One of our biggest concerns while contemplating up and moving ourselves to China was how to get our pets there in one piece without thoroughly traumatizing them. We continue to rehash this concern every time someone asks us what we plan to do with our pets when we move; the implication being surely we are leaving them behind with family and friends. Nope. They are about to board a 747 and cross the Pacific (although I think the route is actually over the north pole, so perhaps not). They have no idea. All they know is something is happening. Suitcases are everywhere. There are piles of things all over the house and their crates are actually assembled as opposed to sitting in a heap in a closet somewhere. Change is coming.
After doing a bit of research we realized there is actually a considerable amount of planning that must go into this whole pet transportation business. It is not so daunting that I will pay a pet transportation company though, I’ll keep my $5k+ thank you very much. The long and the short of it is this: our beloved beagle/collie/old english sheep dog/chinook/weimaraner mix “Kenobi” will be stowed under the plane and our lovingly overweight tabby “Roxy” will be stuffed like a sausage under the seat in front of me. Two very different scenarios. Let’s visit those in more detail, shall we?
(Obi Wan) Kenobi (The Dog)
There are lots of rules about transporting pets such as proper carriers/size/documentation/other regulations, all of which can be found somewhere on the internet. I found this site pretty helpful, but we had to verify some of the information with the airline directly. We will unfortunately be flying in the summer, when it is extremely hot on the tarmac, so we have to pay 4 times the normal pet cost so Kenobi can be treated as “special cargo.” This means he is the last thing loaded onto the plane and the first thing off at our destination. Otherwise he’ll be quite chilly at 33,000 feet for the 13.5 hour flight to China. I have come across all sorts of useful tips for pet travel at this point, so I’ll summarize several of the most useful suggestions below in the event that any of you ever need to put one of your furry friends on an airplane.
Cargo Basic Needs:
- Appropriately sized cage (pet must be able to stand fully and turn around) We were fortunate that Kenobi ended up being a mid sized dog for several reasons, but he was able to fit perfectly in Roxy’s “long car trip” cage. Hooray for re-using things!
- Food/water dishes clipped inside the cage with an extra supply of food zip-tied to the outside of the cage.
- Metal screws/nuts on the outside of the cage (no plastic or clips)
- Live animal stickers on all three sides and the top (some airlines will provide these, but they were essentially free in a packaged deal I ended up buying)
- Absorbent mat for the bottom (yes, so he can pee and still stay dry-ish)
- ID tag complete with photo and basic info (friendly/shy/aggressive etc.)
- Paperwork and required vaccine/testing from the vet (this varies a lot by country so check with the consulate, China only requires exam and up-to-date rabies vaccine plus state endorsed health certificate plus 7 day quarantine)
- Before the flight: trim nails & hair cut since we are moving to a warmer climate.
Kenobi’s ID photo shoot was a disaster initially until I grabbed a bag of treats. Then he was all ears (pun intended?).
Roxy (The Cat)
The kitty has things a little better. She’s (barely) small enough to go under the seat in front of me and be trapped in the main cabin with the rest of the general population. This was a discussion I had with my vet before making the final call. She said it would be much less stressful for Roxy to travel in the cabin despite the fact that she will be a bit cramped as it will be warmer and a lot less noisy. Our vet also pointed out the fact that cats generally lay around in one spot all day without moving, while the dog is restless and wanders from spot to spot a bunch. It was then decided that Roxy would join me in the plane. Lucky for her she has always been a quiet traveler in the car, so she has been allowed this privilege. If she decides to find her voice in the plane I will have no choice but to disown her. Or silence her somehow. I need to look into this more…I bet if I feed her that will keep her quiet for a few minutes.
Unfortunately for me that means I cannot fly business class on any airline with “lay flat” seating as there is simply no space under the seat in front of me under which she can be stowed. Bummer. I did get our company to pay the $150 to upgrade for extra leg room/exit row seating though. My ticket was $6k cheaper than David’s. Literally. That is crazy. Now I just have to hope no one near me is highly allergic…
In Cabin Basics:
- Carrier that can fit under the seat in front of you. Soft sided carriers are the best as the airlines allow them to be bigger
(since they are compressible) which allows your pet more room overall. The SleepyPod Air was one of the largest carriers I could find for my larger than average cat, and while Roxy is skeptical about it, I really like it so far.
- Food and water dishes with extra food attached to the carrier.
- Her favorite: harness and leash with no metal components so I can carry her through the metal detector. It helps that she is easy to extract so she doesn’t end up accidentally going through the x-ray machine.
- Same ID tag/documentation as is required for the dog.
- Absorbent mat for the bottom of her carrier in case of accident or desperation.
- Makeshift shoebox/tiny litter box combo with a small amount of litter in my carry on to try to get her to “go” before the flight. (I’ll surely be posting about how this all turns out later).
We have also been pointed in the direction of some “calming” anti-anxiety herbal treats to reduce stress as sedation is highly frowned upon (particularly for cargo pets). I also have some kitty pheromone spray that worked really well from my first move with Roxy that I will be putting to use again.
The only other suggestion I can think of at this point was that we got their carriers early and left them open for our pets to wander in and out of as they please. Roxy still associates hers with torture, but Kenobi is sitting behind me chewing on a toy in his crate as I type.