Transporting a cat to a new home takes preparation, but there’s no reason to leave your BFF — best feline friend — behind
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Andrews McMeel Syndication
When Barbara Cole Miller made the decision to move from her longtime home in Southern California to her hometown of Albany, New York, she knew one of the greatest challenges she faced would be transporting her 10-year-old cat. Piper, adopted by Miller from San Clemente-Dana Point Animal Shelter in 2013, was fearful of loud noises and rarely left home except for visits to the veterinarian. Their cross-country trip by air would involve a two-day stay at a hotel before the flight, a new experience for Piper.
Her head exploding with “what-ifs,” Miller reached out for advice from Piper’s veterinarian, Bernadine Cruz, DVM, who is certified in Fear Free techniques, and to acquaintances experienced in traveling with cats.
The first step was finding a soft-sided carrier with mesh sides for good air flow that would fit comfortably beneath the airline seat. She chose one that allowed 15-pound Piper to be placed in it from the top or side.
Miller also purchased a portable folding litter box and packed a zippered plastic bag of lightweight clumping litter for the flight. She didn’t expect Piper to need or use it during the flight, but she wanted to have it in case they were delayed at their connection in Chicago. Janiss Garza, who travels frequently with her Somali cat Summer, advised on litter selection.
“Clay litter is heavy and will almost guarantee your suitcase will be inspected by the TSA, since it has some of the same chemical makeup as another substance on their danger list,” she says.
To make sure Piper could urinate comfortably and mess-free if she had to during the flight, Miller lined the bottom of the carrier with a plastic bag, then layered it with absorbent pee pads and folded newspaper. She also added shredded newspaper to help Piper stay warm.
Her biggest fear was that Piper would defecate during the flight.
“I carried a cat carrier change: plastic bag, pee pads and newspaper, but my good girl only peed a little while confined or away from a litter box,” she says.
To help Piper feel comfortable in the hotel room and the carrier, Miller used feline pheromone spray provided by Dr. Cruz. She also planned ahead for the flight. Piper’s carrier required a special airline tag, so they had to check in at the counter. Miller has had both knees replaced, so she had to enter a special line to go through security. She knew that Piper would have to be removed from the carrier during the security check so the bag could be X-rayed. To help maintain control of Piper while the cat was out of the bag, she purchased a custom vest with a touch fastener and a ring for attaching a leash.
“Most important,” she says, “I requested a private room for inspection of her carrier. We were escorted to a small, fully enclosed room where Piper could walk around for a few minutes.”
Before arriving at the airport and again before takeoff, Miller gave Piper a dose of gabapentin prescribed by Dr. Cruz. The medication doesn’t cause complete sedation, but it reduces stress. Aside from an occasional quiet meow, Piper tolerated the two flights without issue.
They reached their new home five days before the movers arrived with furniture, but Miller had arranged for a friend to have a litter box and food waiting for Piper. She also brought familiar throw pillows and used the pheromone spray to help Piper settle in to her new digs.
“All in all, she did far better than I could have imagined,” Miller says. “Piper has a strong bond with me, and as long as I was around, she was fine.”
PHOTO CAPTION: Piper’s journey from California to upstate New York went smoothly thanks to her owner’s planning.