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How to Road Trip With Dogs and Cats

September 29, 2016

I’m no dog whisperer. And I’m certainly not a cat queen. But I learned a thing or two this summer that I hadn’t set out to master. And that was how to drive across the country with two dogs and a cat.

road-trip

As many of you know, we moved from San Diego to Terre Haute in July. Of course, the packing and saying goodbye to friends and family was stressful, but the part of it all I was most stressed about was driving my pets across country for three to four days.

Flying was not going to happen since Cody, our 3-year-old boxer/Shepard mix, was too big to fly in the cabin and there’s no way I would subject him to the baggage hold. So road trip it was!

I turned to Google and the Interwebs to see what others have done, but I didn’t find too much information that was of value. Our veterinarian was wonderful, and did give me some super helpful tips for traveling with pets, especially our cat, Tess.

In this post, I’m detailing how I prepared for the road trip, and what I learned in hopes it will help others who may need to travel across country with dogs and a cat.

road-trip

The Preparations

My vet reassured me the dogs will be pretty manageable since they are content as long as they’re with their owners. Yes, they would be nervous being away from their home; but as long as I was there, they wouldn’t be too anxious. And that’s exactly what happened with Cody and Casey.

Cats, however, are a different story. Tess would require some preparation before departure day. Our vet said we need to get Tess used to thinking her crate was the safest place in the world (a feeling she clearly did not have at the time). To do this, here’s what he said to do:

1. About one to two weeks before the departure date, start Operation Move the Cat. Place the crate about a foot behind the cat’s food bowl. About twice a day, spray a dose of Feliway, a soothing cat pheromone, in the crate. The spray is designed to soothe cats and reduce stress.

tess-and-crate

2. Each day after the first, I would move the food bowl a little bit closer to the crate. And I’d continue to spray the Feliway in the crate. He also suggested spraying it around the cat’s liter box and in the car.

3. Once the bowl is directly in front of the crate, start moving the food bowl into the crate with the goal to eventually have it at the back of the crate. This would force Tess into the crate to eat, but she’s feel comfortable doing so.

I was skeptical about the process. Tess is a pretty smart cat who NOT a fan of the crate. I was sure she’d see right through this plan and go on a hunger strike to protest. But you know what? IT WORKED!

tess-crate2

The Big Road Trip

The day before the big day, I filled our Honda CRV with the dog’s leashes, dozens of plastic bags, our large plastic bin of dog food, bag of cat food, container of dog treats, many bottles of water, their food and water bowls, and the liter box (packed the morning we left). I tried to keep things consistent, bringing their regular food and same bowls. I also packed in the car a blanket we used on the bed so they had something with the smell of home.

The dogs hopped right in the car, thinking they were just going on another car ride. Tess did meow and tried to scratch out of the crate every time we started up each day. But she calmed down fairly quickly and seemed soothed by the dogs’ presence. The three of them had the entire back seat since Sophie wanted nothing to do with the “dog car” and elected to ride with the kids in the other car.

texas

We typically started the day around 8 a.m. and drove for about four hours. I took the dogs out on their leash and let them stretch their legs. I offered the dogs water at each stop. I tried offering water to Tess, but she wasn’t interested. In Tuscon, Arizona, we actually found a dog park, which was fun for about 15 minutes, until the 103-degree heat forced everyone back in the car. And then four to five hours later, we’d stop again for potty breaks and water.

The hardest part of driving across country with dogs and a cat was a lack of restaurants that had any type of outdoor seating. And since it was late July in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, it was way too hot to leave the animals in the car.

While I didn’t expect the pit stops to be like the trendy SoCal spots that welcomed dogs like children, I was surprised at the lack options for people traveling with pets. We were on interstate highways, and surely not the first to be making cross-country trips with dogs.

But we made do, and I was extremely grateful to my friend, Jessica, who helped me with pet duty. We’d take turns eating inside, and the other would sit in the air-conditioned car with the fur kids.

pets-at-la-quinta

At night we stayed in La Quinta hotels, which are pet friendly. Everyone seemed to enjoy their hotel stay. I was a little worried about letting Tess out of her crate for fear she would find a place to hide and I’d never be able to get her back into the crate. But she was amazing! She came out of the crate, used her liter box, ate her food, sipped some water, and slept on the bed with me, Sophie, Casey and Cody, just like at home.

And then the next day, we did it all over again.

We spent four days on the road before arriving at our new house in Terre Haute. The vet said it would take the pets about two weeks to feel like they’re in their home again. That happened much faster once our furniture arrived.

*****

So there you have it: how I made a road trip from California to Indiana with two dogs and a cat. I can’t say I’d want to do it all again. But in hindsight, it really wasn’t bad at all. And those long stretches where I was driving with Casey, Cody and Tess, accompanied by my music, were actually quite peaceful.

Thanks for reading this long post, which was likely either super helpful to you, or really boring. Have you ever driven across country with pets?

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. September 29, 2016 3:05 pm

    Aww, Tess is a doll. So glad she did so well. Feliway is a godsend. Just put it to the test when I took Niña to a dermatologist yesterday (and we have Feliway plugs in our walls to help our stressful kitty). Great tips. I would HATE to think of taking these two cross-country. Despite the fact that they like to PLAY in their carriers, it is a whole different story when the door closes!!! Good tip re: the food.

    • Leah permalink*
      October 3, 2016 11:01 pm

      Thanks, Melissa! Yes, isn’t Feliway great? I use it all the time now, in the new house, going to vet … I’ll always keep it handy.

  2. September 29, 2016 11:30 pm

    What a great post. We too had to move our animals, dogs, cats, and fish, on a long road trip (although not as far as you). Somehow it all worked! I think the vet’s suggestions of how to prepare your cat was perfect. Hope you are enjoying life in Indiana. We miss you, but love hearing about all your adventures.

    • Leah permalink*
      October 3, 2016 11:02 pm

      Wow, I wouldn’t have thought about moving fish! I bet that takes some coordination. It’s neat to see the animals get settled in and how they respond to their new environment. Thanks for following along on my adventures!

  3. Lily permalink
    October 2, 2018 1:43 pm

    Honestly, bless your blog post! We’re moving from Utah to California in about a month, and I have been stressing so badly about how to transport them. My company offers to pay for pet relocation but I feel really, really icky about “shipping” our cat when our dogs will be riding with us 🙁 I was just so stressed about having them in the car with our cat – and mostly, her litter box.

    Are your dogs just well-trained enough to know not to mess with the litter? I’m worried about our dogs pacing and making a mess, and/or trying to get into the box. They’ve only done that once and got super sick, so they haven’t tried again since. I’m thinking of folding down one seat to lead into the trunk, and stashing the litter box back there. That way, our cat can get back there, but it’s a little bit harder for our dogs to.

    Thank you so much for sharing!! Thankfully, we only have a 12-hour drive, not a four-day drive. If you can do it, I suppose we can, too! 😛

    • Leah permalink*
      October 2, 2018 4:21 pm

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting. The dogs stay pretty clear of the litter box. And honestly on a road trip or something that is out of the normal routine, the dogs will stick with you and probably won’t attempt to do much because it’s out of their routine. Also, if you’re only driving 12 hours, you may not even need to have the litter available in the car. I left our cat in the carrier the entire time we were in the car and she wouldn’t even use the litter box until we got to the hotel at night. The vet told us that cats can and tend to hold it until they feel safe. So if it were a “short” drive of 12 hours, just keep the litter way until you get to your destination. The cat also refused to leave the carrier since that was her safe spot in the car. Cats HATE change! Good luck!

  4. Patricia Whitney permalink
    November 13, 2018 2:24 pm

    Hi and thanks for your website!
    I am leaving So Cal in 3 weeks in my Prius with 2 cats and 12 year old Dachshund and moving to Florida.
    I know it will be a bit crazy, but after reading your post, I now have a game plan!
    I was unsure about the litter box in the car but now will wait until we get to the hotel room.
    I will also get the spray now and start using.
    Onward!
    Pat

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