What's the Best Way to Move My Pets Cross-Country?

Find out how to help your pets adjust to a big move.

Woman and dog next to the hatchback of a car.

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Reader Question:
I got a new job and will be moving to another state soon. We have three cats and a dog, and flying them across the country isn’t an option. What do I need to help my pets adjust to our move?

A: As a military brat, I spent much of my childhood moving around the country. With each move, we left memories and even treasured toys in our wake. Perhaps that’s why I’m more prone to trash rather than transport items from my old life to the new destination.

My dog Lulu — along with her bedding, clothes, toys and treats — is all I need to make any house a home. Since she is way too big to fly under a passenger seat, and I have heard too many horror stories about pets flying as cargo, our next cross-country move will involve an extended road trip.

Here are 10 things to consider when moving with your pets.

1. Start With a Trip to the Vet

Avoid bumps later in the move by scheduling a visit with your vet, and be sure that your pet is up to date on vaccinations.

A thorough checkup can rule out an underlying health issue, a parasitic infection, or a weakened immune system. Your vet also can provide an interstate health certificate, which is required to transport pets across state lines.

2. Stock up on Supplies

No one wants to be stuck on I-75 with a hungry pooch, so I stash plastic bags filled with single servings of Lulu’s kibble during lengthy car rides. If your pampered friends enjoy specialty pet food not typically stocked along Route 66, it’s best to bring your own. This also helps avoid any tummy trouble caused by a last-minute food switch. Trust me; that can get ugly ... and stinky.

In addition to a pet first-aid kit, it also helps to stock up on pet meds, and carry the prescription with you in case you need a quick refill. Emergency visits to the vet put a cramp in any road trip, but it pays to know that experts are nearby. Bookmark the ASPCA in case of an emergency. Have the number of an emergency veterinary clinic along your travel route.

If you don't already have a safety restraint or travel crate for your pets, invest in a good one. These restraints are like seatbelts for pets, keeping them safe in a crash. The Sleepypod Clickit Sport and the Sleepypod Clickit Terrain are two excellent options, which have been approved by the non-profit Center for Pet Safety.

3. Plan for Potty Breaks

When traveling with pets, play it safe by scheduling frequent breaks (at least every few hours) so pets can stretch their legs and use the bathroom — and stock up on water for those travel bowls.

Dr. Jennifer Monroe of Eagle’s Landing Veterinary Hospital in McDonough, Georgia recommends pet breaks every three to four hours. Don’t forget the poop bags. Since some cats have no interest with spreading their paws in the great outdoors, she says not to push the issue.

“With a lot of cats, being outside is a very, very bad thing for them,” says Monroe, whose cat Cinnamon made the trip from New Orleans to Georgia. “The only time I would recommend a cat on a leash during a road trip is if it’s something you do ordinarily.”

Cat owners also should be mindful of cat-aggressive dogs at rest stops. “You need a harness — not just a collar and leash — for cats. They are very elastic creatures,” Monroe warns.

4. Update ID Tags and Consider a Microchip

Be sure your pet is on the end of a sturdy leash — complete with up-to-date ID tags. Most major pet store chains sell ID tags for a few dollars; consider it an inexpensive way to recover lost pets. Microchips offer even more insurance. Just be sure to update the information on file with your new address as soon as possible.

“I recommend microchipping, especially when you are going across state lines,” Monroe says. “Unfortunately, we have a lot of animals that get away during the move because people accidentally leave the car door open. Be sure to have current ID tags and a microchip with at least your phone number.”

5. Make Pet-Friendly Plans

Sometimes you just need to pull over and take a break. Now that pets go just about everywhere with their people, hotels have begun to roll out the red carpet for birds, cats, dogs and even gerbils. Petswelcome.com and BringFido.com list hotels that accept multiple pets, including exotic animals. Map out a few locations along your route, just in case you need to stop.

When you reach your destination, Monroe recommends touring local veterinary facilities to find the right fit. It also helps to seek referrals.

6. Administer Sedatives With Care — or Not at All

Except in extreme conditions, Monroe does not recommend the use of sedatives to keep pets calm during long road trips. “A lot of times the sedative can add to the anxiety of the experience,” she says. “Some sedatives can have the opposite effect and cause pets to become more anxious or excited or they don’t work completely. You want to find that out before you get on the road.”

Of course, you can skip the sedatives and allow your pet to travel with other furry friends, through options like professional pet transporters such as Pet Airways, which flies cats and dogs (in the cabin, not as cargo) across the country with their own pet attendant. Reservations aren’t cheap. Fares start at $99 each way, and you will need to coordinate schedules carefully since the pet airline offers eastbound flights Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and westbound flights Thursday and Friday. Make sure you have up-to-date vaccination records, sturdy crates and plenty of identification for your pet.

7. Take Advantage of Empty Spaces

If you don’t know whether animals have lived in your new home, Monroe recommends doing a flea treatment while it’s still empty. “There’s never a better time; you can get into nooks and crannies, especially if a lot of cats and dogs lived there before,” she says. “It’s better to deal with it before than afterward.”

8. Give Pets a Place to Call Their Own

Keep pets away from the hustle and bustle on moving day, which typically involves lots of open doors and visitors. Monroe recommends turning a bathroom or spare bedroom into the pet’s space, complete with food, water and litter boxes. Leave them in that space until everything is packed up. Then reverse the process in your new space. Wait until everything has been unpacked before allowing pets to roam the space. This is especially true for finicky feline companions.

“Let them acclimate on their own terms. They are not dogs and won’t get excited in a new place,” says Gwen Sparling, owner of Camp Kitty feline boarding facility in Scottdale, Ga. “Let them out in the middle of the living room and they will find a corner or space to feel safe.”

Adjusting to a new home can require a little time and patience, says Sparling, who fosters rescued cats at her facility. “We say give them two weeks for their personality to come out,” she says. “After a while they make themselves at home.”

9. Do Your Research Before Leaving Home — or Unleashing the Hounds

Some communities ban certain dog breeds. Also, note that city ordinances can set limits on the number of pets in a household. Do your homework on city and state ordinances before leaving home. The Animal Legal and Historical Center website, created by the Michigan State University Center College of Law, offers tools to research city, state and federal guidelines regarding pets. It also helps to place a call to your insurance agent.

“When transferring from one state to the other, let your agent know in your home state,” says State Farm insurance agent Lindsay Mullen. “They typically will help find an agent that’s near you. All that’s needed is the new address and information about the home. Other than that, we handle everything else behind the scenes.”

Mullen says your agent can help determine coverage amounts. But keep in mind that homeowners’ or renters’ insurance will not cover pet accidents, death or injury.

Also, Monroe suggests taking a tour of the backyard before allowing pets to roam free. Look for gaps or holes in the fence line, and pick up any items that pets may try to chew or swallow. “Supervise pets in the yard until you are convinced they can’t get out,” she says.

10. Make New Friends

Before you take your pets to new dog parks or boarding facilities, Monroe suggests taking a solo trip to check things out. The same applies to doggy daycare facilities or groomers. Reputable businesses will require that dogs have a Bordetella or “kennel cough” vaccine, Monroe says.

“Any time you are going to a dog park, there’s always that unknown factor: What kind of dogs will be there? What will the environment be?” she says. “Go to the dog park first, without your dog, so you can look at the park, fences and other dogs. Get a feel for the dynamics before you bring your pet.”

Bring a bag filled with treats so you can make new friends. That’s the neighborly thing to do.

Why Pets Matter to Treehugger

At Treehugger, we are advocates of animal welfare, including our pets and other domestic animals. The better we understand our cats and dogs, the better we can support and protect their wellbeing. We hope our readers will adopt rescue pets instead of shopping from breeders or pet stores, and will also consider supporting local animal shelters.

View Article Sources
  1. "CPS Approved Harnesses." Center for Pet Safety.