Danville Express

Living - June 29, 2007

The Pet Vet says... Tips for flying with kitty

by Dr. Heidi Strand

Q. I'm going to be moving to another state and a much larger house in a few months. I'm going to be flying out and my cat is going to be with me. My husband is following with a truck. How can I make her comfortable and reduce the trauma of moving?

A. If there's one thing cats hate, it's going places. Flying is usually less stressful (for them, anyways) than driving, especially during the hot summer months. Hopefully, your cat will be able to travel in the aircraft cabin with you on your trip. Pets may also travel in the cargo area of the plane, as there is typically a weight limit on pets that travel in the cabin. Be sure to check with your airline first. Each airline has different rules. Southwest Airlines, for example, doesn't allow pets at all, either in the cabin or in cargo, except for service animals. Airlines will often charge extra and have specific requirements about the size of the pet carrier, the size of the animal, and the need for a health certificate and current vaccinations. You want to be fully prepared so you don't have any problems once you arrive for the flight. Leaving your cat behind will not be an option once you are at the airport!

Once you decide on your pet carrier for the trip, leave it lying around open for your cat to investigate. You don't want the first time she sees the pet carrier to be the day you are flying, so do this as much ahead of time as you can. She will sniff at it and maybe even walk in on her own, particularly if you leave a few treats in there for her to discover. A small towel or T-shirt with her scent on it will also make the carrier more comfortable for her while you're traveling

At the airport, be sure you have your cat's health certificate and vaccination records handy in case the check-in agent asks for them. The last time I flew with my cat in the cabin, I was required to take him out and carry him through the metal detector while the carrier went through the X-ray machine. At that point, I was really wishing I had fitted him with a harness, just to be able to snap on a leash for extra security in case he tried to jump out of my arms. So be forewarned - in addition to taking off your shoes and taking out your ziplock baggie of toiletries, you may be wrangling the cat as well.

In the aircraft cabin it's probably safer and less stressful to leave your cat in the carrier. It might also be required by the flight crew. Bring a bowl in which to put water during the flight, such as a small ceramic bowl that doesn't tip. (If your pet is going by cargo, the airlines will have strict guidelines as to what can and can't be included in the carrier.) I don't usually recommend sedating pets during travel, for safety reasons, but your veterinarian may have a different recommendation.

Once you arrive at your new home, it's best to keep kitty confined to one room while you're getting the house settled. Set up a room with food, water and a litter box, and let the cat get acclimated for a short period of time. Getting familiar with the sounds and smells of the new space will give her comfort when she does have full access to the house. If you allow your cat outside, wait at least six weeks for her to get used to the inside of the house first, before exposing her to the new outdoors. And be sure to have her microchipped before you go, just in case!

--Dr. Heidi Strand is a veterinarian for the East Bay SPCA in Dublin. She has lived in the Tri-Valley for 10 years with her family and an assortment of four-legged friends. Questions can be mailed to 315 Diablo Road, Suite 100, Danville 94526; or e-mailed to hstrand@eastbayspca.org. Her column runs every other week.


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