Best way to get my pets across the country?

arlosmomJune 30, 2014

My husband and I are going to be moving from the east coast to the west coast within the next 3 to 4 months. We have 2 cats and 2 dogs (~60 pounds and ~75 pounds). I've been trying to think through the logistics of getting the beasts to the new house, but for the life of me, I can't figure out the best option.

Flying them out is one options. We usually fly via Alaska Air which claims to have a temperature controlled and pressure controlled cargo area for pets. It's a non-stop flight that takes about 5 1/2 hours. I'm sure they would all be scared and unhappy, but it would be over in a day. I worry about their health and safety in cargo. I've heard and read the horror stories. We'd also need to figure out how to get all of us from the house to the airport at the front end and from the airport to the house at our destination.

Another option is to drive them in the station wagon, stopping for walks and pee breaks and trying to find pet friendly hotels that would accept all 4 animals. I believe it will be about 40-45 hours of car travel broken up over about a week. I have no idea if this would go smoothly or be a complete nightmare. We'd probably have a barrier between the dogs in the back seat and the cats with a litter box in the very back. Our one dog shakes and trembles in the car so a week of travel just sounds like torture for her. We are going to experiment with Rescue Remedy over the next month or so and see if we can minimize her car fears. I also have fears of a cat making a mad dash and escaping the car or a hotel room.

A hybrid option is to fly the cats out (hopefully in the main cabin with us), then fly back and drive out with the dogs. That has its own set of complications, but at least we'd only have 2 animals in the car. I don't know that this option buys us much of an advantage though.

I also looked into services that drive your pets for you, with 2 drivers alternating driving and sleeping so they make the trip pretty much straight through with stops for potty breaks every 3 hours or so. It would take 2 to 2 1/2 days for them to make the trip. I put calls in to a couple of companies offering this type of service, but they didn't call me back. I don't think that's a very good sign.

So basically it feels like there are no good options. Does anybody have insight or suggestions for me? Is flying safer than I think? We're probably looking at an October timeframe, so not extreme weather temperature wise.

Thanks in advance for any help!!

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I would go with the station wagon. You might ask the vet about this and for a prescription to calm the one who shakes. He/she may shake for a while, but I'll bet she gets over it before you get there. I am assuming you are driving also. Google cities for animal friendly hotels ahead of time.

    Bookmark   June 30, 2014 at 6:45PM
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Driving across country with the pets sounds rough to me but may be the best way to do it to protect your pets. Might be good to fly the cats ahead of time. Then you'd only have the pups which might be simpler. I don't blame you for worrying about your pets' safety. I've heard the horror stories too.

As for getting the pets to and from the airport, you need to arrange transportation with one of the companies which uses vans and let them know you have animals. Here in So CA we have Super Shuttle and Prime Time. Or contact a limo service which has larger vehicles.

There are companies which specialize in flying animals. One is Pet Air. Do a search for "pet airlines." I imagine it's expensive, but might be worth it for the peace of mind, not having to drive across country (gas too), fly back to get the dogs.

Not to scare or worry you, but if you fly them on Alaska, please know it can still be plenty warm in CA in October if that's where you are moving. Ask if your flight is diverted or you have to sit on the runway, will the dogs still be cooled? Some planes don't stay very cool under those circumstances.

Good luck. I'm glad you are taking care to see your animals have a safe move. I sympathize because it is a worry.

Here is a link that might be useful: pet airlines

This post was edited by socks12345 on Mon, Jun 30, 14 at 20:41

    Bookmark   June 30, 2014 at 8:24PM
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I would drive. No way I would trust my pets to the airline. I once saw a pet crate coming out of cargo on the conveyor and it fell off on the ground. We drove from MN to TX and back with two cats. I had to medicate them because they freaked out so much in the car. They also freaked out in the hotel room but they made it and survived. I would highly recommend a drive up to the door of your room motel.

    Bookmark   June 30, 2014 at 8:32PM
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Thanks for the replies. Lots to think about. I looked into Pet Air a couple of weeks back because I thought they could be a good solution. Turns out they went out of business a year or two back. Their web site still looks operational but it isn't, and a google search turned up articles about their financial difficulties and closing. I was disappointed.

Our move is to Oregon, so it shouldn't be too hot. But you're right socks12345, about the possibility of delays and diversions. Great suggestion to arrange for transport to/from the airport if we end up flying everybody. I didn't know that Super Shuttle offered that service. I've used them myself in the past but didn't even think that they might offer service for our whole group.

Emma, I'll definitely talk to our vet. He's wonderful and has cared for all of our animals for as long as we've had them. I'm sure he'll have helpful suggestions and can provide meds to help everybody through.

Gibby3000, that's horrible about the crate falling off the conveyor belt!!! You hope that everyone along the way cares about your animals, but there's not much chance that they all will.

So it doesn't sound like my concerns about flying them are unfounded. All of you seem to think driving is probably better. Ugg. But you're probably right. Maybe we can even make it an adventure, stopping a couple of good places along the way...probably more feasible if we fly the cats ahead of time. Lots to figure out.

The other day I was looking at a pet travel website that helped plot the whole trip, suggesting a route with pet friendly hotels/motels along the way. A lot of the hotel/motels have restrictions on size and number of pets. We can always get two rooms if necessary (preferably connecting rooms). We're pushing it on weight limits though. Maybe if I plot it al out and make phone calls in advance to specific hotels I can ask them to make exceptions to some of their policies. I don't know how strictly they adhere to a 50 pound weight limit for example.

Keep your fingers crossed for me.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2014 at 5:33AM
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I would also get your cats used to wearing a harness and a leach and make sure they are all chipped if they arent already. What a great mommie you are, have a safe trip !!!!

    Bookmark   July 1, 2014 at 7:27AM
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christine1950, those are great suggestions. The dogs are microchipped, but the cats aren't since they've always been indoors. I'll get that done during our next vet visit. Our one cat used to love a harness and leash when he was young. I stopped taking him out on it once we had a screened porch built. I'll have to measure them for new harnesses...they're a little rounder these days than they used to be. : )

    Bookmark   July 1, 2014 at 12:04PM
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arlosmom, I'm a bit rounder than I used to be also :>)

    Bookmark   July 1, 2014 at 5:44PM
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We moved cross country with our 2 cats, we drove. It was 3000 miles not quite all the way east coast to west, we stopped at motels only for about 5-6 hours rest, it took us 4 days and 3 nights DH and I took turns driving.

For cats, get a large wire dog crate and set it up with a shelf that takes up about half the area, put a small corner litter box in there and some bedding. If your cats get along they can go in one crate. Cover the crate with a blanket completely - being able to see out stresses them out more, when it's dark they end up going to sleep.

DO NOT HAVE THE ANIMALS LOOSE IN YOUR CAR! It's dangerous, and they likely will get scared and escape when a door is opened.

Do not ever open the crate unless you must inside the car with all doors closed and locked, or inside a hotel room after checking it very thoroughly for hiding spots, insecure windows, holes under the A/C unit etc. Cats will probably get into a box spring or other small hiding spot if you let them - and you'll have trouble getting them out, they are better off just staying in the crate.

Microchips are great but they only help if someone finds your pet and scans them. Prevent them escaping, and also have a visible collar and write on it with sharpie your cell number (no dangling tag to get caught in cages). Many frightened animals escape a car and run into traffic or run off never to be found. Don't let this happen!

All this said, our move went smoothly and the cats slept most of the time.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2014 at 6:05PM
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I am not sure you can fit all the crates and everything in a station wagon. I think you should do a trial run. Two large dog crates, a crate for the kitties, a smelly litterbox, it's a lot. My DH just drove his mum and her very round cat, very carsick kitty from Fairfield County CT to mid-coast Maine and it was a long day. On the other hand I have driven from Miami to NYC with two kitties with no problem. I did it in a station wagon where I gave the cats the entire 'way back' I gated it off so they were safe. I darkened it, they had two small carriers as dens and a litter box and lots of bedding for softening, under it all was a waterproof cloth.

Of course you did think about flying the cats out ahead of time... And you dont actually have to do that yourself, you can hire someone. I am sure you can find lots of lovely couples that would take your two kitties to OR for free flights. Maybe a GWer even knows someone?

If you do want to drive all the pets would you think about renting an RV? It would alleviate the need for motels, and it would give the animals more space and feel more homelike.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2014 at 6:42PM
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These suggestions are helping immensely. I'm trying to think outside the box as much as possible and I really appreciate the input.

Localeater, you're probably right about the station wagon being too small for all of us cross country. We are very open the the idea of donating or selling the wagon at the front end and using a different vehicle for the trip. I'm now looking into renting a one-way minivan. I hesitate to go with a larger vehicle because I want to be comfortable doing my share of the driving. I'm afraid if we rent a cargo van or RV, my husband will get stuck with almost all of the driving time...I'm just chicken to drive something huge.

A minivan could help a lot though I think. We have 2 wire dog crates and our cats get along well. We could either put them together in the larger crate or, if there's room, connect the 2 wire crates together into a 2 room "suite". I like the idea of covering the crate with a blanket. That would also minimize interaction between the cats and dogs (one dog in particular torments the poor cats). Titan, fabulous idea to build a shelf inside the crate to add to the usable space. I might have to get creative with that. I could probably devise some kind of a fabric hammock that would span the crate. And you're right about the cats hiding in any crevice they can find. I was thinking I could shut them in the bathroom in the motels at night to give them a little safe freedom.

I have some time to figure all of this out. Any additional thoughts or suggestions are very very welcome!

    Bookmark   July 2, 2014 at 8:37AM
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We're getting ready to leave for a late dinner out but wanted to add to what tinan said about NOT letting your cats loose in the car..........EVER! Definitely contain them in travel cages/carriers, with halters on. If you need to get into their cage/cages while you're on the road, make sure all your doors and windows are rolled up. Us with cats all know how fast they can be. As my husband is always saying, better safe than sorry.

As far as your one dog, look into Thunder Shirts. They can be a little bit pricey but oh-so well worth the price. Pet Smart carries them. We have a friend who used one for his large dog and it was like night and day when he was moving from CA to Texas. His wife had their cats in their SUV (he was in their truck), all in large wire cages (with locks on the doors) and altho they stayed in pet friendly hotels, they never let the cats out in the rooms. They were large enough that they could put small litter boxes in the cages (when they stopped) and food and water bowls. If I remember correctly, they opened from the top and not an end or side.

When we moved from Northern California to Arizona (with 2 cats and a very large German Shepherd) a little over a year and a half ago, we used one on one of our cats. He absolutely detests being both in his carrier and in a car and altho for the first hour of travel he vocally let us know/hear his displeasure. But other than being vocal, he was calm and safe. Our other cat slept most of the 12 hour trip. We also had their favorite toys in the carriers with them.

And don't overfeed or over water them if you're traveling with them. Barfing dogs and cats aren't pleasant when you're traveling. And try to make sure that the area where they're going to be is cool.

Another thought, and I don't know if this is possible in your case, is do you have any friends or family who would make the long drive with you in a separate vehicle? Maybe they could take either the dogs or cats?

Is your new home already going to be set up when you arrive with the critters? If so, don't open the cat carriers until you're in the house with the doors shut. We had already been here and met the movers so our house was ready for the fur faces, as far as their needs were concerned. We already had a cat box set up when we let them out and food and water came immediately after. Our brat cat immediately went to his safe place, which is under our bed.

I sure do wish you well with traveling with your critters. I'm sure there will be times that you'll think that it's a PITA but you all will survive. Just think of the stories you can tell your friends and family of the time you traveled across country with them.

I'm also very glad to have read that you're taking them all with you. It just makes me sick to my stomach when I read ads in the paper or on Craig's List that say something like "Dog/cat moving and can't/won't take them with me/us".

Please let us know what you decide and how it turns out.


    Bookmark   July 3, 2014 at 1:20AM
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Just ordered a thundershirt...

    Bookmark   July 3, 2014 at 8:01PM
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I just thought I'd post a follow-up after all of the helpful tips and recommendations from you. I really appreciated your input and it helped make our trip a success. We ended up renting a minivan and took 5 days to drive from the east coast to the west. We arrived safe and sound in Oregon yesterday.

We used a large dog crate for the two cats. We were able to fit a small litter box, 2 donut beds and a hammock in the crate. We draped the crate with a cotton blanket to make it cozy and to provide separation from the dogs. One cat slept in a donut bed most of the time. The other cat hid underneath the bed. Neither used the litter box in the crate. Neither used the hammock. They were both quiet for the whole ride, which surprised me -- I expected yowling. At night we took the cats and all of their gear into the hotel and shut them in the bathroom. They used the litter box then. Moving them back and forth between the minivan and the hotel was a little cumbersome but worth it for their happiness. We only opened the crate with all of the doors to the minivan closed and transported them from A to B in a cat carrier one at a time. We could tell they were VERY happy for the night time break from the crate. We brought them yogurt from the continental breakfast at the hotel, and they loved that.

One of our dogs was a happy camper during the whole trip, but the other one was pretty miserable. Calley panted pretty heavily the entire trip, even with sedatives from the vet. We had the dogs in the open area behind the front seats, between the front seats and the cat crate at the back. We put their beds there and hoped they'd calm down and sleep. Ringo laid in his bed most of the trip, but Calley only laid down for a total of about an hour over the course of 5 days (approximately 45 hours of driving). The rest of the time she had her head between the 2 front seats panting and drooling. I gave her LOTS of water so she wouldn't get dehydrated (the vet recommended this). She was miserable, as were we. But we all made it and lived to tell. We stopped for pee breaks and short walks every 2 to 3 hours.

We stayed 2 nights in La Qunita hotels and one in a Best Western. Both chains were great. One night we stayed at my folks' house which was on the way.

It's a trip that I hope never to make again, but it went as well as it could and we all survived with minimal trauma. Thanks again for all of your helpful suggestions!!

    Bookmark   September 25, 2014 at 7:45AM
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I deleted post - I see the trip was completed.


This post was edited by saltidawg on Thu, Sep 25, 14 at 9:40

    Bookmark   September 25, 2014 at 9:19AM
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I am sooo glad you did a followup on how you got your pets across country. I'm glad you drove. Your posts will surely be reviewed by many, many pet owners in a similar delimma. Thank you for the followup.

    Bookmark   September 25, 2014 at 9:54AM
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arlosmom - Welcome to Oregon! What city are you in? I have lived here all my life and love it. The only other place I would live is a beachfront house in Malibu :) Glad to hear all of you got here safely.

    Bookmark   September 25, 2014 at 7:20PM
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oregpsnow, we're in Portland and we love it. Where are you?

    Bookmark   September 25, 2014 at 8:13PM
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Bumblebeez SC Zone 7

I'm glad it all worked out well and all are safe. Thanks for the update!

    Bookmark   September 26, 2014 at 12:09PM
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arlosmom - I live in Beaverton now, but I grew up in SE Portland. I have one spoiled cat - a Burmese princess named Augusta. If you need info on a great cat vet (or anything else) please let me know.

    Bookmark   September 26, 2014 at 12:24PM
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Just now read your follow-up, arlosmom. Thank you for that. It sounds like a challenging trip and would have been easier if Calley had been more relaxed. But you made it! Hope you enjoyed seeing some of the USA on your way. Best wishes in your new home.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2014 at 9:14AM
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