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Preparing to travel with pets - a personal experience

I seem to be unable to stop moving around the world with my family and pets. We are now on our fifth country move, and my 12 year-old cat has more air miles than most of the people I know. Here is how I prepare to move half way around the world with pets in tow. Should I take my pet? First of all, you have to consider your pet’s personality and health. I have always taken my pets with me, but if I had had an extremely fearful pet or a very sick pet, I would have considered re-homing him or her. Travelling on an airplane is a very stressful experience for a pet, but the majority of reasonably healthy, well-balanced pets cope. Can I take my pet? Most airlines will not take snub-nosed breeds of dogs and cats and a few have a list of dogs classified as “dangerous dogs” which they will refuse to transport. Some countries will also refuse to import certain breeds of dogs or pets from certain countries. Check this carefully before you commit to go.

The Travel Crate. As soon as you know you are going and you have decided to take your pet with you, sort out their travel crate. The crate should be wide enough for your dog or cat to turn around and high enough for them to sit. It needs to have ventilation holes on all sides and be approved for airline travel by the IATA. I would advise you to acquire the crate as early as possible and to leave it out somewhere in your house - preferably for weeks or even months before you travel. Once your pet is happy going into it, feed them in there, put toys and treats in there. You can also try putting a comfy blanket or something similar in the crate. I also put my dirty laundry in there. It’s very important not to force your pet into it but to build up your pet’s positive experiences in the crate, bit by bit, and to make it smell as much like home as possible.

You are aiming for a pet as relaxed as this in their crate before you go. Getting your pet relaxed in their travel crate is a very, very important step. The crate needs to be a safe place for them. Please note it is not enough to put a worn T-shirt in there, and then send your pet off, travelling in a crate they have never seen or stepped foot in before a few hours prior to your departure! Vaccinations. Another thing to organize as soon as you know that you are going would be any additional vaccinations. You don’t want your pets to be travelling while suffering any after-effects of recent vaccinations. Check what is necessary for your new country; there is a chance that different vaccines or blood tests are necessary. Bodywork. I also do some bodywork as soon as I know I will be moving, and then just before the trip. A visit to an osteopath, Emmett or Bowen practitioner will ensure that your pet is as physically comfortable as possible during their long journey. Relocation Company. If you can, use a pet relocation company to help you with the paperwork required for your move. Keeping your own stress levels as low as possible will help your pet. Some countries have a lot of hoops to jump though prior to departure, so the specialist advice can be really helpful. However, even if you use a relocation company, I would still be as ‘hands on’ as possible: go with your dog or cat to any veterinary appointments and be with them as much as you can until the moment they are taken off to the airplane. Also, to err is human, so do double-check all the paperwork. Above all, check that your pet’s microchip number on all the paperwork is correct! The flight. Big dogs generally have to travel ‘cargo’, that is, in the cargo hold of the airplane. Look at the route carefully. If you need to change planes to get to your final destination try, if at all possible, to make your connections in a dog-friendly country. Also, check that the connection does not take place in the middle of the day in a very hot country. I have also flown on the same flight as my pets, and generally, if you ask, the airline crew are happy to verify that your pet has been loaded onto the plane. Small dogs and cats can sometimes travel in the cabin with you. Always take advantage of this if you can. If you have the choice of airlines, check them all to see if cabin travel is possible. Your pet will be much happier travelling near you. Take a towel or blanket to cover the travel crate and a couple of clean puppy toilet training pads, so if your pet soils his crate, you can take them to the toilet and clean everything up, and put a new pad down in the crate. Unfortunately, pets travelling in the cargo hold don’t have this luxury so, for them, use absorbent bedding and choose a crate with an elevated plastic bottom, so any urine can drain away from where the animal is sitting. Nowadays it is generally not advised to sedate your animals. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) says - “in most cases cats and dogs should not be given sedatives or tranquilizers prior to flying. An animal's natural ability to balance and maintain equilibrium is altered under sedation, which can be dangerous when the kennel is moved. Whether flying as a cabin or checked pet, animals are exposed to increased altitude pressures, which can create respiratory and cardiovascular problems for dogs and cats which are sedated or tranquilized." Quarantine. If you are travelling to a country with quarantine, visit your pet as much as the visiting times allow. If you are far from the quarantine station or feel that visiting your pets and then leaving would be too stressful for them, you can often pay someone to walk your dog or play with your cat. This may make their experience better. In some countries, you may be able to pay a ‘facilitator’ to get your pet out of quarantine sooner than the end of the standard quarantine period. If you can afford to do this, then I would strongly advise it; and certainly don’t be afraid to ask if this is possible. Otherwise, take some small gifts for the quarantine station staff during your visits. They are the ones taking care of your pet so it’s worth looking after them with a few biscuits or chocolates for example.

Home! Finally when you get your pets home, please remember they have experienced a short-term stressful event. They need time to recover. They also have to adapt to a new home. From observing my own pets, I would say that they need 6 to 8 weeks to recover from the flight and settle in. Spend as much time with them as possible: make sure they get lots of rest, introduce them to their new environment slowly (you don’t have to everything the first week). They may be extra clingy at first, and that is ok. Make some compromises so they can be with you - move their bed into your bedroom, for example. Your dog may act up on the lead outside, so do very short, very slow walks. Remember: go slow. Give dogs lots to chew and sniff. Give all your pets plenty of opportunities to rest somewhere where they feel comfortable. Everything will probably go back to how it was in your old home, but it will take a bit of time. Bon voyage! Samantha Pyke is a dog trainer working in Paris, France.

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