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Pet Travel

Getting Your Cat to the Hospital

How to use a cat carrier:

Taking your cat back and forth to the veterinarian doesn’t have to be stressful. Using your cat carrier the right way can make the trip easier for you and for your cat. The following tips from veterinarians and cat behavioral experts were adapted from American Association of Feline Practitioners’ “Getting Your Cat to the Veterinarian”.

The best type of carrier, and acclimatizing your cat to accept the carrier:

The best carriers are inexpensive, hard-sided carriers that open from the top and front, and can also be taken apart in the middle. An easily removable top allows a cat that is fearful, anxious or in pain to stay in the bottom half of the carrier for exams. Your veterinarian can often do the exam in the bottom of a well-designed carrier.

To help your cat become comfortable with the carrier:

Make the carrier a familiar place at home by leaving it in a room where your cat spends a lot of time.
Place familiar, soft bedding inside the carrier. Bedding or clothing with your scent can make cats feel more secure.
Place treats, catnip or toys inside the carrier to encourage the cat to enter at home.
It may take days or weeks before your cat starts to trust the carrier. Remain calm and patient, and reward desired behaviors.

Getting an Unwilling Cat into the Carrier

If your cat needs to go to the veterinarian right away and is not yet accustomed to the carrier, the following may help:

Start by putting the carrier in a small room with few hiding places. Bring the cat into the room and close the door. Move slowly and calmly. Do not chase the cat to get it into the carrier. Encourage the cat with treats or toys to walk into the carrier.
If your cat will not walk into the carrier, and your carrier has an opening on the top, gently cradle your cat and lower it into the carrier. Another option is to remove the top half of your carrier while getting the cat to go into the bottom half, and then calmly replace the top.
Use familiar bedding inside the carrier. Consider use of synthetic feline facial pheromone analog spray in the carrier at least 30 minutes before transport to help calm the cat.
Carriers should be seat-belted in the car to keep your cat safer and to reduce the bumpiness of the ride.
Some cats like to see out, whereas others are less anxious when the carrier is covered with a blanket or towel.

Coming home & keeping peace in a multi-cat household:

Cats are very sensitive to smells, and unfamiliar smells can result in one cat no longer recognizing another. Aggressive behavior can occur when one cat senses another as a stranger.

Leave the returning cat in the carrier for a few minutes to see how all of your cats react.
If all cats appear calm and peaceful, let the returning cat out of the carrier.
If you sense tension between the cats, or if previous homecomings have resulted in conflict, keep the cat in the carrier and take it to a separate room to avoid potential injury from an upset cat. Provide food, water and a litter box for a minimum of 24 hours while it regains the more familiar smell of home.
If there is still stress after this time, contact your veterinarian for more advice on a slower introduction process.
A synthetic feline pheromone can help provide the sense of familiarity, reducing levels of tension.

Traveling with Pets in Cars

Whether it is just to ride to the vet, or going on vacation, there are some important considerations when traveling with pets in cars.

  1. Take your pet on short trips first if not accustomed to travel. Some pets have issues with motion sickness & may benefit from premedication, so seek veterinary advice. For long trips, be sure to bring pet ID + contact information, a health certificate, leash & collar, poop bags, a towel/ blanket, treats, toys, any medicines & bottled water.

  2. Don’t feed your pet within 3 hours of the trip. Offer water up to an hour before. There should be access to water in a spill- resistant container for long trips, or, alternatively, ice-cubes.

  3. Never leave a pet unattended in a vehicle on a hot day, not even with the window cracked open. Even on a cool day, a car parked in direct summer sun with opened windows can heat to 120 degrees inside 10 minutes.

  4. When making stops, turn off the ignition & put on the dog’s leash before getting out of the car. Then look around to insure there are no dogs off-leash that might pose a threat. As you open the pet’s door, use the command “Sit, Stay”. Hold the leash securely before allowing the exit. Never let a dog run off- leash in unfamiliar surroundings. Even well- trained dogs may bolt. It is very important that a dog that is expected to travel a lot should be obedient and should always come when called in case it gets away.

  5. Cats and dogs traveling in cars must be restrained so that they cannot distract or interfere with the driver of the vehicle, and in such a way that they will be safe in the event of a sudden stop. A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration survey included “Pet in Vehicle “ as a type of distraction that was found to be present in a significant proportion of crashes. In the event of a crash, an unrestrained pet can ricochet through the cabin creating severe impacts. At 44mph, research has shown, a 44lb dog can hit the seatback with ½ a ton of force. In the case of S. Dakota v. 15 Impounded Cats, the court found that police had acted lawfully in seizing 15 unrestrained cats from a car due to their presenting an “open and obvious safety hazard”. Pet seat belts, car seats & harnesses are available commercially at a variety of sites on line or at pet stores. These are the best way to secure your pet for car travel. In the absence of a purpose – designed restraint, I suggest the following. Cats should always be transported in a cat carrier. The carrier can be strapped into the front seat with the seat belt, or placed on the floor below the dash-board, depending on its size. If possible, dogs also should be transported in a well secured crate. The crate or carrier should be labeled with the pet’s ID & contact information. Dogs for which a crate is impractical should be leashed and made to sit down on the floor in front of the front passenger seat. The leash can then be looped outside the door and the door closed on the leash in such a way that the dog is restrained from jumping up onto the seat. On no account whatsoever should dogs be allowed to travel in the car with their head outside the window, or unrestrained on the flat-bed of a pick-up truck.

Air Travel With Your Pet

Regulations state that dogs and cats must be at least 8 weeks old and weaned at least 5 days before flying. Current Health and rabies vaccines certificates will be required. The pet must be examined by a veterinarian and the Health Certificate issued within 10 days of the flight. During this exam, any concerns about the pet’s health, diet, parasite control, and fitness for travel will be addressed. The pet can be brought up to date with its vaccinations. Older pets should have a full blood work-up. Pets should wear collars with complete identification and a license and rabies tag. Microchipping is advisable and also required for certain destinations.

Some foreign countries have specific requirements concerning rabies vaccination, testing, flea & tick control, and veterinary certification. Certification by a veterinarian accredited by the Department of Agriculture may be required in addition to a Health Certificate. Contact the consulate of the destination country preferably at least several weeks before the anticipated travel. Likewise for travel to Hawai’i, where arriving dogs must be quarantined in addition to having had all their shots.

Travelers should contact the airline in advance to check regulations and services to make reservations. At this time, determine whether your pet can accompany you in the cabin, or whether it will have to go below with the cargo. The cargo holds are typically pressurized, but not temperature controlled. Any pet small enough to fit should travel with you in the cabin, or else book a different flight. The airline will request that only well-behaved dogs ride in the cabin – no constant barkers or dogs that smell offensively. They will not be allowed out of the crate. Some airlines do not allow cabin travel on overseas flights.

The ASPCA warns of the danger of flying dogs in the cargo hold: they may overheat in the summer, or freeze in winter, especially if the plane is delayed on the runway for a long time. Suffocation i.e. fumes from other cargo like dry ice, mishandling, or getting loose & lost are other dangers associated with the cargo hold. If unavoidable, a direct midweek flight or one with minimum stops is strongly advised. The American Animal Hospital Association recommends during the summer, traveling with your pet in the evening or early morning. Short snouted dogs, such as boxers and English bulldogs, are particularly sensitive to heat. Early morning or late evening flights should be selected for them.

Some airlines will not ship dogs between May 15- September 15, when temperatures can be extreme, or if temperatures drop below 45 degrees, or exceed 85 at the destination. More stringent restrictions may be applied to short- nosed breeds such as pugs, boxers, bull dogs & shih-tzus. Some airlines may also embargo “scary” dogs such as adult Pit Bulls, Rottweilers and Dobermans.

Airlines maintain that they follow all the requirements of the 1966 Animal Welfare Act, and that out of approximately 500,000 animals flown each year, 99% arrive without incident, with the remainder mostly being not allowed to fly.

An appropriate travel crate is essential. The proper cage, available from most airlines or pet shops, should have the following features:

  • Large enough to let the animal stand up turn around and lay down.
  • Strong, free of interior protrusions, with handles or grips.
  • Leak-proof bottom covered with plenty of absorbent material or towels.
  • Ventilation on opposite sides, with exterior rims or knobs to prevent blocked air flow.
  • It must fasten securely but do not lock it.
  • Label “LIVE ANIMALS” with arrows indicating upright position, and the owners name, address, and phone number.
  • Freeze water in a bowl so it will not spill during loading but will soon melt for drinking.
  • For cabin travel, the carrier must be big enough for your pet to stand in, but must fit under the seat in front of you. A maximum size of 23 x 14 x 9 inches would be appropriate for a 20lb dog or cat.

On the day of travel, the pet should be exercised, & placed in the crate by the owner. Don’t forget to pack some favorite toys, bowl, leash and regular diet.

Do not tranquilize your dog or cat for the flight. This can interfere with breathing and with thermoregulation and is associated with an increased mortality.

Airlines do not allow pets to be checked in at curbside, and advise allowing extra time for check-in. Homeland Security will also insist on removing your pet from its crate so that the crate can be inspected.

Be a pest! Tell every airline employee you meet how concerned you are about your pet, especially dogs travelling in cargo. Ask to be able to watch your dog being loaded onboard. Ask that if there are extended layovers or delays, that your dog be taken off the plane or tarmac.

Finally, owners should consider whether the pet is comfortable with traveling. Some animals do not function well in unfamiliar surroundings, and an unhappy pet can make a trip miserable for everyone. Some ill or physically impaired dogs and cats cannot withstand the rigors of travel. If this is the case, veterinarians advise pet owners to leave pets with a friend or relative or at a clean, well-run boarding kennel