Moving cross country with cats? It’s not as hard as it looks. Here are ten tips for prepping the move and keeping them calm on the road.

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Cats, like most pets, hate moving: The hustle and bustle, the extra vet visits, the just-south-of-panicked look on your face 24/7 for weeks leading up to the move. They know that whatever’s going on, it’s not going to be good for them.

And they’re right, in a way. While your new home may have some cat-friendly perks, like more room to roam, getting there won’t be fun for your animal, especially if you’re trucking across the country. That kind of long-haul drive is hard on both you and your feline, but there are some tricks to moving cross-country with cats simpler.

Ready to learn what they are? Here are 10 of our favorite tips on how to move cross-country with cats!


How to Move Cross Country With Cats: Frequently Asked Questions

What Is the Best Way to Move Long Distance With Cats?

The best way to move long distance with cats depends entirely on your situation. Here are some options:

  1. Pack your cats up in your car and drive them yourself.

    • Pros: Your presence will lend your cats extra comfort during the move, and you can ensure your pet’s safety since no one loves your pet as much as you do!
    • Cons: Depending on how far you’re moving, this can involve a lot of time and effort. If you’ve never learned how to move cross country with cats, it can be stressful for you and your pets. But don’t worry. We have plenty of tips below to help you drive your cat to your new home if you choose this option!
  2. Book a flight and fly with your cats.

    • Pros: A flight is much faster than a drive, so you can get it over with pretty quickly! Plus, if you fly with your cat in-cabin, you can still be next to your pet and provide it with comfort.
    • Cons: In many ways, flying can be more stressful for cats. There are more people around, the airplane itself can be loud, and the pressure changes can be uncomfortable for cats’ ears.
  3. Hire a pet carrier service to drive your cats to your destination.

    • Pros: With your cats safely in the hands of trusted, capable professionals, you can breathe easy knowing that this isn’t their first rodeo! Plus, with someone else handling pet transportation for you, you can focus on your long to-do list for your move.
    • Cons: Since you won’t be there with your cats, this option can be stressful for them, especially if they have separation anxiety.

Is It Better to Fly or Drive a Cat Across Country?

Again, there are pros and cons to both flying or driving your cat, but both the ASPCA and The Humane Society favor driving. 

  • “Unless your furry friend is small enough to ride under your seat, it’s best to avoid air travel with your pets.” – ASPCA
  • “If you plan to bring your pet on vacation, driving is usually a better option.” – The Humane Society of the United States

Can You Ship Cats Across the Country?

Yes, you can hire professional pet transportation services to move your cat cross country for you! For example, CitizenShipper provides cat transport with $1,000 pet protection coverage. You can enter your details on their site to get a free quote.  

How Do I Prepare My Cat for a Cross-Country Move?

First and foremost, make sure your cat is in good health. Travel stressors are tough for anyone, but cats particularly hate change. So, be sure to take your pet to the vet to get a clean bill of health before moving. Second, ensure you have a safe pet carrier where your cat feels comfortable. We’ll go into even more detail on how to move cross country with cats below.

 

How Can I Make My Cat More Comfortable on a Cross-Country Drive?

To make the move easier on you and your feline friend, prepare your kitty ahead of time. If you can get them (somewhat) used to the trappings of the move, they’ll have an easier time while you’re traveling.

1. Get That Vet Visit Out of the Way

It’s no secret that cats dislike the vet. Ladling a bunch of poking and prodding on top of the stress of packing is just unkind, so if you can, take your cat to the vet several months before your move.

In some cases, it might not even matter, but if you’re going to a state with different vaccination requirements, you’ll want to be prepared. Rabies, for instance, is a federally mandated injection, but the frequency requirements vary from state to state. There are other such laws, so ask your current vet how to seek more information.

2. Get Your Carriers Months Ahead of Time

For obvious reasons, moving cross country with cats requires you to put your animal in a carrier. Transferring pets into a hotel room or Airbnb necessitates containment, as does flying across the country.

If you’re doing the latter, make sure you look up airline regulations. Also note that many airlines have changed their rules and now limit in-cabin pets to a certain number, so make sure you schedule them on your flight well ahead of time. (If they’re traveling below, it’s a different story, but still, plan ahead.)

Even if you’re just driving, you should break out your carrier and make sure it’s still sound. If not, get a new one that will fit on your seat or the floor of your car/moving truck.

As a bonus, getting the cat carrier months ahead of your move gives you time to let your cat get used to it. You don’t want to bust out the carrier only for vet visits and cross-country moves because then your pet will associate it with stressful events. Instead, keep the carrier out in your home and let it be a sleeping spot and place of solace for your cat long before your move. That way, your kitty will be much more comfortable during the drive or flight to your new home!

3. Make a Cozy Environment

Like humans, cats care about comfort. The right environment can make all the difference for a cat undergoing upheaval, not to mention the often frightening experience of traveling on the road and staying in unfamiliar hotels.

The right environment for a cat will include the following:

  • A carrier that is large enough for them
  • A blanket on the bottom, both to keep them warm and cozy, and to catch possible urine or excrement (natural responses to fear)
  • A favorite toy, if applicable
  • Places for food and water (though you will likely want to remove them when traveling to avoid spillage)

If you have an exceptionally chill cat, you might consider a harness instead. Get a seatbelt attachment that will clip into the car and attach to your cat’s collar, keeping them from wandering around the vehicle or being thrown in a crash.

4. Introduce Pets to Their Travel Environment

When moving cross country with cats, don’t wait until the last minute to introduce them to their travel environment. No matter how comfortable you make it, they will still feel intimidated if they have to face that alien environment right before the stress of travel.

As we mentioned earlier, get carriers out several months in advance. To make them more inviting, put blankets inside. Cats like dark, enclosed spaces, so they will often opt to enter them of their free will – provided they don’t already associate those carriers with the vet. If they steer clear, then start feeding them inside the carrier so they’re forced to enter and adapt.

5. Give Plenty of Love

Naturally, moving cross-country with cats isn’t your only concern. Moving also involves a thousand other tasks that require your time and attention. Nevertheless, give your cat lots of extra love and attention during the packing and pre-move process. This will reassure them that even though life is tumultuous, you still love them and plan to take care of them. Like children, all they really want to know is that you’ll still be together when this is all over – so take the time to show them that.

On moving day, your top priorities are making sure your cat doesn’t escape and throw off the timing of the move, ensuring the movers can do their thing without interruption, and keeping your animal as stress-free as possible.

 

Moving Cross Country with Cats Safely and Comfortably

On moving day, your top priorities are making sure your cat doesn’t escape and throw off the timing of the move, ensuring the movers can do their thing without interruption, and keeping your animal as stress-free as possible.

6. ID Your Animal Properly

Before the move, get an updated tag reflecting your current phone number and your new address if you will be there within just a few days. Otherwise, if you will be on the road for a while (yay, scenic route!), get them a temporary tag with the address of a trusted family member. Switch the tag out the day of the move after the van is packed so that if your pet runs out of the house while the movers are there, you still have the correct neighborhood info in place.

7. Warn Movers That You Have an Animal

Most responsible movers will ask if there are pets on the premises they need to watch out for, but some will not. Before the move, notify movers of your pets and agree on a plan to prevent your furry friends from bolting out the door. If you can, keep your animal(s) locked away until the transfer of possessions to the truck or car is complete. Even better, take them to a friend or family member’s house until you’re ready to depart.

8. Use Calming Sprays

No matter how hard you work, moving cross country with cats is still going to be stressful for them. You can help eliminate some of that stress with calming sprays. Cats respond well to pheromones that signal relaxation, and since they’re widely available, there’s no excuse not to grab a bottle in the months leading up to the move.

Feliway is one of the most trusted brands for calming sprays, and this easy travel spray allows you to mist your animal’s bedding and travel environment for immediate soothing effects. (Do not mist the cat herself, even though the spray is non-toxic.) If you prefer a more natural option, botanical drops work well. Simply put a few in your cat’s water bowl or mouth. Be sure to consult with your veterinarian before trying either a calming spray or botanical drops.

9. Pack Food, Water, Comfort Items, and Litter Within Easy Reach

It’s finally time to hit the road! Before you take the parking brake off, do a last check. Do you have:

  • Food dish and pet food?
  • Can opener (if you do wet food)?
  • Water dish and a gallon of water?
  • Comfort items, such as blankets and toys?
  • Litter and litter box?

Pack these items securely within easy reach. Pro tip: Pack everything in a clear tub, placed on top of your other positions, secured with a seatbelt, or wedged in place. That way, you can just grab it when you get to the hotel.

10. Get Storage Out of the Way Ahead of Time

Cats are especially sensitive during those last few weeks leading up to moving day. You pack up, taking away all their favorite hiding spots, you’re constantly on the go, and they sorely miss the calm of everyday life. You can make that easier for them by getting big tasks out of the way ahead of time so you have more hours to spend with them in the run-up to the move.

For instance, it’s smart to figure out storage well in advance. If you’re going to leave possessions behind when you move cross country, browse self storage rental options and find the right size storage unit several months before you’re scheduled to leave. Pack up those possessions first, wherever possible, and unload them at the storage unit ASAP to cut down on clutter in your home. This will create a much more zen-like packing environment, which you’ll appreciate as much as your feline!

How to Move Cross Country With Cats: It’s Not as Difficult as You Thought!

Moving cross country with cats is no walk in the park, period. But with these handy tips, you’ll have an easier time relocating with your furry friends than ever. Give them a try, and let us know what you think!

Update: This post was originally published on July 19th, 2019, by Sarah Moore and was revised on May 9th, 2023, with further information from Amy Rigby. 

About the Authors

Amy Rigby

As a former nomad, Amy Rigby has moved nearly 100 times—so she brings plenty of lived experience to the Life Storage blog. In the past ten years, she has written for many company blogs and founded several niche sites, including one featuring home organization tips. She studied broadcast journalism at the University of Florida, where she co-produced an NPR-affiliated newscast. You can read more of Amy's work on ABCNews.com and the blogs of OutdoorsyTrello, and Serene.

Sarah Moore

Sarah Beth Moore is a professional writer and published author who earned her master’s in journalism from Northwestern University. A moving and relocation expert, Sarah has even moved internationally to Belize in Central America. She currently lives in Virginia with her husband, two kids and two dogs. When she’s not contributing to the Life Storage blog, Sarah shares her thoughts on writing and location independence on her personal blog, New Leaf Writing.

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