Big cat decisions
September 28, 2014 6:45 AM   Subscribe

I have to make some big study/career decisions over the next few months that could possibly see me move from Australia to Europe for at least a year or two (maybe longer), but I don't know what to do about my cat. I don't really have anyone who would be willing to look after her for a year or two, so my decision is basically either to give her up or to take her with me. Has anyone else been in a similar situation? What did you end up doing?

I'm really tempted to take her with me, but since me being able to stay in Europe long term is not guaranteed, I'd be worried about having to fly her back again. One flight across the world is already too much for a cat. She has a nervous temperament and on the one hand, I would be devastated not to have her in my life and I would also worry about how she would adapt to a new home, on the other hand I would be worried that such a long flight would be too stressful for her.

If you've had to make the decision one way or the other, I would be really interested to hear about all the practical/logistical details. I have done a bit of reading about custom requirements etc.

I was really naive to get a pet when I did, thinking that my circumstances wouldn't change, but what's done is done and I can't go back and change it, so no criticism on that front please. It's also not guaranteed if/when I will go to Europe, but I am starting to think about this now so that I can be prepared if I have to be.

Thanks for any advice :)
posted by kinddieserzeit to Pets & Animals (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I flew across hemispheres with my elderly diva of a feline and she was fine. I didn't want to adopt her out because of her age. If you want specific advice I can me ail you my notes. :)
posted by spunweb at 7:14 AM on September 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

I know a number of people who moved across oceans with their cat(s) and back. A cat can go in the carrier under the seat, possibly covered in butter.
posted by jeather at 7:18 AM on September 28, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I took my very nervous totally sook cat (and his sister) from New Zealand to Ireland. It was totally fine. Cats travel much better than you'd think. Mac hates going anywhere and will shit all over himself going to the vet, which is literally four minutes walk from our front door, but made it to the other side of the world just fine. They both arrived relaxed and with no changes to personality or obvious stress. I think that having strangers do everything helped, they just kind of went into survival mode and hunkered down for the two day journey. I wouldn't let just nervousness put you off.

The import rules are going to depend to some extent on which country you go to. If you go somewhere using the PETS scheme (which is widespread) it will be fairly straight forward. But ask your vet ahead of time about the rabies vaccination and paperwork because it sometimes takes a bit of time for them to organise it and they aren't super cheap.

The actual travel was also expensive - 1.5x a person's airfare per cat. We'd been saving for a couple of years knowing this was coming, and we had to be sure we'd stay awhile because we couldn't afford to do it again in reverse too quickly. I paid a pet transport company because there was no other choice from NZ, it may be similar from Australia. This didn't really add much to the price but did make the customs paperwork and overall logistics a lot easier. I'd totally do the same again even if I didn't have to. Really look into how much this is going to cost, like get actual quotes from companies and things, this could end up being your deal breaker.

I also left one of my then-three cats behind because she was too old and sick to travel. She was on immune-suppressants so even if we vaccinated her she wouldn't get the necessary blood titre to enter Ireland (this was under the old rules), and I didn't know if she would survive the trip. We posted ads online and found her a new home before we left, and she lived about another three months being well cared for and happy. It was hard to do and I still miss her sometimes, but it was the right choice. So I do think that not taking your pet can be a valid option.

I have friends that took their cat to the UK than back again less than two years later, they thought it was totally worth it. I also know people who have given up pets because of a move and they're also OK with how their life ended up. It is a personal decision in the end, particularly given the money involved. But if worrying about how she will travel is all that's putting you off then go for it.
posted by shelleycat at 7:21 AM on September 28, 2014 [7 favorites]

A cat can go in the carrier under the seat

This might not be possible from Australia, it definitely wasn't from New Zealand. But cargo is fine and the cat will be well looked after in transit regardless.
posted by shelleycat at 7:22 AM on September 28, 2014

I have a work colleague from the UK who moved to our (midwestern US) location on temporary assignment for a few years and she brought her cat with her. The biggest logistical issue was when she headed back, she had to have a rabies certificate for Chip and it was kind of a pain, but her vet was a big help.
posted by cabingirl at 7:23 AM on September 28, 2014

Hmm, and actually, the being made to fly cargo and being forced to use a company may be because my cats entered Europe via the UK rather than because they were leaving from NZ. Either way, the two countries involved is going to be the deciding factor in this stuff.
posted by shelleycat at 7:30 AM on September 28, 2014

Response by poster: Very helpful answers so far. Thanks everyone. I will try not to threadsit, but in case it is helpful, I guess I could say that I would most likely be travelling to Germany.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 7:38 AM on September 28, 2014

My cat died recently at 20. I'm not ready to enter into that kind of commitment again with any animal, but am currently fostering a cat short term, and am considering looking after a friend's cat for two years while she goes away to study. She isn't even changing continents, but she's going to a city where housing can be tricky and expensive and having a pet makes it more so.

An older cat, a limited time frame, a friend who will pay or at least chip in if veterinary care is needed – that might appeal to others besides me. Talk to rescue groups in your area. They know about fostering out cats to reliable people.
posted by zadcat at 8:02 AM on September 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

The import rules are going to depend to some extent on which country you go to. If you go somewhere using the PETS scheme (which is widespread) it will be fairly straight forward.

If you want to bring the cat back to Australia, get your ducks in a row before you leave: DAFF: Cats and dogs returning to Australia.
"The European Union Pet Travel Scheme (PETS), also known as the Pet Passport Scheme, does not apply to cats and dogs being imported or returning to Australia."
Germany is a category 3 country, so you'll need an import certificate on return.
posted by zamboni at 8:20 AM on September 28, 2014

Well, if this plan comes to fruition, the one thing that will be a constant in any situation is that the cat is going to change residences. So the question becomes: which will be more long-term problematic for the cat: experiencing the international flight (probably twice) or acquiring a new owner? I think there is ample evidence that most cats can deal with either of these circumstances. However, I think there is a none-zero chance of your cat having a difficult time transitioning/settling in due to any of the many variables that might be present with a new owner/household: not getting along with existing cats/dogs/children or dealing with a potentially higher level of activity or noise in a new household would be at the top of my list of concerns. Rehoming an adult cat is also not always an easy proposition.

So me, personally, I think that the commitment to taking your cat with you has more upsides than the alternative.
posted by drlith at 8:33 AM on September 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

I can't offer any advice for the actual travel or move, but it sure seems to me that one - or two or even ten - stressful trips would be a lot less harm to the cat than the disruption and unhappiness of losing her person and having to adapt to new people who might not care for her as well as you do. Trips are a short duration with the end that means she's "home", wherever that may be, with you; the alternative has the potential to be a lot less pleasant for her, and she might well spend the rest of her life wondering when/if you're coming back.
posted by stormyteal at 8:46 AM on September 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

I took my cat and dog with me on a 6 month extended trip to South America. It was totally fine. We had them in the cabin with us, which I think was super important.
posted by zug at 9:05 AM on September 28, 2014

I had two diva cats fly from Korea to the US. They've thrived in their new home. Gidgette was pissy for a while, but she got over it.
posted by kathrynm at 9:19 AM on September 28, 2014

Remember coming back into Australia your cat will have to go into quarantine in either Sydney or Melbourne & that will have to be arranged/paid for too. This can be as little as 10 days from approved countries, more so if not. Also the PETS passport doesn't apply to Australia. So if your cat is not good in kenneling/boarding situations that might be an added stress you'd want to avoid. Also you would not want to fly a pet into Australia during the summer due to chances of heat stress. The government will also not ensure that pets exported from Australia can come back in and they will have to go through all the same procedures as any pet imported into Australia, which is a mountain of paperwork, vets visits & expense you should be aware of.

I know a couple that moved to Australia from the Uk with their dog, a Westie. They lived in Australia for 2 years, then went back to the UK & back to Australia for 2 years etc over a 10 year period, the dog went with them every time & always seemed the same happy dog every time I met him. So it is doable.
posted by wwax at 11:45 AM on September 28, 2014

You have lots of good answers already; just chiming in as someone who took their cats from Australia to the US (and back again two years later). It was totally fine. We're in Sydney - Memail me if you want details on the logistics. Good luck!
posted by jrobin276 at 12:39 PM on September 28, 2014

Just chiming in to say that cousins brought their cat from Morocco to the U.S. in a bag under the seat and it went fine. They did dope her mildly and carefully, in consultation with medical folks, as she is a former feral street cat and they were worried about her flipping out for that long a time. That worked out ok.
posted by gudrun at 4:55 PM on September 28, 2014

I was recently looking into the possibility of moving a cat from Europe to Australia. We got a quote from a pet travel company - it would take about 9 months to organise, and cost over $5000. I knew it was expensive, but no way could we afford $5000 (especially if we might move back to Europe in a few years). The woman I spoke to said she had some clients who were basically moved with their pets constantly. So cats can handle the trouble if you can handle the expense.
posted by flora at 4:55 PM on September 28, 2014

Adding another success story: we moved our 2 cats from the U.S. to Europe and then back again 3 years later. One good part was that landlords did not discriminate against cat owners at all (as opposed to landlords in the U.S.).

It helped that our cats are indoor-only cats, as in most of European cities it's easier to find a flat than a place with a safe-ish yard/neighborhood.

It did not help that one of our cats is semi-feral and that animals have to come out of the carrier in the airport for security inspection of the carrier. This is true whether you take the cat into the cabin or as checked luggage.

Someone above said that the cost for their cat(s) to fly was 1.5x the cost for the people. That might be true once you add in all the vet costs etc. but for in-cabin or as-luggage, the airline fee was roughly the same as a third suitcase (US$200 each).

RE: nervous temperament: my guess is that the most stressful part for the cat is going to the airport and getting jostled a lot in new places. Once they're on the plane, takeoff may be scary. But after that, they're in a stable environment where I think most cats will settle down and go to sleep. I think most cats can handle it.
posted by mvd at 3:47 PM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

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