Moving with a Pet, Part 1: Driving

If you have a pet, chances are, you can’t imagine living without him. However, you’re probably also very nervous about how he’ll handle moving to a new home. Having moved across the country with a cat of my own, I gained some valuable knowledge on this topic. Here are some tips and a list of what you’ll need for the drive. (If you’re flying with your pet, check out this advice from the Humane Society).

What to Bring:

Sturdy (but soft) pet carrier

Make sure it’s large enough for your pet to move around in. He should be able to lay down, curl up, stand up, and turn around. Or, if you’re traveling with a large animal, get him a harness and leash. (Please, please, don’t just attach the leash to your dog’s collar! You’ll need to have him buckled in, and if there’s an accident, having him attached to the seat-belt by his throat has the potential to be VERY bad).

Blanket or towel

Line the bottom of the carrier with something soft. It should be large enough that it covers the bottom of the carrier and keeps you pet comfortable, but not so big that it makes the carrier cramped. Don’t buy something brand new for this—your pet will prefer something that smells familiar and comforting.

Spare blankets or towels

Aside from keeping your furry friend cozy, having a blanket in his carrier means that if he gets sick or has an accident, you can just remove the blanket and replace it with a spare. I recommend having two spares, but make sure you have at least one.

Trash bags

Whether you use them to hold old kitty litter, line the litter box pan, or hold the soiled blankets I mentioned above, you will want access to these.

Litter pan (for a cat or other small critter)

It’s probably easiest to buy a disposable pan; however, it works just as well to line an actual litter box with a trash bag, fill it with litter, and then tie the bag shut between uses. Just make sure to store it in a position where it won’t spill.

Disinfectant wipes

Hopefully you won’t need these, but they’re the kind of things that, if you do need them, you REALLY need them. After dealing with the litter box, wet blankets, picking up after a pet on a leash, or (heaven forbid) a dirty carrier, you’ll want to wash your hands. (You may even want an air-freshener, just in case).

Water and dish

When you’re moving, you should always bring a couple bottles of whatever water your animal is used to drinking, because 1) he will need water during the drive, and 2) the water in your new apartment might taste different to your animal. For me, this meant filling a gallon jug with tap water from kitchen. Also, don’t forget a dish to pour the water into!

Food and dish

Although most vets recommend not feeding your cat the day of your move (cats are very prone to getting carsick), you’ll want to feed your cat at the end of the day, either when you stop at a hotel or upon arrival at your new place. If you have a dog, you probably already know how he reacts to car-rides and whether or not he gets carsick. Either way, he’ll want a snack at some point.

Collar and tag

Even if your pet doesn’t usually wear a collar, it might be worth getting one for the move. If he does get lost, you’ll want whoever finds him to have a way of contacting you.

Vaccination records

Stop by the vet before you move and get a copy of all your pet’s paperwork. It’s actually illegal to cross state lines with an animal without some of those records (like proof of a rabies vaccination), so on the rare chance you get stopped and questioned about your animal, you’ll want all his info in an easily accessible file.

What to Do:

Once you know what you need to bring to keep your pet comfy in the car, you still have to tackle the drive itself. Here are the six most important rules to remember during the drive.

Close the car doors.

First and foremost, NEVER open your car door unless your cat (or other little critter) is in his carrier and the carrier is CLOSED. I don’t care how well-behaved your pet is or how certain you are that he’ll stay put if you just hold him in your arms—think how bad you would feel if he slipped out of the car accidentally. Don’t take the chance. For dogs, same rule, but about their leash instead of a carrier. Don’t open the door if someone doesn’t have a good grip on Fido’s leash first.

Introduce him to the car.

I found that my cat was a lot more comfortable with the drive after I had given him some time to explore the car and sniff around. BEFORE you drive anywhere, sit in the car with your animal and let him get to know his surroundings. Once he seems more comfortable with the car, put him back in the carrier and begin the drive.

Keep him in the carrier (or on his leash).

Don’t let your pet wander the car while you drive. Even if he just wants to sit in your lap while you navigate, letting him have free range of the car is a risk you don’t need to take. You should always minimize distractions while you drive, and this includes curious kitties and puppies who you may be tempted to pet, comfort, or move during the ride.

Buckle his seat belt.

On that same note, if possible, buckle your pet’s carrier into a seat. Most new carriers have a way to do this, much like a child’s car seat, and for a pet on a leash, try something like this. Think about it—you (hopefully) wouldn’t ever drive down the highway without a seat belt on, right? So, why would you let your fragile fur-ball go unbuckled?

Give him breaks.

Stop every couple of hours to offer your cat water and access to his litter box, or to take you dog out to pee. This is especially important at the beginning of your trip—you knew to use the bathroom before you got in the car, but your pet didn’t. He might not have had the chance to make his morning visit to the litter box or  favorite fire hydrant before you left. (This was the case with my cat. He peed himself within fifteen minutes of leaving my house). Once again—and I cannot stress this point enough—never open the door unless your animal is secure.

Don’t leave him alone.

Well, technically, you can leave him alone in the car if you have to. Just don’t turn the car off with him inside it by himself, even if you’ve left a window open. Cars can get too hot for your pet really quickly, even on very temperate days, and cracking a window doesn’t actually do much to keep the temperature safe.

Keep calm!

Finally, know that moving is a stressful experience for pets. He may spend quite a while howling or whining. He may get sick, or have an accident. He may appear quite miserable for much of the trip, and may even seem unfriendly toward you. Just relax. He’s alright. Turn on the radio, take a deep breath, and stay calm. He’ll be completely fine.

Did I forget anything? Let me know in the comments below!

Check back next week for advice of how to make your pet comfortable in your new place.

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Taylor LaSon is a recent Hamilton College graduate who is currently living in Memphis while seeking her Master’s Degree in Speech Language Pathology. She and her cat prefer a quiet, introverted lifestyle full of Netflix binges and arts and crafts, but when she does go out, she enjoys rock climbing and making silly faces at small children.

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