Exploring International Travel With Your Cat: Things to Consider
By Louise E. December 31, 2018
You are on the couch, covered in blankets and wearing 3 pairs of socks. It’s 5:00 pm and pitch dark outside. You dream of a week, or a month, in the tropics. Or you are reading the latest magazine article on the “Top Ten Places to Go in Europe” and dream of packing a backpack and touring the continent. But, in each of these scenarios, you remember your beloved furry baby, the light of your life - your cat - and you couldn't possibly leave him behind.
Good news: you can bring him along! It just takes careful research, planning, and money.
The key to the process of readying your cat for international travel is PATIENCE. A lot of patience. In some ways, it’s a “hurry up and wait” process full of rushing to get things ready for various vet appointments, and then the slow wait to hear back from government agencies on both sides of the border. Let’s start investigating to see what is involved, so we can make this dream a reality!
To begin, consider your cat’s personality and health to decide if he is a good candidate for travel. Destructive cats may destroy hotel rooms and rental properties resulting in significant payments for damages. Fearful cats may develop behavioral problems due to the stress and the new environment. The best candidate is an easy-going, curious, self-reliant, indoor cat.
Next, consider if your cat is healthy enough to travel. If your cat is visibly ill, he may not be allowed to enter your destination country at all. Or, if your cat has ongoing health problems that require special medication, treatment, or food, he might not be a good candidate for international travel. Many countries do not have the vet services that the US has. This is especially true if you’re traveling to remote areas or to developing countries.
If your cat is good-natured and healthy, make sure you have the basics of pet ownership covered:
- Pet microchip with your most recent contact information. Very important in case you get separated from your cat at some point while traveling.
- An ID tag securely attached to your furry friend. Even if you think he’d never run away, the unexpected can always happen while traveling.
- Up-to-date rabies vaccine given as soon as possible, or at the very least, 30 days prior to entering the country. All countries check for this vaccine.
- Other common vaccines to protect your cat: herpes (rhinotracheitis), calici, panleukopenia or feline distemper, and feline leukemia.
The next step is research. The process of getting your cat to travel typically has many steps, so start early.
Look up your destination country’s pet entry requirements and make sure they are on a government website. This has to be done for every single country you are visiting with your cat. If you are touring Europe, it’s true that the European Union has streamlined many things for travel, but there are still differences in entry requirements for cats. For example, some countries require treatment for the parasite Echinococcus, including the United Kingdom. Other countries require vaccines against feline enteritis and Chlamydia Psittaci. And still other countries require blood tests. During this time, you will be working closely with your vet to schedule appointments and prepare the needed documents to satisfy your destination country’s requirements.
Your vet will have to fill out the Annex IV and APHIS 7001 forms for the country you will be visiting along with any other forms the government may list on their website. The forms may be referred to as your cat’s Health Certificate or Sanitary Certificate. Your vet will also need to complete an inoculation record for you to bring. This is also called a Rabies Certificate. This entire collection of papers is your cat’s “Passport.”
If you are going to a country that speaks another language, it’s best if you can bring translated copies of the forms. In fact, it’s often required. Some vet offices are able to do this, but if they are unable to, you’ll have to do it yourself or find a native speaker to help you.
Once your vet has completed the examinations and given the necessary vaccines and treatments, the next step is to contact your local USDA. The USDA must also sign off on the forms in order for your cat to travel, and they currently charge $38 for their approval. If you live in a city with a USDA office, then you can call to make an appointment and go in person to get the signatures. Otherwise, factor in at least a week to mail or fax the form from the vet to the USDA, and then wait to receive the approved form back from the USDA.
Once you get all of the signed documents, make sure you make digital and paper copies. Store one set in your luggage as back-up, and store the others with the cat so you’ll be able to give a set to whoever asks. You should carry a copy for each country you visit for their records.
Beyond the cat requirements, there are flight and airport requirements you should check before purchasing your ticket. Consider your arrival time. Most airports only have staff that can approve your cat on hand during the day, so always avoid overnight arrivals. In India for example, staff is only available between 5am and 12pm (noon), Monday through Friday. For smaller airports, call the airport in advance to make sure someone is there. Moreover, cats may only be allowed to arrive at certain airports, so be sure to check all of these things before purchasing a ticket. Plus, for your pet’s comfort, try to avoid multiple connections and long layovers. It’s best to pay a little more to make the experience as short as possible.
To bring your pet as a carry-on, you will need to notify your airline as soon as possible about your cat. Different airlines have different requirements, but generally, they will need to make sure you are assigned a seat that has storage space in front of it. There will also be a fee for bringing a cat. This fee ranges from $150-$250 depending on the airline. Consider it your cat’s plane ticket.
Once you get to the departure airport, all of your hard work begins to pay off! You will go up to the ticket counter of your airline to check in both yourself and your cat and pay the additional pet fees. The ticket agent may need to check your cat’s travel documents.
Afterwards, you will go through the TSA check. Security will ask you to take your cat out of the carrier and carry him through the metal detector. Be sure he doesn’t have any bells or metal tags on his collar! Then, it will be time to finally board the plane.
If possible, you should bring your cat with you in the cabin as your carry-on rather than having him stay in cargo. Keep him with you so he feels safe. If you’re bringing him into the cabin, you will need to purchase a soft travel case that can be stored beneath the seat in front of you.
However, if you are traveling with more than one cat, or if your cat cannot fit under a seat, they will need to be placed in cargo. Cargo crate requirements will be listed on your airline’s website. Sadly, the cargo area is often cold and loud, which can be very stressful for your beloved pet. Read on to learn how to minimize discomfort.
Regardless of the type of carrier, take some time before the trip to get your cat accustomed to it. Let him smell and explore it, and practice putting him in and taking him out. You can also practice taking your pet for short car trips to see how he behaves. Does he vomit? Drool? Go insane? You should be prepared for these possibilities. Bring paper towels or absorbent pads along with some plastic bags in case you need them.
To help with your cat’s anxiety, pack his favorite toy in the carrier with him. For long flights, be sure that you’ve brought along his favorite food and a small bowl for water. Some cats have a tendency to stop eating, drinking, and defecating while traveling, but they should have the chance to do all of the above, especially drinking water.
If your cat gets motion sickness in the car, if he is going to be in cargo, or if you just want the on board experience to be as pleasant as possible, talk to your vet about possible medications. There are kitty versions of motion sickness medications and kitty tranquilizers. Consult your vet on the options that are available to you. Also be sure to ask for enough medication for the return trip!
Once you arrive, it’s show-time! You will be carrying your cat through customs at the arrival airport and be taken aside to have your furry friend and his papers examined. Factor in this extra time, and don’t schedule events right after you land. If your cat is visibly sick, the officials may require an additional examination by a veterinarian or they may deny him entry entirely. Otherwise, the officials will take a look at your cat, review the paperwork, and let you both in! Congrats!
While you are staying abroad, your cat may need additional treatments since these unfamiliar countries may have new parasites. Lice, tiny ticks, and fleas all seem to come from nowhere. The local water may have microscopic parasites that wreak havoc on your cat’s tiny digestive system. And most people don’t know this, but mosquitoes can carry heartworm! If you are going to a swampy, jungle-y region with tons of mosquitoes, your baby will need ongoing heartworm treatment. Your vet should be able to give you enough medication to last the length of your trip and show you how to administer them.
The most extreme pet entry requirements are courtesy of Australia. As a country with a very unique and sensitive ecosystem of native animals (and no rabies) the government keeps a tight control of what animals can come in. The process for approval takes several months of work before you leave the US. Even then, your cat is required to be in quarantine in a facility near Melbourne for at least 10 days for monitoring purposes.
Even our neighbor to the south, Mexico, has forms and requirements for cat entry, so don’t take a spontaneous drive to Tijuana!
And finally, what hoops do you need to jump through to bring your cat back into the US? Almost none! As of this writing, the US has no entry requirements for cats, but most states require rabies vaccinations. Other than that, you will need to notify the airline, pay the plane ticket for your cat, and show up! Your cat will be so happy to come home.
Lastly, a helpful website with relevant links and useful information is the CDC website related to traveling with pets. Good luck and happy travels!