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Traveling with Your Cat

By: PetPlace Staff

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A week on Cape Cod. A drive up the California coast. Ten days visiting the castles on the Loire. There are countless ways to spend a vacation, but before you start making plans, you have to answer the big question: Do you take the cat with you or leave her at home? Here are some guidelines to help you decide what's best.

Where Are You Going?

If you're going abroad, the policies of the nation you're visiting may make the decision for you. Some countries – such as Great Britain, for instance – require quarantines that may last 6 months or longer. Some nations, such as Canada or Mexico, only require you to show proof of vaccination. Canada requires proof of rabies vaccination within the past 3 years while Mexico requires proof of vaccination within the past year.

By the way, if you plan to travel to Hawaii, you should be aware that the state is considered "rabies-free." State law requires you to quarantine your pet for 6 months.

Other Factors to Consider:

  • A few days in the sun may be just the ticket for you, but the heat may be too much for your pet: Check with your veterinarian before heading off to the beach.

  • Some places are prone to infectious diseases such as Lyme disease or giardia (an intestinal parasite). Check with your veterinarian about prevention strategies.

  • Whether you're planning to cross an international border or just crossing from state to state, you need a health certificate for each animal traveling with you. The form, valid for 10 days, must be completed by an accredited veterinarian as proof that the animal doesn't have any contagious diseases.

    Getting There by Plane

    Within the United States, an estimated 160 million people and 500,000 pets travel by air each year. This summer, flying with a pet in tow has become more expensive – and complicated – than it used to be. Generally speaking, cats are small enough to be able to travel as carry-on, but the rules vary from carrier to carrier. Check your carrier's regulations before you make your reservations. For more information on individual airline policies, see Airline Rules for Traveling with Cats.

    If your cat is going cargo, you have to ship him in an airline-approved carrier; if he's flying in the cabin, his carrier has to fit under your seat.

    Getting There By Car

    During summer drives, keep the air-conditioner going. If you make a stop, never leave an animal alone in a closed car, where he can overheat. Even on a cloudy day a short trip into the grocery store can turn fatal. The same is true in cool weather. A closed metal car, if exposed to the sun, can still turn into an oven. Other points to consider:

  • Pets are safest in a crate (see below).

  • If you're traveling long distances, bring bottles of water, food, litter and litter box, treats, special blankets and toys.

  • Train your cat early to like the car: lessons should start when he's a kitten. Take short neighborhood rides, gradually increasing the distance as the animal becomes more accustomed. And don't forget to praise him lavishly when he behaves.

  • Your cat should be microchipped and his license and identification tags engraved with your with name and address. Some people add a neighbor or relative's name; if you're traveling, the finder can reunite you and your pet through that contact.

  • Carry your pet's vaccination and medical records with you.

  • Take along your pet's regular food; Changing his diet on the road can stress him out. To avoid carsickness, don't feed your pet for three to four hours before leaving home. Also, bring litter and a litter box.

    The Issue of Sedation

    Many owners ask whether they should sedate their pets on long trips in the airplane or the car. In general, many veterinarians do not recommend tranquilizing or sedating pets on trips. Sedatives have the potential to cause side effects in pets, which may be severe enough to require medical treatment. This is why most veterinarians oppose tranquilizing pets traveling by airliners. Traveling as cargo, a pet is not continually supervised by the crew or the owner, so they may be unaware of an emergency. In addition, should an emergency occur, there isn't any chance of stopping off at a veterinary clinic or hospital.

    For more information on sedation, see the story The Pros and Cons of Sedation. Always consult your veterinarian about sedation before making a decision.

    A Crate or Carrier is a Must

    Whether you're going by car or by plane, invest in a sturdy airline-approved carrier with enough space for your pet to move around easily, stand up and lay down. Mark it clearly with your name, address and phone number, up arrows and attach "Live Animal" stickers to it.

  • Make sure the carrier has fixed food and water bowls and secure doors. Ventilation holes should cover at least 14 percent of the wall surface of the carrier, with most of them at the top half of the box. Bowls should be accessible without opening the carrier door.

  • A few weeks before your trip, start getting your pet used to the carrier. Leave it out in your home, with the door open. Let the animal go in and out on his own. Once he's comfortable with the crate, close the door for 5 or 10 minutes. When you let him out, don't make a big production: This could make the animal equate the carrier with punishment, release with reward.

    Where to Stay

    There are plenty of hotels and motels that will make your pet welcome. Some may charge special fees and/or damage deposits. Make reservations well in advance.

  • If you're traveling with a cat, change the litter daily to reduce odors.

  • Place a blanket or your pet's regular bed on the floor to minimize shedding on the carpet. Do not let him sleep on the furniture.

  • Put the "Do Not Disturb" sign on your door whenever your pet is in the room. If you don't, the housekeeper may be injured or accidentally let your pet escape.

    Leaving a cat alone in an unfamiliar room is never a good idea. If you have to, put your cat in his crate. Shut the door and wait outside a few minutes to make sure he doesn't start meowing or howling. If he does, you've no choice: You'll have to take him with you.

    The bottom line: Think of other pet owners coming behind you. Don't ruin it for them!

    When to Leave Your Pet Home

    Your veterinarian can help you decide whether to take your pet with you or put him in a kennel. If you decide to leave him behind, ask your vet to recommend a place for him to stay or recommend a pet sitter.

  • A few weeks before you plan to leave, stop by and check out the space. Make sure it is clean and inquire about temperature control, ventilation and light. Take a look at the playroom and see if the animals have enough room to exercise.

  • Once you've chosen a kennel, make reservations early and confirm them. Many kennels suggest that you leave a piece of your clothing so your pet has something familiar and comforting. When you drop off your pet, don't stage an emotional "farewell." Pets are sensitive to your emotions and this may create anxiety. Be sure to leave your veterinarian's number and a number where you can be reached in case of emergency.

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