How to Move Cross Country with Cats (Without Wanting to Die)

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This is Jane (left) and Austen (right). They are six-years-old this year, but don’t let their age fool you. They are a brother/sister power couple that enjoys destroying curtains, christening brand new furniture with their claws, and destroying any and all plants ever created. They are the great loves of my life, and they recently survived a 1200 mile move from Michigan to Colorado. Here’s how.

1. Prepare for weeks. If your cats are anything like mine (i.e. normal cats) they don’t enjoy being in a moving vehicle or uprooted from the home they love and rule over. I bought this pet carrier a few weeks before my move and made it a “safe space” for my cats to be in while I was packing/moving things into storage. I put their bed inside, some of their favorite toys, and a tiny litter box. They didn’t love it or frequently go in it prior to the move, but it wasn’t totally new to them when I locked them in it for approximately 30 hours, and I think that made a huge difference.

2. Pick the right carrier. I debated for a long time if I really needed a 28”L x 20.5”W x 21.5”H carrier. I knew I wanted them to be together (Jane gets really anxious when she’s by herself), and have enough space to move around in so they wouldn’t be laying down the whole time. I also wanted them to have enough space for a litter box and a bed. In retrospect, I could have maybe gone a little smaller and brought more things for my new apartment (like silverware or towels or a 13th box of books). However, they didn’t die, and were honestly pretty chill after the first hour of crying, so I have no regrets. If you’re moving a single cat or your cat likes small, tight spaces, I would suggest a smaller carrier. The important thing to remember is to get one with lots of vents, especially if you are moving in the summer like I did. Even with the A/C on, a plastic carrier can get really hot inside.

2. Buy cat calming spray. Yes, this is a real thing. I was very skeptical, but about 48 hours before I moved, Jane and Austen needed something. They were really stressed about being in a mostly empty apartment. The lovely manager at Petco suggested this pheromone-based spray, which I coated their carrier and bed with. Honest to god, the best $20 I ever spent.

3. Bribe your cats. Jane and Austen typically only eat dry cat food, which is why they are so fat. I mean, look at Austen.

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I knew they would be stressed out about being in the carrier and not want to eat anything, and then get hangry, so during the move I mixed fancy wet cat food into their normal food. They thought I was the best cat mom ever. In retrospect, I would have maybe given them a little less, so that Jane wouldn’t have thrown up all over Austen 20 minutes before we arrived in Denver.

4. Safety first. Take your cats to the vet about a week before you leave. J & A’s vet noticed that Jane had a minor ear infection, which might have gotten really bad in the airless car as we drove into the mountains. She also recommended that I didn’t give either of the cats any sort of medication (like Benadryl) for the trip, because both of my cats have weird reactions to medication, and being nervous/anxious can exasperate reactions (which would be no fun for anyone). I was also able to get all my vet records, which luckily, I didn’t need during the drive out, but it’s good to have them just in case. You never know what’s going to happen on a road trip. We spent four  hours waiting at a Pep Boys in Mokena, IL after my Jeep stalled in the middle of four lanes of traffic. I was very thankful that I bought a carrier with lots of vents and room for the cats to stretch their legs as we sat outside on a bench for half a day in 75 degree weather.

5. Take lots of breaks, but don’t ever let your cats out of the carrier. Seriously. Don’t let them fool you. They do not need to be in the driver’s seat with you. No one needs to hold them. They’re just going to claw your face and make you get into an accident. My cats are strictly indoor cats, so feeling the wind on their face once in awhile was exciting to them. Any time I stopped to eat or get gas, I would take their carrier out and put it in the grass or on a picnic table and let them get a little fresh air. I ended up not being able to drive straight through because of our 4 hour delay at Pep Boys. When I stopped for the night at my favorite trusty truck stop, the cats naturally thought we had arrived. They were very mad (and sad, so sad…) when I wouldn’t let them out of the carrier. I ended up putting a thick blanket over them for the night, and after an hour or so, they stopped crying (screaming, yelling, sobbing). I was very tempted to let them out for the night, and very, very glad I did not.

Overall, I would rate the general miserableness of myself and the cats as 2/10 for most of the trip. The first hour or so was terrible (just turn the music up, carry on), but after that, they slept most of the day, as cats do. During our fun time at Pep Boys, and during the storm we slept through in Nebraska, I would say the miserableness reached an 8/10. I felt like an awful, terrible cat mom for having them in the carrier for so long. But honestly, they didn’t mind as much as I did. They’re animals, after all.

And they’re very happy to be in our new little space.

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8 thoughts on “How to Move Cross Country with Cats (Without Wanting to Die)”

  1. I am so glad I came across this! I am moving to Tennessee in December, and will be taking my cat with me. Her name is Hazel. She is 3 years old, and she isn’t quite a “normal” cat when it comes to car rides, in or out of a pet carrier. No. She actually likes both of those things. What a weirdo! She did really well on the 10-15 minute drive home from the animal shelter where I got her last year. Same with the hour-long drive to White Cloud. She was in a carrier then, but I was afraid that she’d flip out. Instead, she had that calm, serene kitty-cat look on her face. She didn’t seem anxious at all. Just when I have her outside she’ll dig her back claws into me. Thankfully she has her front claws removed, or my face would be in jeopardy! My mom told me that the ride from here to Tennessee would be about a 12-hour drive. She’ll be getting a pet carrier for me when I move down there. We’ll be making stops every so often so I could let her out, but Hazel is not an outdoor cat. I never put her on the ground, but I’m going to have to get her a harness and leash, and start taking her out so that she gets used to it. I live in a condo, and will be moving to an apartment. Neither place is where I’d want her outdoors. There are a lot of dogs around here, including where I already live. Hazel does not like other animals, most especially other cats :(

    So, thanks again for posting this! I was thinking about the move, and how big of a pain it’s likely going to be. But I feel a bit better abut it now! Can’t wait!!

      1. Thank you! She is the sweetest :) She knows which cup of water is hers, and she allows me to put flower hair clips on her collar!! As for the move, I’ll be much happier once I’m out of Michigan.

  2. So glad you took the time to post! And sharing your trip. I have a few months to prepare to travel with 7 mitties! I will require 4 carriers, two sets of siblings and my first two and the tuxedo who has probs with everybody. I have been researching for a whole year and now it is getting down to brass tacks. I have put all the carriers out and will do as you did and find boxes for all them etc. It will be a 12 hr drive but even so trying with this many. Going to buy the spray too and get my seniors checked before the trip.

  3. Thanks so much for the info I adopted a main coon kitten. And plan on RVing with him we leave in April. I have been taking rides with him (Floki) all black and amazing boy .making the rides longer each time.and bringing him in our RV every day to play. Having his litter box,food and water ready before he’s inside. And now he crystal to go in the camper. Lol. Our first trip is upstate New York to Florida. I’ll let you know how it goes. Thanks again. SUE

  4. Thank you thank you thank you. I’m moving from NY and UT this summer and traveling with my two cats is my biggest stressor!! How big of a carrier did you keep them in, I assume I medium sized dog crate? Did they use the litter box while on the road?

    1. Hi there! Sorry for the slow reply. The carrier I used was a large-sized dog crate with a small pan litter box and bed inside. Only one cat used the litter box during the 17 hour trip. I took the litter box out when it was time to feed them and it worked great.

      I hope your trip went well!

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