until we stopped at the hotel for the night. She seemed to settle down just slightly once we were in the hotel room for a few hours.

  2. Thank you so much for this – there are some items on this list I hadn’t yet considered!
    I do want to point out one thing however, I would urge caution regarding a lavender spray, since lavender is toxic to cats according to the ASPCA website. (I will be using Feliway instead.)

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