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