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9 Tips for Moving Across the Country with Your Cats

I’m preparing for a long-distance relocation. Here’s what I’m doing to ensure my cats fare well.

 |  Jul 11th 2013  |   10 Contributions


In about a month and a half, I’ll be moving across country from Maine to Seattle, Washington. I plan to drive the whole way -- with my cats, of course. I’ve been doing my research about what I need to do for my cats’ health, protection, and legality along the way, and here are some tips based on what I’ve discovered so far.

First and foremost, proper preparation is key. In addition to packing, shipping, or selling your stuff and getting your car road-ready, take these steps to get your cats road-ready, too.

My cat, Bella, waits for her "meet and greet" with the vet. Make sure that at least your cats' rabies vaccinations are current, because that is a legal requirement for interstate travel in the U.S.

1. Get your cats vetted and microchipped

Before you leave, make sure that your cats’ vaccinations are up to date and that they have a supply of any medications they need. A microchip can be a lifesaver if one of your cats goes missing along the way.

2. Research health certificate requirements

If you’re flying with your cats, you will need to have health certificates. Otherwise, import requirements vary from state to state. Washington, for example, requires a certificate of veterinary inspection for each animal and proof of current rabies vaccination, but pets traveling in cars with their owners are exempt from the certificate requirement. The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service provides links to import licensing requirements for each state.

3. Research pet licensing requirements at your destination

The city of Seattle requires that all cats be licensed within 30 days of their arrival. That means I’ll have a month after I get there to go to City Hall (or wherever the pet licensing agency is) and get Siouxsie, Thomas, and Bella’s licenses. You can usually find this information on the city's website or by doing a web search for something like "[location] pet licensing rules."

4. Find pet-friendly hotels along your route and reserve rooms

PetsWelcome is a website that allows you to enter the beginning and end of your trip and provides a directory of every pet-friendly hotel along your route. Each hotel has slightly different requirements and pet deposit fees, so be sure that you can comply with the hotel’s pet policy. I’d also recommend deciding how far you can comfortably drive each day and reserving rooms at those points along your route before you leave.

5. Organize your cats’ information

Keep your cats’ veterinary records, along with photos and descriptions of each cat, in an easily accessible folder or tote in your vehicle. Keep a pet first-aid kit and your cats’ medications here, too.

6. Gather your pet supplies before you leave

Get enough cat food to last for the duration of the trip, plus a couple of more days in the event of delays. If you buy canned food, get a product with a pull top. Have paper towels, spare carrier liners, puppy pads, and pet stain cleaners easily available. Get a small bag of the litter they currently use and a few disposable litter boxes. I’d also recommend that you bring some Feliway spray and Rescue Remedy or some other calming flower essence.

While you’re en route, here are some other important considerations.

1. Keep your cats’ needs and comfort in mind

Pull up all food and water an hour before you leave. That will allow your cats to eat and do their litter box business before you hit the road, and it will reduce the chance that they’ll vomit. Make sure you have your “road food” packed before you leave, too; don’t leave your cats alone in your car to pick up groceries. While driving, keep the music at a reasonable volume.

My cat, Thomas, sniffs at a pet carrier.

2. Buckle up for safety

Keep your cats in their carriers, and strap those carriers in with seat belts to ensure safety in the event of an accident or emergency stop. Never, ever open your cats’ carriers with the car doors open; it takes only a second for them to flee and become lost in unfamiliar territory.

3. Be as relaxed as possible

A long-distance move is a huge transition. Your life and your cats’ lives are changing forever. This trip can be an amazing experience for all of you if you can be fully present because, after all, the journey is as important as the destination.

Siouxsie won't let me forget to pack her favorite toy.

Have you ever made a long-distance move with your cat? Do you have any more tips to share? The more I know, the better off my kitties will be, so I appreciate your experience and advice!

About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter volunteer, and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their cat advice column, Paws and Effect, since 2003. JaneA dreams of making a great living out of her love for cats.

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