by Amanda L. Maus DVM
Long trips with your pet in the continental USA typically require plane travel and a veterinary health certificate issued within 10 days of the flight. Travel on planes can be done with the cat in the cabin or in cargo depending on the airline. A cat traveling in the cabin must be very accustomed to their carrier or they may need to be sedated in order to have a pleasant experience. Please check with your airline for approval regarding sedation if it may be needed.
A cat flying alone in cargo cannot be sedated so that they can react to their environment in case of turbulence or other events. Cats traveling in cargo are subject to sometimes drastic temperature fluctuations and for that reason, airlines only allow cargo travel during certain times of the year.
Bridget Monrad of Happy Tails Travel, Inc in Tucson, AZ has the following recommendations: "Cats are brilliant! They will know something is up when it comes time to go to the airport, so keep your cat in a bathroom, with water, her litter box and a soft bed to lay on until it is time for you to go in there and gently put her in for the trip to the airport. We want minimal stress for you and your pet. Being late to the airport can cause your pet to be turned away. Finding the most direct flight is ideal, however a connection is AOK if not too short or long. Two hours is a good timeframe." Click here for more information on flying with your cat.
For international travel, I cannot emphasize how important it is to start your research as soon as you know you will be relocating your cat to another country or Hawaii. The USDA APHIS website is an up to date resource for travel abroad. Contact your veterinarian as soon as you know what country and what date you will be moving. Some countries require special microchips be placed before a Rabies vaccine is considered valid. You may be required to have your cat vaccinated for Rabies within a certain specific time frame that necessitates advanced planning.
Certain countries require special blood tests for Rabies vaccine antibody levels (OIE-FAVN). These tests require blood samples be taken four or more months before your flight is scheduled to leave so that the results will be done in the appropriate time frame. Other countries require specific external and internal parasite testing and treatments.
Each country has different requirements and forms, some of which are several pages long. After your regular veterinarian completes the form, the form needs to be mailed or driven to the state veterinarian or veterinary services veterinarian to be approved and endorsed. A list of the APHIS offices that can endorse your health certificate and answer your questions can be found here. Some forms and fee payments may need submitted to your destination days or weeks prior to your flight arrival with your pet.