Ask Elizabeth: August 2013

Q. What is the kindest way to transport three 12-year-old kitties across the country? This move is going to be a big change for them, and it would be great if there is a loving, safe and sane way for all of us to get to our new home.

Moving Out

A. It’s true that moving to a new location can be exciting, but it can be a source of anxiety for people and their four-legged friends, kitties certainly included. While some tension is unavoidable, there are a few things to consider when determining the safest, most comfortable and least traumatic way of getting your kitties to their new environs.

One important consideration regardless of whether traveling by plane or automobile is the cat carrier. It should be sturdy, made of an easily cleaned, non-porous material such as plastic, an appropriate size so that your kitty can comfortably lie down and turn around (we may like sardines, but we don’t want to be transported like them!), and should have adequate ventilation to assure that temperature and humidity are kept within a comfortable range. In some cases, having a carrier big enough for a litter pan may be helpful, although most cats are hesitant to use the litter box during transport.

Since many cats equate a carrier with unpleasant trips to the veterinarian and tend to avoid them when introduced to them at home, try to acclimate your kitty to the carrier if you have time. Leave the door open and put treats and a familiar-smelling bedding in it for several weeks. Encourage your kitty to use the open carrier to rest or sleep in it with positive reinforcement such as softly spoken praise and petting. This familiarization should make the experience of traveling in a carrier a bit easier on your feline friends. It is important that you use one carrier for each cat to minimize problems such as ventilation, excessive heat or negative interactions that may occur with multiple cats in one carrier.

If you travel by car, put the carrier in a well ventilated place, ideally where your kitty can see you and/or other people in the vehicle, as this may provide some measure of comfort. Don’t leave your kitty unattended in a car that may overheat during hot weather or become too cold during winter months. Transporting cats by airplane is a viable option for most adult cats, but make sure that you check with the airline about space constraints, minimum/maximum temperatures for flight, and specific regulations regarding carrier type and size before making arrangements. Many airlines do not allow cats to travel in the passenger section with their owners, and if this is the case, your kitty will be housed in a heated and pressurized area in the storage compartment of the plane.

Pregnant cats and cats under 3 months of age should not travel by air. You should also check to make sure that you have documents such as health certificates and/or proof of vaccination beforehand. Direct flights are preferred to avoid undue transfers and/or waiting in conditions of extreme temperature and humidity.

Generally, it is best to withhold food for four to five hours before traveling to avoid motion-induced vomiting. You can provide water up to departure and at intervals during the trip, if possible.

Some cats who are extremely nervous when traveling may benefit from tranquilizers, but this decision should be made upon consultation with a veterinarian. A number of issues, including health problems and the ability to respond to changing temperatures, are important to consider.

I think that if you follow these recommendations, you and your babies can get from where you are now to where you are going without too much duress. If you have any further questions or concerns regarding your trip, I encourage you to consult your cats’ veterinarian. I hope you find traveling just as rewarding as the destination, and please drop me a post card when you get to your new home.

—Best regards, Elizabeth