How do you safely travel with your pet overseas?

How do you safely travel with your pet overseas?
Help me get this guy to his new home safely.
I'm looking for some advice. My husband and I are moving to Sweden at the end of the month from Seattle. We are taking our giant cat Hax0r with us. He is too heavy to fly in the cabin, and will have to go under the plane as cargo.

Sadly, all I can find online are horror stories about lost or injured pets.

Have you ever traveled overseas with your fur baby? What advice would you give?

I could really use some success stories to help calm my tits over the whole thing. –Cherisse

Oof, just the idea of putting my beasts in the cargo hold of a plane causes enough anxiety that I'll never do anything but drive with them. But what if you're taking them somewhere a car can't go? International moves… taking your pet to Hawaii… who has tips on safely traveling with your pet overseas?

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  1. While this may not be an option for you (for monetary or personal reasons), some companies do offer animal transport internationally. IPATA would be a good place to start looking: http://www.ipata.org/

    2 agree
  2. I moved from the states to Germany with my German Shepherd a few years ago. It was a lot of hassle, but so, so worth it.
    The hardest/most annoying part was getting all the paperwork together (and also getting her used to the crate).
    Make sure you get an early start on the paperwork, as it can take FOREVER. I had to have a certified vet fill out paperwork, and not all vets are certified – in my case we were seen that day by a new vet whose certification hadn't gone through the state office yet, so I had to go back and get the paperwork filled out again by the head vet at my vet's office. Then that paperwork also had to be sent to the capital to be signed by the state vet, then mailed back to me. Which of course takes about nine years… My dog also needed to get micro-chipped and a new Rabies vac because they only accept annual vaccinations even though she had had a two or three year vac just the year before.
    Make sure your crate meets your air carrier's regulations, of course – call ahead to be safe as some may vary.
    If you haven't booked your flights yet, check beforehand on the cost. Lufthansa would have charged me $250 for a Shepherd (I think $150 for smaller animals), but on Air Berlin is was only about $80 (this was a few years ago, so it may have since changed). Also check the connection times – I would have had a long connection time and they couldn't tell me if I would be allowed to take her out for walkies during that time, so I instead opted to forgo the connection and have someone pick me up by car.
    Ten days before the flight I had to take her to the vet again to get a certified clean bill of health for her.
    They checked all her paperwork diligently at check-in, so keep it on hand and nicely organized.
    It was a lot of legwork in the prep, but everything went smoothly for the actual trip. There were actually quite a few pets on that flight down in cargo. When we arrived, they were all sitting in their crates for pick-up at oversized baggage, groggy but healthy. I was expecting them to check all that paperwork thoroughly again at customs, but no one looked at it at all! Not even to make sure I had the right dog…
    My dog was 12 at the time, so naturally I was pretty worried about her, but she handled it like a Weltmeister πŸ™‚ and hung around for almost five more years.

    12 agree
    • I'm sorry for your hardships and glad it all worked out at the end, but all I could think about after reading the first sentence was "she's repatriating her dog, how nice." Sorry (not sorry) πŸ˜‰

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      • Yes πŸ™‚
        Actually, this came into consideration when we got our new dog. We opted for an Australian Shepherd rather than risking a Siberian Husky, just in case it works again.

        7 agree
    • Thanks for this! We're looking at the exact opposite trip in a few years and are already not looking forward to it…

      1 agrees
  3. I would seriously call the airline first. Traveling in the heat of summer with pets in the hold is especially risky, and many airlines have temperature limits as to when they will accept pets due to the potential of being stuck on the tarmac in an un-air conditioned hold. If possible, ask/travel on an airline with hold space that has air conditioning/heat in at least part of the hold–it is worthwhile to check and may cost more to travel on one that has it (and to guarantee a spot for your cat), but much better for the pet overall.

    I would only do direct flights, if at all possible, due to time of year and desire to avoid sitting on a hot tarmac in sweltering heat. Again, if not possible on a commercial flight, I would look into pet carrier companies that may be able to do so.

    Check with Swedish customs regarding the paperwork needed–you may have to quarantine your cat (some places used to be as long as a month, such as the UK to avoid rabies, which they have now changed). Getting a full vet checkup and all paperwork as close to leaving as possible (as suggested by FriendlyDalek) is totally correct–they usually have limits as to how recent the paperwork must be. The Swedish consulate in Seattle (is there one? If not, DC) should be able to help you out.

    For the flight itself, do NOT look for tranquilizers, etc. They make things worse as they can affect the cats ability to self-regulate their stress. Try to include a sweatshirt, towel, or favorite blanket that smells of yourself so they have something familiar in the crate, and don't make the mistake of buying too large a crate–they can actually bang around in stress and hurt themselves or get flung around in turbulence! If your cat has a habit of messing the crate when you go to the vet, etc, try to use a crate that enables them to lay down and curl up, but won't let them stand to spray, etc. You do have to include the container for food and water (attached firmly to the front grid), but generally they are left empty and airline workers are responsible for adding food or water if the time in the crate is over a certain limit (you provide the food in one of the spaces in the top, the airline will add water). Note that they do *not* feed/water animals during the flight, to my knowledge.

    If you have multistop flights, try to have the name/contact # of a person in each city in case of emergency listed on stickers visible on the outside of the crate–not just your name and contact #. Including name/contact # of someone in Seattle and someone in Sweden other than yourselves–worst case scenario and kitty separated from yourself due to logistics and then somehow gets loose, you want the airline to be able to call someone who will be able to do something to help–or even pick up kitty if you were redirected to Switzerland and kitty ended up in Sweden!

    Good luck, it is very stressful, but my 2 kitties traveled fine on their Christmas Eve red-eye from San Fran to Philadelphia and lasted many years afterwards–though I'm sure the stress on me took several years off!

    7 agree
    • A quick note: I just moved our cats across the country in cargo, and the airline requirements were a little different than described above by Snaillady2: we were required to have a crate that the animal could stand up fully in, and the food and water containers were to be filled rather than empty. The point is, different airlines have different rules, and it's really key to read closely.

      (As a side note, we used sharp knives to "drill" small holes near the top of empty butter containers or small tupperware containers and tied them to the insides of the crates with string. It was free, and worked great!)

      3 agree
  4. I have not shipped my personal pet via airplane, but in the zoo world we do it all the time. Just be prepared and be ready to shell out more money for a direct flight or a layover in a more temperate climate. All the advice is already received is solid; check the temps, both at home and at your destination, including any layovers (most zoos won't ship animals in the dead of winter or the heat of summer for reasons mentioned above). We always attach a water bottle and a little ziplock baggie of food to the crate, just in case there's a delay, then whomever is checking on your animal can give them some water. If your cat is the kind to pee when stressed, you can look into modifying your crate so that you can install a mesh floor; the pee sits at the bottom but your cat doesn't have to sit in it.
    We do this successfully all the time; sending animals from place to place via airplane. You don't hear the success stories because they are unremarkable, but most of the time it goes off without a hitch.

    9 agree
  5. Can you look into different airline options that might have different weight limits so your critter can travel under the seat with you? We just moved across the country (from Seattle as well!) and while we drove, I did look into airline flights as an option. My husband had to drive with our 2 dogs, but I considered flying separately with the 2 cats, but it would only work if I could carry them both on by myself. I feel like there was one airline I found that if I could have squished them both into a crate that fit that they would have jointly been under the weight limits and allowed 2 animals in one carrier. One cat is a fatty and one is scrawny, but it was a 25 lb weight limit. I would think that if your cat can fit into a carrier that fits the guidelines that they won't actually weigh him! This would actually be my strategy if I were you – I'm terrified of putting my pets in cargo, although I know people do it all the time.

    But also major kudos for bringing him with you and not ditching your family member! I had been feeling proud of us for bringing our 4 animals across the country, but you're jumping a country and an ocean! I'm sure whatever method you do will work out well, although I'm sure it's hard to manage the fur mom stress! Good luck πŸ™‚

    4 agree
    • Unfortunately, while we had many options for the first leg of the trip, we only had one from East-coast US – Sweden. To avoid having to comply with any other countries animal import laws we had to fly from the US- Sweden, and the only way to do this is via Scandinavian Airlines.

  6. Cherisse, do not fear! My pets (1 cat, 1 dog) have never flown in the cabin. Where they originated (Australia), pets cannot fly this way. My dog, who is now 9 years of age, and last flew at 7, even has a mid-grade heart murmur and has been totally fine, and both of them had to have their first rabies vaccinations at age 7 (Australia and New Zealand are rabies free countries).

    Flights my pets have taken, in order of them taking them:
    *Melbourne to Adelaide (about 1hr)… and the return trip a few months later
    *Melbourne to Wellington (3-4hrs)… and the return trip about a year later
    *Melbourne to Sydney to LAX one-way… not including the overnight kennel parts, about 17hr

    The only "bad" thing to have ever happened to the pets as a result of a flight: one of the pets, upon arrival at the house in Wellington, hadn't had their ears "pop" properly, and got a sudden shock when they did. Then it was over and they were fine.

    There have been absolutely no negative consequences for all the times my pets have flown (but for me feeling guilt!). My pets are generally easy-going, and they do arrive at the other end (for the longer flights) a bit frazzled — this is worse the longer the flight is, and to be fair, I feel rather frazzled after flying long distances, too!

    My advise is to let them have somewhere calm and peaceful to recoup in (my cats preferred arrival strategy), or go for a really fun big walk-adventure (my dogs preferred arrival strategy), give them a bath within a few days if they're smelly from travelling, and life will be normal again. Actually, I'd say the first meal in the new house restarts normality.

    For full disclosure, I have had some worrying moments, but I only want to share them with you so that you know that stuff can happen and it turn out totally fine.
    1) Something went wrong with the cats water bowls for the Sydney-LAX leg, so that he arrived sodden (so much so that he actually WELCOMED a bath!). Post bath, he licked himself clean, sat in the sun, and was happy with life again.
    2) Our Melbourne to LAX direct flight was cancelled less than 2 hours prior to departure. The pets were TOTALLY fine, it was just me who was panicked! I was on the phone immediately with JetPets (who I have used for all of their international flights and can heartily recommend); they had experienced this type of issue a hundred times, talked me through all possible rerouting outcomes, gave some sage advice, and took care of everything seamlessly. Pets, besides that they were technically travelling a little longer, were none the wiser. We even got to visit them mid-trip.
    3) Personally, I don't let my cat leave the house for AT LEAST one week after arriving in the new home. Same as when I move house. I just don't want to take the chance that he could get disoriented and lost. Something of this sort did happen once, but again, it turned out fine.

    For your Seattle to Sweden trip, if I was in your shoes, my only concern/question would be if I could make the flight shorter (assuming your cat is fine with roadtrips), or looking at if he'd prefer numerous shorter flights to one massive one. If he has never flown before, I might consider a shorter "trial" flight, but at the end of the day, he's going to have to go the distance to Sweden, so – maybe one long flight as a new experience for him is the best way to go.

    Best wishes for life in Sweden! You'll have a great time πŸ™‚

    5 agree
    • In response to others worrying about travelling in the heat — we travelled to-from Australia, often over summer. JetPets books them on the first flight of the day, when it is coolest (also avoids flight delays). If there is enough of a heatwave, no airline can fly any pets. But we're talking extremes like 40+ degrees celcius (at least, that's extreme by Australian standards!). The luggage/pet compartment is still pressurised and has a level of climate control. There are also travel-safe water bowls affixed to the cage.

      1 agrees
    • THANK YOU! This is exactly what I needed.

      There are no direct flights from Seattle – Stockholm, so we have a 5 hour flight to Chicago and a 7.5 hour flight to Stockholm. He has flown before, but only short 90 min flights. He is a SUPER CHILL kitty, so I hope he will do just fine.

      2 agree
  7. these posts always come at the right time. i'm shipping my cat from boston to hawaii in a month because i'm moving there for grad school and i spent the other day panicking about it but i found these two sites which put it in perspective. http://www.petflight.com/pet_travel_incident_summaries/2012
    http://www.aircargoworld.com/Air-Cargo-News/2013/08/few-pets-experience-trouble-on-airlines/0514792
    it's way less than even a 1 percent chance that anything will happen and most of the problems are due to either the owner doing something wrong, the crate not being right, or the health of the pet

    2 agree
    • Is it as hard to get a cat to Hawaii as it is a dog? I know dogs require proof of several previous rabies vaccinations, microchiping, possibly a rabies titer (lab test) and a very long quarantine period once they arrive. Because Hawaii has never had a case of rabies, and the islands have been devastated by foreign diseases before, they're extremely cautious about dogs.

  8. I have a dog that has been described as "neurotic" by a vet. When I took her overseas (from the US to the EU), she was terrified at the first airport. When I finally got to her at baggage claim, she was happily wagging her tail with an airport worker whom she had befriended.

    Here are some things I did to make her trip more comfortable:
    -lined her crate with a washable absorbent pad meant for geriatric use(so she wouldn't be wet if/when she peed)
    -had her wear a "ThunderShirt"
    -gave her "RecueRemedy" drops beforehand
    -included something safe to chew in the crate
    -put the blanket she sleeps on in the crate
    -taught her to drink from a drip bottle feeder (required by the airline)
    -accustomed her to her crate ahead of time

    I wish I had frozen her water bottle so it would be available slowly and be less prone to leak. I also wish I had contacted the airport where our journey started about coming in with a dog. I thought I had contacted the right people via the airline, but no one expected a dog. It was more hectic than it needed to be.

    1 agrees
    • Freezing the water bottle or dish is a great idea to keep it from spilling. Hopefully more and more airlines will start to accommodate larger pets.

      1 agrees
  9. I'm very interested in continuing to hear feedback on this subject – we did it w our little pup from the states to Germany and are getting ready to go back to the states. There are so many different stories I like to read them all! A few things that haven't been mentioned from our experience is that every experience is different, depending on the time or day and depending on who you talk to depends on the regulations/policies/charges/and anything else having to do with the situation. It really can change in the blink of an eye – I had all of our paperwork ready to go and then the paperwork changed. Also, a lot of airlines will not even transport during specific months/temperatures even if you have a reservation it could change with the temperature. There are different things they make to put inside crates I think to soak up any accidents – kind of like the idea of a doggy pad. We had to go through USDA for our paperwork along with the "certified" vet – thankfully there is a USDA office near to where we were, so that maybe something to check into. http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome?navid=PETS – Also, when flying into Germany we actually did get checked since the vets office was open – had to pay a customs fee then go back to the vets office to pay them and then get our pup released. We have definitely heard of pets just being offloaded by the baggage and not getting checked as well. That being said, we also traveled with two copies of all of the paperwork on us & put a copy in a ziplock bag and taped it to the crate. We also put neon pink duct tape on the sides of the crate, her name, and all contact info. I would definitely keep googling – search facebook groups of military – just be prepared for anything, but in the end it is worth it and I'm sure it will all work out! Sorry for the spotty grammar/structure – just typing as I think of different things! Looking forward to hearing more from others as well!

    1 agrees
  10. I recently took my cat from Pakistan to the UK – on a long flight with a stopover in the Gulf. He was absolutely fine, arrived none the worse for wear.

    My top tips:

    – Make sure there are multiple copies of paperwork. My cat flew without me, so I made sure I had copies, and the people at both ends had copies, plus the copy given to the agent. Email yourself all of the paperwork – somehow even with all my multiple copies, the animal reception centre at Heathrow still didn't get one they needed, so I was able to email it directly to them (and I was on yet another continent at the time!).

    – Check the airline and airport regulations on the carrier. Different airlines have different requirements when it comes to size of crate, water/food etc.

    – Have some key items in your hand luggage for the other end. Maybe something that smells right (a towel?) that can go out in the room you'll let your cat out in or favoured toys. Also take some of his favourite food, even if you can buy the same brand in Sweden it may be manufactured differently.

    – For your own peace of mind, check out what happens if he arrives and you don't. (Also what the arrangements are at the intervening airport.) Major airports should either have an animal reception centre, where he could stay, or arrangements with a cattery. Just in case you miss a connection and he makes it!

    – Don't use any kind of medication. If you really, really feel you should then discuss it with your vet and then have a trial run.

    – Finally, accept that this may not be the most comfortable situation for him, just like that time on the airplane isn't necessarily the most comfortable for you. He might get a bit hungry, as normally animals aren't fed on the plane, but that will not hurt him at all. He will get there safely. He will be happy to see you when you get to the other end.

    2 agree
  11. This is the most timely post as I'll be flying with my super-nervous kitty from France to Canada in October. We're emigrating and while we still don't know what we'll do with our flat, or our car, or where we'll stay upon arrival, we totally looked into the Kitty Issue.

    So here is what I know:
    – the crate has to be IATA-certified for most airlines to accept them. The pet has to be able to stand up and lie down easily (which resulted in us buying a humongous crate where you can easily fit a baby elephant or two).
    – no food is to be left in the crate, but you can leave a small, attached, receptable which flight attendants will use to give some water to your baby in case of flight delays.
    – some airlines offer additionnal strapping for enhanced security – and I'd totally go for it.
    – I've had conflicting advice on tranquilizers and sleeping drugs. My vet suggests tranquilizers, but you should check out what yours recommands.
    – putting some shirt or fabric your pet likes inside the crate will reassure them.
    – aircrafts have limited spaces for pets (usually no more than 5 per aircraft), so you'll want to book her space aboard wayy ahead of time.

    I don't know which airline you're flying, but they'll have directives online regarding crates, what can go inside it, if customs will allow you to bring you animal food in the country… Same goes for national regulations, the Swedish government will have their regulations somewhere online.

    And as for your own fear, well… I hear you sister! I'll probably be the one who takes the tranquillizers in the end πŸ˜‰

    1 agrees
  12. Ooof, godspeed to you, I'd be panicking my face off if my dogs had to go in the hold πŸ™ I'm sure he'll be fine though. I have nothing to add that hasn't already been said, except to say… please don't give your pet Rescue Remedy. The debate about homeopathy and the like aside, it is largely made up of alcohol which is really not good for pets and it doesn't seem worth it when clinical trials have shown that it's no more effective than a placebo in humans (seeing as placebo effects unfortunately don't work on pets.) —> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bach_flower_remedies#Effectiveness

    1 agrees
  13. Just one suggestion really. Contact your veterinarian ahead of time. It is helpful as the paperwork and requirements for different places can change. If you are looking into Hawaii or Japan it's an extra pain in the rear as far as rabies titers etc…. It's not just something you can do at the drop of a hat. Remember your veterinarian has no control over the rules and regulations so be patient as they try to be careful to dot their i's and cross their t's to make sure that your pet does not go through any untoward delays.

  14. I brought my small terrier from Australia to New Zealand and she went cargo class, I think it was far more stressful for me than for her. That said, she had a few days of being extremely clingy and confused and also took a while to eat properly again so I stayed home with her and we just relaxed- if you are able to be around as a reassurance to them when they touch down I think it helps. Because mine had to be quarantined for a couple of days in Sydney she had had quite the adventure by the time she got to Christchurch. I think a lot of confusion once she landed was related to how different the climate, smells etc were!

  15. We recently moved from Canada to the UK with our large cat and exceedingly nervous dog, who is scared of everyone other than us. We were very worried about the animals traveling alone (they both had to go in the cargo hold) and the whole customs/veterinary procedure on the other side. I may be repeating what others have said, but all this worked for us:

    Contact your airline and find out as much as you can about their animal cargo regulations. I think all major air carriers have a special department that deals with animals – we flew Air Canada and they have shipped dogs, cats, horses, even hippos! Make sure you know all the vaccinations etc. that your pet needs and have them done in plenty of time. Same for microchips. Inform yourselves and your vets (not all vets know the regulations, and remember they vary A LOT from country to country). Make sure all your paperwork is in order and that you have photocopies.

    Make sure the animal carrier you have is big enough for your cat. We followed IATA guidelines but when the animals got to London we were told that our cat's carrier should have been bigger. There are more guidelines on getting a carrier for a dog than a cat, but basically they need to be able to stand up, sit on their bums, turn around. Ideally there should be space in there for them to have a separate wee/pooh area. Buy training pads for puppies to put in the cage, that way spills and mess get soaked up as much as possible.

    If there is anything you have that smells of you or them (that you don't mind never seeing again), put that in the carrier too. The last month we were in Canada we put down an old t-shirt where our cat usually slept so he would have an item that smelled of him. We also had the cages in the house and would throw treats in them to get the animals used to being near/in their cages.

    Take bottled water and zip-lock bags of the animal's food with you when you drop them off at the cargo bay. These will be strapped to the top of their cages so your animal can be fed/given drink (for flights over a certain length animals need to be fed.)

    I would also advise asking your vet about sedation/calming options. We (and our vet) decided that our dog should have a strong sedative because of his temperament. As he is youngish (5) and healthy the vet had no problems giving him that – we just tried it out on him 2 days before we flew to make sure there was no adverse reaction. We had a much milder sedative for the cat (he is older and we thought he would handle the experience better). In hindsight I wish he had had a stronger sedative as he was shaken by the whole thing.

    Our animals were well cared for and had to boarded for one night upon arrival (mix up about de-worming treatment). The dog is a changed animal – he is far happier and less nervous than before. The cat was upset for a few days (hiding in the new house, not letting us touch him, vomiting up hairballs) but after 4 days he started coming out a lot more and it took about a week for him to be fine. I think cats don't deal with moves and changes as well as dogs do as they are so attached to their environments, but having them with you in your new home is worth it.

    Good luck, and although there are some air transit horror stories out there, there are far more success stories that we don't hear about. Think of all those show animals that get taken across countries!

    2 agree
  16. I took my dog from Turkey to the US. He was about 60 lbs at the time, so clearly went in the hold. He needed an EU compliant chip because we transited the EU. We flew Lufthansa for the Germany- US portion. I froze his water "bowl." I double checked when I connected in Frankfurt, and I'm glad I did, because the two airlines hadn't quite communicated. In the US at least, there can be a moratorium on pets flying in cargo in the summer.

  17. OP UPDATE!

    Hi Hommies! I thought I would give you all an update as to how the trip went.

    A few years ago I had asked my doctor (who was treating me for depression) if he would give me a prescription for a Emotional Support Animal (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emotional_support_animal), which he did. Sadly, this had expired long before our move to Sweden and since our health insurance was out I couldn't afford an appointment. I finally had the idea to just call him up and ask him over the phone if he would renew it. I figured I had nothing to loose and everything to gain. Thankfully, he said yes! So this meant that I could not only fly with my hefty kitty, but be did not have to spend he whole trip in the carrier.

    So whats what we did. He spent the first lag of our trip from Seattle – Chicago in the carrier under the seat. After we changed planes and got on our 7.5 hour flight we let him out to sit in our laps. He was a perfect angel! He sat on either my or my husbands lap the entire flight. He never once tried to go exploring, never meowed and charmed everyone around us.

    Thank you for all your advice and success stories, they really helped put me at ease.

    https://www.dropbox.com/s/wd4yfrqynx2zae5/2014-07-30%2018.51.09.jpg?dl=0

    • You got lucky. "Emotional support animals" do not fall under the protections of service animals who actually perform a function and, thus, if you read the rules and regulations of the vast majority of airlines, "emotional support animals" are treated just like pets.

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