Cats on a plane. Does that sound worse than snakes on a plane to you?
The idea is cute. Snuggly little cats enjoying travel and living their best lives! The reality – two cats for a total of fourteen hours of travel – was much more scary. Yet, that’s where we found ourselves almost a year ago. We had decided to move to Berlin, and there was no way we were going to leave the cats behind. The good news is that we survived it and you can too. Bringing our cats was one of the best decisions we made about this move. It made it more complicated, yes, but having purr machines around when you’re homesick and craving anything that feels like home? Totally worth it.
So, we survived it, but how? Never fear! Here is your handy-dandy guide to moving from the US to Germany with cats.
Moving with Your Cats – Before You Go
- Visit your vet. Definitely do this as soon as you decide to move. Most are familiar with the paperwork necessary for your move, but your cats might need some shots early on. There is a window, for example, for the rabies shot. It can’t be administered too late before you leave. Here are some things to make sure you take care of at the vet:
- Vaccinations. Make sure your cats are up-to-date and recent on their vaccinations.
- Medications. If your cat takes medication, make sure to get a list and a healthy supply to get you through your first month or so.
- Travel tips. You might consider some drugs to calm your cats on the trip. Your vet can prescribe them and have you test them on the cats. Testing is important. One of the drugs really worked Kaylee up, while it put Merlin straight to sleep. We were able to find another one that was calming for both of them.
- Paperwork. Your cats need an EU vet certificate. Print out enough paperwork to cover all of your pets and bring it with you to the appointment.
- Microchip. To enter Germany, you cats need to be microchipped with the correct type of chip. Plus, it’s a good idea to have them anyway!
- Get your health certificate certified. You need to get the paperwork filled out by your local vet certified at your local USDA/APHIS Veterinary services area office within ten days of arrival. These offices are few and far between, and they often have limited hours. We suggest arriving before the doors open to make sure you get seen.
- Book your airline tickets. Pay special attention to the cat policies. Many airlines allow cats in the cabin area (which we insisted on), but others only allow them in the cargo hold. Book your ticket well in advance and read the fine print. Ours required us to have window seats, for the cats to be able to stand and turn around in their carriers, and for us to be there extra early. Write down all of this information. Bringing a cat will cost extra, but it’s worth it!
- Go to the pet store. You’re going to want to make sure your cat is properly outfitted for the trip. Here are some things to pick up:
- Their favorite treats. Flying will be stressful, make sure they know they’re being good cats! You might also consider calming treats.
- Carriers that match what the airlines require. We loved our soft sided ones, especially since they had petting pockets, perfect for soothing anxious cats.
- A foldable litter box and familiar kitty litter. If you have a long layover, this is especially necessary. It’s also nice to have when you arrived. Last thing we wanted to do, jet lagged and smelly, was to go get a litter box. Bring enough litter for at least a few days. It’ll comfort them and remind them of where to do their business.
- Some familiar food. Travel can upset them, and introducing new food can be hard. We recommend bringing about a week’s worth of dry food to mix in with your new variety.
- Leashes and halters. Don’t laugh. Your cat might look ridiculous, but these were life savers going through security! Kaylee wanted to explore – we weren’t as sure about that. Leashes kept them near us.
- Collapsible dishes. We kept one on hand to give the cats a little water on the layover.
- Prep your cats. Leave out their carriers. Ours liked hanging out in them, so they were more comfortable with the idea of being in them. Test any calmers you’re giving them – either prescription or the treat kind. Before you leave for the airport, limit food and water intake (not by much!) so they’re less uncomfortable on the trip. Put a familiar smelling blanket in their carriers for comfort.
As You Travel
- Have your documents ready. Some airlines will check it when you check in, others once you arrive, but make sure that paperwork is handy!
- Get ready for security. Some airports will let you get checked out and scanned in a separate room, which can be a little bit less crazy for your cats. If that’s not the case, be prepared to take your cats out of the carriers as you go through security. Make sure their halters are on and their leashes are available. Know your cat – Merlin spent the whole time shivering in my arms, head buried in my hair, but Kaylee trotted through security on her leash.
- Settle the cats in for the flight. Almost all airlines state that the cats must stay in their carriers, so make sure they’re comfortable. We kept their heads towards us and a handy supply of treats in the seat pouch. Pet them every once in a while, and relax. Cats are pretty good travelers. Even if you’re convinced they kept the whole flight up with their occasional meow, they probably didn’t. No on around us even noticed that we had cats with us.
- Check airports for a pet-friendly zone. Some international airports have designated pet areas. Mostly, there will be dogs in here, but if your cat is comfortable and wants to stretch her legs, let her out a bit. We gave our cats water on the layover, which improved their moods. Don’t give them too much – there is a definite chance they’re not feeling great and will throw it up.
When You Arrive
- Get your paperwork checked. To be honest, no one checked ours on arrival, but they might!
- Leave your cats in a bathroom. It’s been stressful, so don’t introduce them to too much all at once. The first thing we did was set up the little box, give them a bit of water and a small amount of dry food. Again, not too much! We left them in the bathroom overnight, with plenty of visits for pets, and small water refills.
- Find a good pet store. You probably won’t find the same pet food you had, so it’s important to start adding a bit of the new food to their supply of old food, so they get accustomed to it. We like Futterhaus for pet supplies. Get a more permanent litter box and new litter and start mixing that in too!
- Let them explore, bit by bit. If you’re house-hunting, you might be in temporary housing. Introduce them to new rooms slowly and let them explore.
- Find a vet. Locate a vet near you that speaks English, just in case.
- Line up cat sitters! If you’re anything like us, traveling is a priority. Ask around your work or even Facebook for pet sitters (Pet sitting/boarding Berlin is a great group to look at). Lots of people left their cats behind and are happy to come pet yours for a bit.
That’s it! It’s a little intimidating bringing them over, but having them around is worth it! Your cats might change a little after the trip. Both of our pretty independent cats suddenly became huge cuddlers. We’re pretty okay with that. Make sure they get lots of pets and treats when the move is over. Now, your cats have to learn how to meow in German!
-Katarina and Colin
Next on the blog: A Beer Weekend in Belgium