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Relocation can be stressful for pets: Here's how to make it easier

We Americans are well-known for our willingness to share our homes with other species. So if you're moving, there's a good chance you'll be traveling with something that barks, purrs, chirps or hisses.

Relocation can be stressful for pets. Dogs and reptiles will fare pretty well, says Dr. Tate Posey, veterinarian at Promenade Animal Hospital in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., but cats and birds can get stressed out easily.

The first thing to do is take the animal to a veterinarian certified by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture for a complete checkup. This should be done no more than a week before moving. Sometimes a health certificate is necessary for transporting certain animals across state lines and all airlines require it. The certificate must be no more than 10 days old at the time of travel.

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Use common sense
A lot of travel advice is common sense for pet owners who already know what it takes to raise a healthy animal. Posey suggests feeding dogs and cats a small meal before the trip -- half of the normal amount. Make sure they have water during the trip, especially during the summer. If you're traveling with a dog, count on stopping every couple of hours to let the pooch exercise.

It's strongly recommended that all pets travel in secure travel carriers -- they'll feel safer and will be less likely to be injured if the driver has to stop short or, worse, gets in an accident.

A healthy, well-fed reptile should travel well. Posey suggests not feeding healthy reptiles until you get to your destination if you're only traveling for a day.

Birds can present special problems because it's harder for them to regulate their body temperature in cold conditions -- so make sure the temperature in your vehicle is controlled. Also be aware that some birds get carsick. Make sure the bird has food and water and consider covering its cage to keep it calm.

Speaking of keeping calm: Traveling humans will be calmer if the pets are calm but Posey isn't a big fan of tranquilizers.

"There was a study that showed a significant number of animals that didn't do well during travel had been tranquilized," says Posey. "Sometimes there can be adverse reactions that make the pet hyper-excitable. It may make things more distorted and bizarre for the animal, but if a pet typically tries to get out of the carrying case and may hurt itself, it may be necessary to use drugs."

Alternative to tranquilizers
Posey says an over-the-counter herbal product called "Rescue Remedy" seems to be effective without the side effects of a tranquilizing drug.

If you're traveling by commercial airline, check with the carrier to see if they transport animals. Most airlines will transport pets, either in the cabin or in the cargo hold, but they all have to follow rules set by the Agriculture Dept.:

  • All animals must be at least 8 weeks old and weaned.
  • A health certificate from a vet is required and it must be issued no more than 10 days before departure.
  • Small animals that fit in a carrier that fits under the seat may be transported in the cabin. Airlines have the right to restrict the type of pet allowed in the cabin. Delta Airlines, for instance, doesn't allow reptiles, monkeys or pot-bellied pigs in the cabin.
  • All airlines must allow service animals, such as seeing-eye dogs, in the cabin. They don't have to be in a carrier but they do have to be harnessed.
  • Check with the airline for regulations on kennel size. If yours doesn't comply, most airlines will supply one for a fee.
  • The airline also will tell you what information needs to be displayed on the kennel, including when the animal was last fed, when it should be fed, and your name and address.
  • Kennels must have secured, empty food and water dishes that must be accessible from outside.

In addition, many airlines require the pet to be checked in two hours before departure. Fees for transporting a pet can range from $50 to $100 or more depending on the number of pets being shipped.

-- Posted: July 7, 2004

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