24 hours portal to portal with two cats that have never traveled. If that doesn’t create fear in your belly I am not sure what will. That, however, was the reality of what I was looking at. I would be traveling overseas with my husband and two cats.
Like most of you, I have great cats, but they have their idiosyncrasies. So I began their preparations with travel training. The below tips and recommendations should make any travel you have a breeze.
1 Know the country’s parameters. All countries have different rules and regulations for traveling with animals. Don’t look for a nice trip abroad where your cat has to stay in quarantine for 3 months! Luckily for us there were virtually zero regulations from the country we were traveling to and certainly no quarantine. They did request the same documentation needed by the airlines to fly but that will bring us to item number two.
2. Know your airline’s parameters. We had to change airlines after booking because Turkish Airlines, a very comfortable airline with great food and good prices, does not allow cats to travel in the cabin at all. Dogs yes. Cats no. We found the same with Norwegian Airlines, a terrible airline with awful food and bad service but great prices, the would also not let cats in the cabin. We ended up with Austrian Air, a wonderful airline we have never travelled before which ended up having great food, service and prices. While our cats were allowed in the cabin, they did not allow them to travel as ESA, but that will be a whole other post. We were able to reserve seats in the back of the plane that were only two across and I highly recommend this trick as we did not have to bother with anyone else complaining about our perfectly perfect cats. We did have to present a health certificate in order to allow them to fly. They looked at it upon check in.
3. Get Health Certificate. Be sure to check the dates and regulations. For one, if your cat was chipped with an AVID chip they are not recognized overseas. You need to use an ISO compliant chip. If you need to re-chip your cat, please note that they must receive their rabies shot AFTER being chipped. For most countries the EU laws are used (even if the country is only trying to get in to the EU) and they state that the health certificate must be done within 10 days of traveling! Please make sure that you time your trip to the vet on time! Here is a government link where you can check the details of the country you are going to. https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/pet-travel
4. Get drugs. While I have to admit I was extremely nervous about the cats traveling and probably could have used some drugs myself, the drugs I am speaking of will help your cat deal with the long travel time of overseas travel. We were recommended to use gabapentin. If you have heard of this drug before it may be because it is also used for humans related to nerve pain and other conditions. It is commonly used to calm anxiety in cats and it does NOT cause full sedation. It did cause both the cats and the humans on this trip to relax and almost enjoy. They, much like my husband, slept for 8-9 hours of the 11 hour flight. So while at the vet for your health certificate, talk to them about getting some gabapentin for your cat.
5. Prepare your Carrier. My cats do not like the carrier. I am a vet tech so my outside trips to vets are few and far between, so they rarely use one. I knew I had to spend time creating a happy carrier vibe for them. We bought two Sherpas from World Wise. I had heard great things about these but I found them to be a bit small and lacking storage space. We ended up buying pencil cases and attaching them to the outside to allow them to have their own ‘carry on luggage.’ This turned out to be a great move which I will explain later on. Two weeks prior to our departure I began giving them treat time in, on and around the carriers. They eventually began going into the carriers on their own to get treats. I also used a pinch of catnip here and there to help them enjoy the space and create a positive association with the carrier. Finally the carrier was not a scary place for them. This was exactly what I was going for. My last step before loading them in for the long trip was some sprays of feliway pheromones.
6. Harness training. Stop watching the youtube videos with cats tipping over the first time they are put into a harness. Remember how you fell over the first time you got on a bicycle? Did your parents say “yeah, the kid hates that bike, let’s take it back”? No of course not. Most cats are not good when it comes to change, but, just like people, the more change they deal with, the wider their acceptance level will be. So begin training them in the harness weeks prior to your departure. Don’t worry about the leash as you will only be using the leash in this landscape as a precautionary measure, not for walks! First, make sure YOU understand how the harness goes on them. I find many people put them on backwards or upside down. The D ring (where the leash attaches) should be between the shoulder blades, not the neck or the belly. Once you put them in the harness, you will want to give them their favorite treat. Keep it on only for a few minutes. The next day put it on again for a little longer. Don’t forget the treats. If they are managing well with it try putting it on at ‘bedtime.’ If your cat is still in the harness in the morning, you have reached your goal!
7. Pack Kitty a Carry On Bag. As I mentioned, our pet carriers did not have ample pockets for us to pack the necessary items for our cats. We ended up adding on to the bag and creating outside pockets. Here are the things you do not want to travel without:
- Churru! Have you seen these “GoGurt” like snacks for your cats? In this case it is not just that cats love them that makes them great for travel, it is that they are so damn portable! Note that your cats will not eat nearly as much as they normally do at home; don’t let that make you nervous. Having these super portable snacks made feeding really easy. https://inabausa.com/churu-purees/
- Pheromones spray – I use Feliway These use a synthetic product that mimics the calming pheromones found in the glands around a cat’s face. While they aren’t detectable by people, cats can experience positive effects from exposure. https://www.feliway.com/
- Disposable paper dishes. These were very helpful in letting the cats eat a bit of dry food.
https://www.amazon.com/Paper-Food-Tray-Red-Plaid/dp/B079582WBS . Don’t forget to use Smile Amazon and link your account to your favorite cat rescue! It doesn’t cost you a penny.
- Treats. Whatever your cat loves. Real treats. Doesn’t have to be good for them but something they will equate with true comfort and joy!
8. Bring Towels or Pee Pads. Don’t be surprised if they don’t use the toilet, but be prepared in case they do! We brought a small old towel we would have happily tossed in the garbage had they used it and we lined their carriers with pee pads. Our cats did not go while on the plane. During our short layover of 30 minutes to change flights, I took them each into the bathroom and stimulated them much like I have done to thousands of kittens over my years in rescue. We had a wee bit of success, enough to make me feel comfortable boarding the next small leg of our journey.
9. Have a Blanket. If should be noted that most of the flight attendants loved the cats. There were some though, that wanted to go straight by the book so, we used a blanket to help mask some of the actions of the cats. After the cats woke from their long naps they wanted a bit of human interaction and they sat still and comfortable on our laps for a bit. Until one flight attendant told us they had to remain under the seat. So we covered them with a blanket on my lap and that seemed to take care of that issue. One cat then was perfectly happy laying on top of her carrier under the seat. I held onto the leash for safety and she was comfortable until needing to return to her carrier for landing.
10. When to Board. You know when they have an early boarding call for passengers who need more time getting settled or have small children? That’s you. Your children are furry and you will need more time.
11. Arriving at your Destination. I had all of the cats’ documentation in the same folder as our passports so they would be at the ready when called for. Aside from when we first boarded the plane in California they were never asked for again. We sailed through customs and border patrol without incident. This does not mean, however, that you will, so please make sure you have your documentation readily available.
12. The rental car. Did I mention that our cats hate the carrier? They had been great through this trip but now that we had a bit of a road trip ahead of us where we set the rules we let the cats travel in the car wearing their harnesses and on leash. They mostly wanted to stay in the footwell in the passenger area of the car. This worked great for all. When they wanted to get up I had their leash and could either secure them to the seatbelt or on my lap. During the stops along the way the cats came out on their harnesses for some water and grass to do their business.
13. Getting Settled. Because our stay was for more than just a little vacation, we weren’t going to a hotel, we had rented an apartment. Make sure that whatever accommodations you are going to know that you are bringing pets with you. We used the pheromone spray again at the new place. We closed off some rooms to keep the space small at first so they could explore and become comfortable.
We made it, and everyone is acclimating to their new surroundings. The most important tip comes here at the very end: throughout the transition make sure the cats have plenty of attention, so they know that while some things have changed, your love for them has not.