Moving or Traveling with your Cat


Quarantine info from the UK

After reading one of your readers concerns regarding quarantine on your web page. I just thought you might like to know that there are indoor catteries with adequate heating, big windows and no dogs. I believe there are only about 2 left in the London area (as the bad facilities are falling prey to the newly instituted passport for pets scheme - which unfortunately as of today still doesn't cover North America). I don't know whether or not you are able to post this kind of information to your readers, but if you can please consider telling them about the one cattery I found that was good. People who put their cats through Cherry Trees usually bring them back to the "non-quarantine" facilities there. The girls who work there really love the cats and go in and spend time with them - especially if their "parents" are unable to visit regularly. The decision to put your cats through quarantine is a heart wrenching one and there is very little information available about which facilities are any good. I spent hours and hours searching and got people to go to various facilities and still almost ended up as another quarantine horror story.

Regards, Laurissa 12/12/2000

Quarantine of cats when moving to England

Question: Dear Dr. Richards,

I have 2 cats, one female who is about 9 years old and one male who is about 10 years old. I am planning on moving to England in the next year and I understand that they need to be quarrantined for 6 months. I am very concerned about what this experience might do to them.

I will give you a brief medical history of each cat. The male (Pinto) is a big cat, though not overweight. He is slightly sensitive (allergic) but overall is a happy feline. He does have this problem with bloody stool, but I've had him checked many times and no vet could find anything wrong with him. His teeth/gums, however, are and continue to be a problem. I've gotten them cleaned at least once per year, but both cats absolutely hate when I try to touch their mouths, so I don't. (The vet had suggested I brush their teeth but they literally foam up in the mouth when I have tried.)

Saleema, the female, is also a happy cat. She is small, although slightly overweight. Her teeth/gums are also horrendous. When I first found her (she was less than a year old) her teeth were already damaged from what the vet thought might have been malnutrition. She's already had one front tooth removed. Her gums are always seriously poor and again, they are cleaned once if not twice per year. I feed them both prescribed science diet food (dry only - no wet food).

Both cats have been kept indoors and they are of a very gentle nature. I visited one cattery already in England and although the caretakers were kind, they did keep the cats in a cage that was half outdoors. The indoor section was not heated. They told me that indoor cats even from hot climates will adjust to the damp cool weather there, but I find that so hard to believe, considering how my cats love heat and body warmth.

I am very concerned that the quarrantine might jeopardize their health (teeth) further and may even cause other problems. I don't know anyone who has put their cats in quarrantine and I was hoping you may shed some light on the topic, as well as give me your opinion on how to prepare them and what I might expect.

I have thought about leaving them behind in New York, but I don't know anyone I trust well enough to do that, and I feel that they would be much happier in England as they will finally get to go outdoors in the country where I will be living. Besides, I would miss them too much...

Thank you so very much, Joan

Answer: Joan-

England was going to have a program in which they would accept a protective titer to rabies in lieu of quarantine but I do not know the status of the program currently. The amount of antibody (measured by titration, thus the term "titer") that is necessary to provide protection from rabies virus is known. So in theory, an animal that has been vaccinated in the past, within time parameters that ensure it wouldn't have been vaccinated after being bitten by a rabid animal and has a titer above the known protective level would be very unlikely to be incubating rabies. So quarantining these pets should be unnecessary.

The best way to find out what the status of the quarantine laws are currently would be to contact the British Embassy directly and ask them.

If you do have to consider quarantine for six months it is going to be hard for both you and them, based on the experiences of some of our clients. We have a number of military and government retirees in our practice and several have been through quarantine procedures with their pets in Hawaii, Australia and England. The general consensus is that no matter how hard the caretakers try, the situation is still stressful for all concerned. It may be a good idea to ask your vet about using an antibiotic like clindamycin on a "pulse" basis, perhaps the first week to ten days of each month, to help with their dental problems during the quarantine period. That has been helpful for us in a number of cats with difficult to control periodontal problems or gingivitis.

I think that the cats would adjust to the temperatures but that they won't be as content as when they have warm places to be. I don't think the temperature is a major health risk. It may add some to the overall stress but I'm not sure that will even be a significant difference. The big problem is the separation, the change in routines, lifestyles and just plain love and attention -- and then the stress of reuniting and getting back to all those routines, too.

Still, I wouldn't leave my pets behind, either. Hopefully, there will be an opportunity to check titers for rabies in lieu of quarantine. It is worth asking, at least.

Mike Richards, DVM 4/4/2000

Merging households

Question: We are merging two households, one with four cats, all of which are indoor/outdoor cats and one with two dogs, both golden retrievers. The first attempt to introduce the dogs and cats didn't go very well, with Bailey chasing the cats, although seemingly without the intention to actually harm them. Three of the cats are pretty confident and calm, but Bonnie is declawed and is fairly timid.

I are anticipating moving into the dog's home, since it has the fenced in yard. I have some time before the anticipated move.

Answer: This is actually a good place to start. Much better than if you were moving in tomorrow!

There are several concerns that have to be addressed. Some of them are: 1) everyone must be safe and unharmed at the end of the "merger" 2) everyone should get along, if possible 3) there should be minimal property damage

The best way to address the first concern is to start to introduce the dogs to the cats at this time. I think it would be best to do this at the cat's house. The reason for this is that the dogs won't be as confident there as they are at home and the cats will know all the escape routes, just in case there is a problem. The dogs should be leashed when they come into the house and it would be best to practice some basic obedience commands, especially "sit" prior to bringing the dogs to the house. It might even be best just to stop the cats up in one room of the house and let the dogs explore a little for one or two visits prior to letting them see the cats at all. Then keep the dogs under control but allow the cats to have access to the room. In most cases, the cats are going to be very cautious in their approach to the dogs or will choose not to introduce themselves. This is OK. Just keep bringing the dogs by so they get used to the idea that the cats do exist and are used to their smell and presence. Once everyone is reasonably calm at the cat's house, then consider moving to the next phase, that of introducing the cats to the new home.

This is going to be the really tricky part. The first thing to do is to "cat proof" the house. Put away precious knick-knacks. Move stuff off shelves where it can be pushed onto the floor. Make sure there aren't any tempting "non-exits" like sliding glass doors or picture windows where the cats might be tempted to crash into them in a frantic attempt to leave in a hurry, not recognizing the fact that there is a pane of glass there. Check around for other things that might harm the cats like access to attics, holes in sheetrock walls they can get into, openings in appliances, etc.

If I was going to attempt this move and I wasn't too worried about boarding the dogs or asking a friend to keep them for the weekend, I would give the cats a few days "head start" and introduce them to the new house while the dogs were away. I guess you could do this just by swapping houses for a few days before the big move, too. If the cats are comfortable and know where the hiding places are they are less likely to try to stand and fight and more likely to disappear if they are bothered by the dogs.

When moving cats it is a really good idea to keep them confined in the new home for several days to a week or so before letting them out. This limits "panic attacks" in which the cat tries to find its way back to the old home when it gets confused outside at the new home.

If it is possible to let the cats get used to the new home by themselves for a few days it would probably be a good idea to then confine them to one room or one section of the house and let the dogs come home. After a day or so, put the dogs in the confinement area and let the cats roam the home again. If there isn't excessive interest shown by the dogs in the presence of the cats, then allow them to meet, again. Have the dogs under control when this happens. Hopefully the outcome will be better. An alternative to keeping them separate is to crate the dogs and let the cats have free roam of the house until they get used to seeing each other. This usually only works well if the dogs are pretty used to being crated, though.

If it looks like there is going to be trouble it may be necessary to consider medications for Bonnie, such as an anti-anxiety medication like buspirone (Buspar Rx) or diazepam (Valium Rx) so that she isn't as likely to provoke attacks through fear based behaviors. It might also help to sedate Bailey, at least for a day or two at first. I would try one round without medications, at least, though.

Be prepared for confrontations. Have some thick towels handy for handling scared cats (or something else that has worked well for you in the past. Make sure there is one good escape route, at least, for the cats. Don't put your hands between the dogs and the cats if there is a confrontation as either one could seriously injure you. Find some other way to separate or distract them.

As long as the dogs aren't malicious in their interest in the cats, this will probably work out fine.

There is a pretty good set of advice on adding a pet to a household in Karen Overall's book "Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Small Animals" . This isn't exactly the same situation but it might be worth reading if your vet has this book, too, since it is close.

If there is a veterinary or animal behaviorist in your area they can help in the preparations or if problems occur. It isn't too likely that you are lucky enough to be close to a certified animal behaviorist but don't overlook their help if you are.

Hope this helps some.

Mike Richards, DVM 3/16/2000

Moving a long distance with Cats

Q: I need advice as to how to best prepare for a 4,000 mile move with my 2 adult female cats. We have moved many times before, but the drive was at most 1 hour. This trip will take us at least 6 days to complete. I am trying to get the cats adjusted to the pet carrier by placing in there their much desired canned cat food. I am going to the Vet in a week for the routine check up and shots and I was wondering whether I should get a prescription for some anti-anxiety drugs for the cats. I want this trip to be as stress-free for them as possible. Did I mention one of them usually throws up in moving vehicles? Please email me your advice. Thank you, Rhonda

A: Rhonda-

I think it is OK to sedate cats for car trips. We try not to do this for airplane trips due to the effect that changes in altitude can have on the action of the sedatives but this has not been a problem with car trips. Many cats will adjust during a trip of this length and it may not be necessary to use sedatives the whole way. Your vet can give you more specific advice directly related to your cat's medical history and size.

Getting the cats used to the carrier is a good idea. Cats are very difficult to find if they get loose during a trip, sometimes, so I would be very careful about letting them out of the carriers before stopping for the night --- and also very careful about making sure no one will let them out there. Buying enough food for the trip and a week or so at the new place would be a good idea. Sometimes it is hard to find a specific brand of pet food in a new location and if they are used to one particular brand it is best to take it with you.

Get a health certificate from your vet, just in case there is some sort of problem on the road. Keep the current rabies certificates with you. Make sure you have your vet's phone number.

Good luck with the move.

Mike Richards, DVM

Medicating Traveling Cats - Flying

Q: Dear Dr. Mike, I'm an American living in Sao Paulo, Brazil, with two non-pure bred cats. I will travel with them to the US in July on United Airlines, which has indicated that they may travel with me and my fiance' in the cabin. From all that I have read about cats and tranquilizers, it seems to me that there are veterinarians who prescribe them and those who don't. My veterinarian here in Brazil does not, and also believes that a reverse reaction could occur, actually exciting the cats. He prefers to prescribe a homeopathic medication. My cats have been on one longish car trip (6 hours) and several shorter trips (they are now 7.5 mos. old) and do quite well. One is calm and doesn't cry and the other, it seems, cries only in the beginning. I think all will go well. Nonetheless, I would like to be prepared with a tranquilizer in the case that one (or both) becomes stressed, for their benefit, our benefit, and the benefit of the other passengers on board. What are your thoughts on tranquilizers? Which do you recommend? Which would be the easiest for ME to administer (preferably liqued drop form - if it exists), perhaps on board in the middle of the flight in the worst case scenario? Assuming the medication you may indicate exists here in Brazil, I'm sure I could get another vet. to prescribe it for me. Please also include recommendations about dosages. I would greatly appreciate any feedback you can give me. Thank you.

A: If your cats are traveling in the passenger compartment of the airplane (which seems like the situation based on your email) it may be OK to administer tranquilizers for the flight.

It is a very bad idea to give tranquilizers to a pet traveling in the baggage compartment. Recent data compiled by the FDA and the airlines strongly suggests that sedation is a major factor in most of the deaths of pets traveling by air. Apparently, the effect of tranquilizers is enhanced by the pressurization (or relative lack of pressurization --- most baggage compartment pressures are roughly equivalent to the pressure at 8000 ft. of elevation). Pets who may be properly dosed for use of tranquilizers at ground level may be overly sedated at altitude. The mechanism of death as it relates to sedation and air travel is not completely worked out but it is better to be cautious.

In the passenger cabin the situation is a little different, I think. Pressurization is probably better and there is therefore probably less risk associated with the use of the tranquilizers. Still, if you don't have to use them it would be best not to. The most commonly used tranquilizer for travel by U.S. vets is probably acetylpromazine (PromAce or Acepromazine). I would dispense it with careful directions for use if requested in this situation. I would recommend against using it despite that, unless absolutely necessary. I usually recommend trying it out once at home before using it while traveling. It can sometimes cause excitement instead of sedation. Plus, if it causes profound sedation you know to cut the dosage. That could be very important.

Hope all this helps.

Michael Richards, DVM

Adjustment after move

Q: Dr. Mike, My wife and I recently moved from a small apartment to a bigger townhouse. Our cat, Shelby, a two year old female is having a hard time adjusting to the new house. We bought her at a pet store when she was about 8 weeks old and she has lived with us inside at the apartment ever since. The only time she has ever been outside that apartment is when we have taken her to the vet for check-ups, de-clawing, spaying, etc. Now at the new house she won't eat and spends most of her time hiding in a closet. I am away from home right now but, my wife says Shelby is starting to walk around a little now. (She moved last Friday.) Any suggestions to help us help Shelby adjust to her new home? Thank you for your time.

A: I suspect that Shelby is probably doing much better by now. It helps a lot to bring things they recognize to the new house, like their own food bowls, litter pans, etc. If your wife can keep a fairly regular schedule for a couple of weeks that will help reassure your cat that things are OK, too.

When we last moved, my dogs were all very upset. It took my terrier almost three weeks to calm down. My Cavalier King Charles Spaniel was only nervous until the couch arrived with the movers. Once he saw "his" couch and jumped up on it, he was fine.

My cats were actually pretty good about the move except that it took a month for one of them to venture down the stairs and discover that there was twice as much house as she thought. I think this is somewhat normal for cats. They seem to expand their "territory" at the new place slowly until they are comfortable that they are in control of the whole house.

In extreme cases of nervousness, an anti-anxiety medication may help but it does sound like Shelby is adjusting and that probably isn't necessary.

Mike Richards, DVM

Last edited 09/17/02


Michael Richards, D.V.M. co-owns a small animal general veterinary practice in rural tidewater Virginia. Dr. Richards graduated from Iowa State University's College of Veterinary Medicine in 1979, and has been in private practice ever since. Dr. Richards has been the director of the PetCare Forum...