How can I help my cat deal with a VERY long car ride?

Dear Sinéad and Siouxsie:
I just received my parole from the Midwest; as in getting a new job in Las Vegas! My concern is for my cat Jammie, and the long drive from here to there. Typically she does not like cat carriers at all; if I am not strategic in my planning for the carrier and getting her into it, then it is a fight to find her and get her into the carrier. Additionally, she is crying the whole way when I take her to the vet. I would hate to have her cry the whole two-day drive. Any suggestions? Also, any suggestions about how I can help her with the change in climate?


Sinéad: Well, Irish, it's a good thing you asked! Siouxsie and I don't like carriers very much, either, and Mama has done a lot to make our rides in the carrier more pleasant.

Siouxsie: First, you have to do some "prep work." We suggest that you take the carrier out now and give Jammie some time to get used to its existence.

Sinéad: You can help her get more comfortable with the carrier by putting something nice and soft, and familiar-smelling, in the bottom of the carrier. If she has a favorite "kitty pillow" or a blanket, fleece or towel that she particularly likes, this would be a good choice.

Siouxsie: Toss a little bit of catnip inside it, if Jammie likes catnip. She'll smell the catnip and go into the carrier to investigate. Do not close the carrier door while she's inside. Do this daily for a few days to help her get a positive association with the carrier.

Sinéad: Talk to Jammie before the move and help her understand what's going on. Moving will be a tremendous upheaval in her life, and we cats aren't particularly fond of change, so she'll need lots of extra love and reassurance from you.

Siouxsie: We imagine that you'll be moving all of your stuff, too. When moving day comes, make sure Jammie is in one room with the door closed. She should have her litter box, a place to sleep, and some food and water in that room. Make sure you tell the movers (or your friends who are helping you load the rental truck) not to go in that room. You don't want her running away in the midst of all this chaos.

Sinéad: The worst part of actually going into the carrier, and then in the car, is the first part of the trip. Once you get out on the open road and you're not making lots of stops and starts, it's a lot easier on a cat. Mama took me on a long car ride this spring, and I stopped crying and settled in after a few minutes, once I realized I wasn't going to the vet.

Siouxsie: It's easier to get a cat into a carrier if you do the operation in a room where the cat can't get into a tiny hiding place.

Sinéad: Hopefully the room you've reserved for Jammie during the moving process doesn't have any closets that don't close or king-size beds. That way, you've got a much better chance of getting her into the carrier without playing hide-and-seek for an hour.

Siouxsie: Oh, I hope the other cats will forgive us for sharing this information!

Sinéad: Of course they will! Most of us know it's better to be in a carrier for a while than to never see our beloved human again.

Siouxsie: There are some things you can do to make the car ride itself easier on Jammie. First of all, if you play music, don't play it loud. We cats have very sensitive ears, and it's painful for us when you play music loudly.

Sinéad: Also, if you smoke, don't do so in the car. Most of us cats are quite sensitive to cigarette smoke--although we do our best not to show it--and if you're one of those humans who smokes all the time while driving, you're bound to make us quite sick.

Siouxsie: If you have one of those chemical air freshener thingeys in your car, remove it at least a day before your trip. The smell of that makes a lot of cats nauseous, and there's nothing more miserable for a cat than throwing up in your carrier and having to sit in it all day! Yuck!

Sinéad: We suggest that you buckle your cat carrier in with the seat belt. That will keep the carrier secure, and Jammie will feel better if she's not being tossed around every time you turn a corner. Also, if you get in an accident, the restraint will help minimize any injury to Jammie.

Siouxsie: Talk to Jammie periodically as you drive along, and if you have a free hand, reach your fingers into the carrier and give her some reassuring pets and love.

Sinéad: Be as considerate of Jammie as you would of another human. Make sure the car isn't too hot or too cold. Don't let the wind blow in Jammie's face for hours on end.

Siouxsie: Never leave Jammie alone in a parked car. Cars heat up very fast, and a cat can die of heat stroke in less than 10 minutes on a hot day. Even with the windows open a crack, a car can turn into an oven very quickly on a bright, sunny day.

Sinéad: Whatever you do, do not let Jammie loose in the car! You'd be amazed at the spaces we can squeeze into, or how easy it is for a terrified cat to escape. A cat loose on a freeway or far away from the home she knows can be a disaster for more than just the cat.

Siouxsie: We assume you'll have to make at least one rest stop along the way. Make sure the hotel or motel you're staying at is pet-friendly. Many hotels and motels are, and there are a number of Internet resources available for finding them on your route. Check the Pet-Friendly Hotels Directory and the Pets Welcome Database for more information on these.

Sinéad: Some of these hotels even offer "welcome kitty" or "welcome dog" gift packages for people traveling with animals.

Siouxsie: You should bring along a good supply of Jammie's regular food and kitty litter, as well as her dishes and a litterbox (which you'll set up in your hotel room or in the guest bedroom at the house you're visiting).

Sinéad: Also, bring a good supply of bottled water or a filter pitcher to use in your hotel room. The bacteria and chemicals in water vary from city to city, and these changes can cause constipation or diarrhea--for you as well as for your kitty.

Siouxsie: Keep Jammie's veterinary records with you in the car. If the state you're traveling through has particular vaccination requirements, or, Bast forbid, Jammie gets injured or sick en route, you'll want to have this information easily available.

Sinéad: Don't be surprised if Jammie doesn't eat or drink as much as usual while you're traveling. She won't be getting as much exercise and if she eats less, she has a much smaller chance of getting sick in her carrier while you're driving.

Siouxsie: Once you get to your new home, don't "unpack" Jammie until all your furniture and stuff is moved in. Again, you don't want Jammie escaping in unfamiliar territory. Do the "one room" trick again until you get all your stuff inside.

Sinéad: If you let Jammie outside, don't do so for at least two weeks after you move to your new home. Allow her the time to reorient herself to her new territory.

Siouxsie: If Jammie wears a collar with your contact information, make sure you get her a new tag with your current phone number, so that if she does escape, anyone who finds her will be able to reach you.

Sinéad: I don't think you'll need to worry much about the climate. We cats are desert-bred and desert-adapted animals. However, there will be new risks for her in your new home--rattlesnakes, scorpions and other critters she's not familiar with, for example.

Siouxsie: Once you get to Las Vegas, ask your coworkers and new acquaintances if they have a veterinarian they'd recommend. It will be as important to find a new vet for Jammie as it is for you to find a new doctor for yourself.

Sinéad: We don't recommend giving cats tranquilizers or sedatives. A drop or two of the flower essence Bach Rescue Remedy, rubbed into the fur on her head before you set out for the day and after you settle in for the night, will help ease the trauma of a long road trip.

Siouxsie: Good luck, Irish. We hope your move to Las Vegas works out wonderfully, for both you and your kitty. Let us know how it goes.

Got a question? Need some advice? E-mail Sinéad and Siouxsie at None of the advice in this column is meant to be a substitute for regular veterinary care.