Bringing the pets along can be a wonderful yet harrowing experience. I’ll never forget the day I spent stuck at Customs wondering if I would ever see my furry family member again because the vet had forgotten to sign one of a dozen forms. Our cat wasn’t faring much better trapped in a cage in that building full of barking dogs after his 12 hour flight.
It all worked out for us in the end. We spent the day waiting for the vet to wake up in our country of departure, properly signed documents were faxed, and this was finally released to us:
Image from the ride home after customs
It took him a couple of days to recover. I think it took me several weeks. We have learned a few things since then, mostly by trial and error – emphasis on the error.
Legalities and Preparation
Every country has their own specific rules regarding the entry of animals. Check their laws and check early. Sometimes it takes months of preparation depending on just how ridiculous and extensive the requirements are. There are companies that specialize in getting cats through customs in you have the extra dough to throw around. My best advice: always, always have a backup plan. Pets, unlike luggage, cannot be replaced.
Bring familiar foods
You may love the local cuisine. A finicky cat may not share your enthusiasm. Not all cat foods are created equal. Even if a store carries some of the same familiar brand names, the ingredients are likely to vary greatly from country to country. We found a huge difference in protein levels in cat food between countries – or I should say our cat did by showing worrying levels of lethargy from the low-protein local feline cuisine after a move. Even if feeding a cat a raw foods or homemade diet, be aware that meat and general food quality can vary vastly. The safest bet would be to bring along enough food to allow time to find an acceptable local cat food and transition over to it without causing any food bowl related trauma.
And safe water
If you are drinking bottled water in a new location, don’t forget to share it with the pets. They can be just as affected by low quality tap water.
And familiar toys/bedding
We all find comfort in the little things from home, cats included. Our older cat prefers his fold up bed. Our younger one loves her toys (also fold up for the most part).
And familiar friends
Travelling companions are always a plus. Our newest addition turns two this year and we couldn’t imagine life without her.
Soft vs hard carriers
Hard carriers are required by most airlines. They can be bulky and may not work for everyday travel, however they do give more room for food, water and general moving around during longer trips. Soft carriers, on the other hand, are like soft luggage or a large purse but designed for pet travel. There is less room inside, but for small cats and kittens they can provide a much easier and less conspicuous mode of short term transport. The soft carriers are also naturally held much closer to the body which makes comforting an anxious cat that much easier.
Leashes and harnesses are for show only
Our cats are accustomed to harnesses. They’ll even delight people by seemingly walking along on a leash as if they were well behaved. If they see a dog, or anything else for that matter, they will have completely slipped even the most secure harness in under 0.2 seconds. I personally would not recommend harnesses as anything other than a novelty.
Most of all, listen to your cat…
We’ve learned plenty just by being aware of our cats’ behaviors as they adjust. As it turns out, they like a lot of the same things we do – sunny days, relatively peaceful environments, good food, the occasional nap, new toys and adventures now and then to keep things interesting.