Planes, Trains & Pets
Your Step-by-Step Gide to Traveling with Pets
In 2016 it seems the trend of bringing your pet along for the ride is on the rise. But how to do such a thing responsibly, and in a way that has minimal stress on the animal, is a hot topic. As someone who has put my cat through two relocations (Canada to the Czech Republic to Sweden), and written a guidebook to take others through the process, I’ll tell you it is all easier said than done!
Here are 8 steps to help you help the furbabies…
1) PAPERWORK Research your home country’s protocol for export, as well as the rules imposed by the government of your destination country. It all depends on where you’re headed, but the basic forms to file and pack as part of your RAD (Readily Available Documents) are as follows:
- International Health Certificate – signed by Licensed Vet and Official Vet
- Inoculation Record – signed by Licensed Vet
- Non-Commercial Movement of Animals (two copies in each language required) – signed by Licensed Vet & endorsed by Official Vet
- Pet Passport (travel within EU only/this covers all of the above three) – signed by Licensed Vet
- Proof of microchip registration – print online receipt from 24PetWatch.com or other registry
- Invoices as back-up proof of payment
- Pettravel.com is the most comprehensive resource I have found that not only reviews regulations for over 240 countries, but also provides all the necessary
forms for transport. DO check your government’s web site, as you may be able to download some forms for free. In my case, when preparing to leave Canada, I was emailed all the necessary documents when I contacted the Official Port Veterinarian (whose contact information I obtained from a local licensed vet). Things do get a little complicated if your port of entry is not the final destination. Because I had to take Tigerlily through Germany before reaching the Czech Republic, the Non-Commercial Movement forms had to be completed in Geman
as well. I also had the forms in Czech and, while I was told that this was probably not so necessary, it only cost me an extra $20. After numerous trips to the vet, and spending hundreds on vaccinations and the microchip, why take chances, right?
Moving Within the EU
While the rest of the world seems to deal in fussy piles of paperwork for all the necessary documents, the EU ingeniously introduced pet passports in 2001. These cute little blue books enable animals to travel freely (following procedures, of course) between member countries, while also avoiding the whole quarantine thing. Pet passports can only be picked up from a licensed veterinarian and TL got one before leaving Prague for Sweden.
2) VET VISITS. Check in with your local vet at least two months before travel. Be aware of the vaccinations required and the waiting periods around rabies shots/boosters. You will always have to vaccinate before departure, but your waiting period will depend on when the previous vaccine expires. For example: Because Tigerlily’s rabies vaccine had just expired when we were preparing to leave Prague for Sweden, we had to wait 21 days between the fresh shot and travel. Had her previous vaccine still been valid, the waiting period would not apply. Get all other booster vaccines up to date before you leave. You don’t want your pet to be at risk for any viruses in the new country. Plus it may take more time than anticipated to find a new vet once you have moved. Tigerlily also needed to loose a wee bit of weight in order to comply with the airline allowed 8kg maximum, including the carrier. We consulted with our Prague vet to do this safely and effectively by departure date.
3) GOVERNMENT CERTIFICATION. While getting all the vet business done before departing Canada, I had to make sure I booked an appointment with the government-appointed Port Veterinarian to get all the paperwork signed. Following that, my documents were only valid for 10 days “from the date of issue by the licensed veterinarian until the date of the checks at the EU travellers’ point of entry. With the exception of dogs to Finland, Malta, the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom, where the echinococcus [that’s tapeworms in plain English] treatment will be the time-limiting factor for length of validity for entry into the EU (i.e. treatment must occur between 120 and 24 hours of entry into the EU). For the purpose of further movements within the Union, the certificate is valid for a total of four months from the date of issue or until the date of expiry of the anti-rabies vaccination, whiche ver date is earlier.” Fun facts via the Canadian Food Inspection Agency web site.
4) CARRIERS & CRATES Every airline is different with regard to on-board carrier/cargo crate dimensions and total weight. Then the rules change again depending on the actual aircraft (CR9 vs. Airbus 321 vs. Boeing 777). Before buying a carrier or a crate, note the LxWxH dimensions for the airline(s) you are traveling on. Or, as I did, book the airline based on those dimensions. For pets that have to go into cargo hold, they must travel in a crate that is IATAcompliant, which allows the animal to stand, lie down and turn around comfortably. Food and water bowls (choose metal over plastic) have to be attached to the front door, and must be refillable without opening the door. These are the basics so check the airline’s web site and call if you are not clear on the regulations.
5) FEEDING IN TRANSIT. One genius in-transit tip I picked up was to freeze a bit of dry food with water in a small plastic container. I used a small plastic make-up container that I found at Sephora, but you could also use one of those mini-tubs that Tupperware makes. This will ensure your cat or dog does not get dehydrated, and when the water melts they’ll have something to nibble on. Besure to put the frozen pack inside another container, or Ziploc bag, to avoid any wet mess.
6) PACK FOOD. Especially important if your pet is on a specific diet. Popping a few packages of food in your suitcase will save you the hassle of having to shop around on arrival. Always a good idea as it might be late by the time you reach your final destination.
7) INSTA-LITTER. When we first arrived in Uppsala, Sweden, finding litter sand at a corner shop was not such a problem as trying to find a proper box. There were no pet shops near our apartment. (Pet stores are everywhere in Prague, so this was a bit of a surprise.) Not knowing the city at all, we managed to improvise using a storage box. In hindsight, I could have packed a large flat container, filled (about 1/3 full) with litter, in our luggage.
NOTE: If you’re really organized, and it is possible to ship a care package of food and supplies ahead of arrival, put that on your to-do list.
8) STRESS LESS. If your pet is the anxious type then you may want to try Bach’s Rescue Remedy. This is a natural product that, at half the human dose, is perfectly safe for domesticated animals. I tested it out on Tigerlily before travel and it totally chilled her out. If this does not seem kosher to you, then by all means chat with your veterinarian. He or she may recommend Acepromazine, which is kind of like Prozac for pets. The milder Diphenhydramine (aka Benadryl) is an alternative. Prescription required.
Your call, but know that many pet relocation experts do not recommend such medications because they can hinder the animal’s ability to regulate internal temperature. Kind of important at cruising altitude and most pet deaths are caused by excessive sedation.
Sara Graham is an international entrepreneur, travel writer and yoga teacher currently based in Sweden.
This Q&A is an excerpt from her guidebook How To Make Big Moves: Relocate Without Losing Your Mind. You can download a free chapter from this essential resource when you visit www.howtomakebigmoves.com.