Do you have tips for helping us travel with our cats?

Our question this week was:

Dr. Debra – My soon to be 18-year old son will be moving from Kansas to California this summer for college. He will be taking our two cats (who are brother and sister, Leo and Mia, almost 3 yrs old) with him. I am 2/3 done “toilet” training them both! Aside from that, any hints on traveling with cats? We will use a cat carrier but plan to leave the door open for access to food/water/litter. Grandma & Grandpa are driving their minivan – they will all stay overnight at motels. I hope Leo & Mia remember their toilet training once their final destination is reached!

Ronna Harlow


Hi – thanks for your email Ronna. You wrote that you have two cats that are nearly litter-box trained and will be moving across the country and would like some moving tips.

You can consider a few of the following tips:

There are so many stresses to a cat that is moving – the trip itself is stressful as well as all the new things including possibly new food, new water, litter boxes, litter, new apartments, new sounds, new smells, unpacking, new people, movers, etc. The list goes on and on.

First, you could consider the following for the least stressful move. Allow your son to move, settle in then come get the cats a few weeks or a few months later. This will allow you to finish litter box training the cats and allow for a possibly less stressful move. In this case, your son can move in, unpack, have everything set up and straightened out when the cats arrived. This will eliminate some of the stress of movers, unpacking, boxes everywhere, tons of different people, etc. Then when the cats finally arrive, things are as organized as possible, their food, water, litterbox is set up. I’d make sure some familiar items with their smell are also there awaiting their arrival.

If that is not an option, than the best you can do is plan and prepare for the trip as it is.

To prepare – get your cats each used to a cat taxi or carrier. Place a soft towel or pad in the carrier and allow that cats to go in and out. Give your cats treats in the carrier and make the experience in the carrier a positive occurrence.

Take your cats same food, same water (take a bottle), same litter boxes and same exact litter. Try to keep as much the same as possible for the hotels and final move.

Find pet friendly hotels or motels along the way. Plan ahead so you are not going from door to door checking if they accept cats or for vacancy. This can be as simple as printing some possible locations along your route online and calling ahead for availability as you drive.

Once you find a hotel, choose a room that is away from the noisy icemaker or elevators. Put a do not disturb sign on the door. Get everything in the room; set up the litter box, food and water in the bathroom then let the cats out of their carriers in the closed bathroom. Sit with them in the bathroom, give them some attention and give them a little quiet time to explore the room and figure out where the food water and litter box is located. They probably will be nervous and not want to use it right then. After they become acclimated to the bathroom, let them into the main room.

If you leave the room (for example…to get some dinner), ensure there is a do not disturb sign on the door and leave the TV on low to help block out any extraneous “other people” noises. Ensure the windows are shut and locked. Carefully enter and exit to the room to ensure your cats don’t escape.

Keep your drive safe. Keep your cats in their taxi’s during the drive and comfort them with words. Make sure it is neither too warm nor too cool for them. If you decide to let them out – do so in a safe way. Stop the car, offer them a litter box and food/water if you like. Most cats won’t eat or use the litterbox in this situation – most cats are too nervous in this unfamiliar setting. Don’t let the cats roam in the car while you are driving. If you open a car door – they can run out. I recently saw a cat that ran out and got hit by a car when a door was opened. He was so fast – he was scared and out before the owner had a chance to grab him. Allowing them to roam in the car while you are diving can be dangerous – I’ve seen a cat get under the gas pedal because he was scared and actually cause a very bad accident.

An article that might be helpful to you is Moving with Your Cat.

Best of luck!

Dr. Debra

To read most recent questions Click here!

Click here to see the full list of Ask Dr. Debra Questions and Answers!