When people name the members of their family, they often include Fluffy, Champ and Lucky. And why shouldn’t they? Pets are an important part of our lives, bringing comfort, cheer and unconditional love. When military families move, our pets can help us feel at home in the new, unfamiliar surroundings. But a move can be stressful for pets, too. To put them—and you—at ease, it pays to do some research and plan ahead. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
Preparing to move with your pet
As a military pet owner, there are a few things you can do in anticipation of an eventual move with your pet that will make the transition easier for both of you.
- Put an ID tag on your pet. Your pet’s tag should include its name, your cell phone number and another emergency contact number. If you list your home address and phone number, these will become obsolete during a move.
- Microchip your pet. Dogs and cats can be identified through an identification number on a microchip that has been inserted under their skin by a veterinarian. Many overseas destinations require a microchip; the number must match that on the health certificate.
- Photograph your pet. Having a pet photo when you travel can help to identify your pet.
Preparing your pet for the move
You and your pet will feel less stressed when moving day arrives if you start early to teach your pet some behaviors that will come in handy during the move. These include:
- Traveling in the car. You can help to get a pet accustomed to riding in the car by introducing the car slowly. At first, you might reward your pet for just getting in the car. Then, take your pet on short drives to places the animal might enjoy, like a dog park. If you discover your pet gets carsick, talk to your veterinarian about medication.
- Being happy in a crate. Chances are that at some point in your move, a crate will keep your pet and others safe. If your pet is not used to being in a crate, introduce the crate slowly. Leave the door open and put a little treat inside. Eventually your pet will get used to going in the crate and may even prefer to sleep there. (Note: crates for airline travel must meet specific requirements; see shipping regulations below.)
- Eliminating on cue. Since you can’t explain to pets how long they may have to wait before going to the bathroom, this behavior can make traveling much easier for all concerned. Pick a phrase (“get busy,” “go potty”) to say when your pet is ready to eliminate. Praise your pet when he’s done and give him a treat. Soon he will connect the command to the behavior.
- Staying with a familiar friend. Moving day is a stressful day for pets. Ask a friend to care for your pet that day. It will be less stressful for you, too, and it may prevent your pet from running out an open door or climbing in a box, as cats have been known to do.
When you receive PCS orders for a CONUS move, factor your pet into your plans. Decide if you’ll be driving or shipping your pet to your new home and make plans accordingly.
- Contact the state you’re moving to. The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, lists contacts for each state so you can learn about rules for bringing animals into that state.
- Locate pet-friendly hotels. Be sure to find pet-friendly hotels along your route.
- Carry a health certificate. Carry a statement signed by your veterinarian indicating your pet is healthy and has current vaccinations.
- Pack a pet bag. Bring food, water, bowls, leash, toys, bedding, plastic bags, waste scoop, first-aid items and medication. Include water your pet is used to drinking to avoid tummy upset.
- Limit feeding. Feed your pet three to four hours before the trip, and then feed lightly when you stop for the night. Do not feed during the car ride. Water should be available.
- Rest areas are for pets, too. Give your pet water and a chance to walk or run around. Offer your cat a litter box.
- Learn about shipping regulations. If shipping your pet, read the IATA suggestions for shipping a dog or cat and the section below.
An overseas move can be challenging for both you and your pet. But if you begin early, you can get ready for the paperwork requirements, costs, and training that will help to prepare your pet for the move. Here are some tips:
- Purchase a crate early. Be sure it meets airline specifications. Allow time for your pet to get used to it. To prepare the kennel for your move:
- Identify your pet. Clearly write your name, your pet’s name and your destination address on the crate. If your dog bites, put a warning on the crate.
- Provide bowls and food. Have water and food bowls securely attached and accessible from the outside of the crate. Provide food in an attached bag.
- Get pet requirements for the destination. Contact the consulate or embassy to learn about specific regulations for bringing pets into the country. Be mindful that the preparation process may take longer to complete than you expect and may be costly. Some destinations, like Hawaii, have strict regulations and quarantine requirements.
- Use a military veterinarian. They are usually more familiar with the paperwork required for an overseas move. Be sure to check the country requirements yourself, however.
- Contact the airline. Asking questions beforehand can prevent problems later.
- Visit airline websites about pet travel. Learn when to check in, when to feed, and what instructions to provide for your pet. Some airlines restrict pet travel during certain temperatures. As an example, here is United’s animal check-in list.
- Compare the airlines. Check prices for shipping pets and compare procedures.
- Make sure your crate fits on the plane. Check the specific plane you’ll fly on, as well as any connecting flights.
- Verify that your pet is listed for the flight. Airlines limit the number of pets, whether they are flying with passengers or in cargo.
- Reserve a weekday flight. If a problem arises, some veterinary employees may not work on weekends. Try to get a non-stop flight or no more than one connecting flight. Consider the entire length of the trip including layovers. It should not exceed twelve hours.
- Mention your pet to the pilot or flight attendant. It’s a good idea to remind them there is a pet on board even though they should know that. Besides, it will make you feel better.
By learning what you’ll need and what you need to do early, you can alleviate some of the stress for your pet and your family when it’s time to move. Then you can enjoy the adventure of moving to a new town or a new country.