When we were applying for work permits to move from the UK to Canada, it didn’t even cross our minds that we would move without our cat, Quentin. Leaving him behind wasn’t an option – he’s our baby! I know so many people feel the same way about their own pets and that travelling with a pet is pretty common. I also knew that getting anything wrong in terms of your legal paperwork or even your pet’s travel case could result in them being denied access to another country.
We booked Quentin onto the same one-way flight as ourselves, and the thought of him being held in London while we jetted off (or, more realistically for us, while we cancelled our flights and stayed in London with him while we gathered the right documents!) was certainly a scary one. In fact, out of the whole visa process, selling or donating most of our possessions, putting our apartment on the market, quitting our jobs, spending a lot of money and saying goodbye to friends and family, I can honestly say that ensuring Quentin had the correct travel documents was the most stressful part of it all. Mostly because the right information just didn’t seem to be out there or, at least, not in a way that was easy to find, understand or validate.
So, I thought I would jot down my own tips and learnings here, with the hopes of helping anyone else in a similar situation to us in the future. And before I go on – yes, Quentin arrived safely and is now living his best life out here with us in Vancouver!
OUR TOP TIP
If we ever needed to fly with Quentin again, I would spend whatever it cost to take him in the cabin with us. While everything turned out well and we all arrived according to plan, I can’t tell you how stressed and scared I felt knowing that he was alone and vulnerable flying in the hold below us. As irrational as it sounds, I had horror stories (most likely allllll made up!) and this ridiculous scene from Come Fly with Me churning around in my head for the duration of our flight and I seriously cried for most of the journey. Poor, poor man sitting to my left, who must have thought I had a severe phobia of flying, and poor Paddy, who had to ask the air hostesses three times on my behalf whether they could check that the pilot had turned on the temperature and air pressure control in the hold (is it even possible to not do that?!).
Anyway, to summarise – if you’re an emotional person with a vivid imagination like myself, and you can afford it, I would highly recommend paying for your cat or small dog to fly in the cabin with you, simply to save yourself from experiencing such high stress levels. They can sit at your feet the whole journey and usually their carry case just has to fit under the seat in front of you, where your handbag or ‘personal item’ would go. If, however, you don’t have the funds, have a larger animal or are more rational than me, then don’t fret – turns out my extreme worrying was all for nothing, airlines have strict safety regulations ensuring your animal remains safe and millions of animals travel by air each year, of course arriving unfrozen and in one piece! Animals flying in the hold can also have larger cages so they can properly stand and stretch.
ENSURE YOUR AIRLINE IS PET FRIENDLY
This may sound obvious, but many airlines don’t allow animals at all and certain airlines charge a lot more than others, so it’s important to shop around and do your research. We flew with Air Transat, as they had the most reasonable costs and a good reputation when it came to transporting animals. It’s important to note that they currently only allow animals to travel in the hold on long-haul flights, but I can’t fault the Air Transat staff, who were patient and understanding with us and kind and caring towards Quentin. They were obviously well accustomed to those travelling with pets. Another great option is to fly with Air Canada, who charge a lot more for your tickets but who allow cats and small dogs to fly in the cabin with you. Our research told us that British Airways also allow animals to fly in the hold section, but that WestJet don’t currently allow pets on long-haul flights from the UK to Canada.
Once you’ve selected your airline and travel date/s, you should phone the airline to check that there’s still space for your furry friend before you book your own tickets. As an example, Air Transat only allowed four cats per flight. Once they confirm there’s space, you can go ahead and book your tickets and then call them straight back to book your pet’s space too. Visit this link to find the contact details for Air Transat and reserve your pet’s space.
I’d really recommend flying on the same plane, as this way you can all travel to the airport together, spend as much time with them before you need to head towards your gate and then all arrive together the other side. If you’re flying from the UK to Canada, then your animal does not need to be quarantined as the UK is classed as a rabies-free country, and will be ready to collect at the same time as your suitcase. You’ll just need to pay a small fee to pick them up – I think it was about $50 CAD for us.
If you can’t travel together, then you can look into a specialized pet travel company to help you check your animal onto another plane and sort the paperwork out for you. Please be advised that using pet travel companies can become pricey and your animals will still travel in exactly the same way as if they were booked into a hold yourself, but they can offer peace of mind, such as by completing the paperwork for you.
BUY A TRAVEL CASE THAT MEETS REGULATIONS
If you’re checking your pet into the hold, then the next step is to buy an IATA-approved travel cage. These are rigid plastic cages that provide your pet with enough room to stand, lie down and turn around in, as well as a locking mechanism on the door. The door can be made of metal (ours had metal slats across the windows too) and you’ll need to write your pet’s name on it. We bought this one from Amazon in a size medium, which offered more than enough room for Quentin to move around in.
Once the cage arrives, it’s best to place a soft bed inside and leave it in a place that your cat likes to lounge around in, such as in the living room. It may look a little unsightly, but it will become associated with positive vibes by your cat, and they’ll learn that it’s theirs and that it’s a safe place to be in. In turn, you’ll help calm their nerves when it comes to placing them in it ready for flying. We placed Quentin’s favourite bed in there, which was so much more comfortable than a layer of towels.
Our travel cage came with a detachable water bowl to clip onto the inside of the door. You should attach this but leave it empty, to avoid water spilling everywhere during transit to the plane. When the airline staff place your pet in the hold before take-off, they will fill the bowl with water so your pet can drink during the flight. Also, remember to pack some scissors in your checked suitcase (not in your carry-on!) in case airline staff place tape over the cage door to secure it within the hold. This is common practice and means your pet won’t slide around down there, but you may need to cut it off so you can open the door once you land, and scoop your fur baby out for a big cuddle!
GATHER THE RIGHT DOCUMENTS & BOOK A FINAL VET CHECK
I found this website super helpful when it came to laying out a clear guide for what documents and vaccines your animal will need. Basically, you need to email this Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) address: PetExports@apha.gsi.gov.uk to ask for an Official Export Health Certificate (also known as a ‘fit to fly’ certificate). They should reply pretty quickly, sending across a few different attachments.
The Pet Export Guidance PDF helps in understanding the order everything needs to be completed in. You’ll need to fill in the Export Health Certificate (form 2923EHC) and then email it across to: PetExports.Carlisle@apha.gsi.
Additionally, Canada also requires a certificate from your vet stating that your pet comes from the UK, which is recognized as being a rabies-free country. Rabies is the one ‘thing’ Canada is worried about as rabies still exists over here, albeit it’s under control now. To be safe, our amazing vet gave Quentin a rabies vaccine (as he would need to get it while living in Canada anyway), plus produced a European pet passport as solid proof he is from the UK. A photo of your pet is optional within the passport – but try not to let them smile, teehee! Ensure your pet’s vaccine record is up-to-date and then place all paperwork inside an envelope so you can appear organized at the airport and nothing gets lost.
Our vet recommended feeding Quentin wet food rather than biscuits on the day before and day of the flight, to allow him to ingest more water and help deter dehydration. Any form of sedative for your pet is NOT recommended and can result in serious health problems for your pet, as no one will be there to see how they are reacting to it, so it is best to avoid these completely. However, you can spray your pet’s cage with cat pheromones to help relax them, or ask your vet for suggestions on very mild and all-natural calming drops. We tried the pheromone spray for Quentin but he didn’t seem to like it, so we didn’t use any form of calming other than getting him used to his cage beforehand and placing a comfortable, familiar bed in there. Some animals might like you to place something you’ve worn or used in there so they have your scent, such as a t-shirt or pillowcase.
TRY TO RELAX
Among the chaos of packing up our lives into nine boxes, selling or donating the rest of our belongings, sorting out our own visas as well as Quentin’s travel documents, saying goodbye to friends and family, quitting our jobs, putting our apartment on the market and spending a lot of money, it’s understandable that stress levels were riding high.
One important thing to remember is that your pet will pick up on your emotions and can become very stressed themselves. They’ll already know that something different is going on when they see removal boxes or suitcases everywhere and, in our case, our furniture slowly disappearing leaving only the floor to sit on! A great tip our vet gave us was to try our best not to change our treatment of Quentin too much. For example, you may be tempted to pick them up or cuddle them more frequently, but this will actually send them confusing signals.
In regards to the photos below…that’s a typical London apartment, where we paid through-the-roof rental fees for a ‘characterful’ but very run down home. Yup, that’s vegan, gluten-free pizza from our favourite London pizza place, Pizza Da Vinci, but despite what it looks like, Quentin did not eat any (he likes to sniff at what we’re eating to see if he’s interested!). And finally, it’s true – I was feeling more stressed, scared and worried about Quentin’s welfare than I ever had in my life in the photo of us three at the airport. I was just smiling for the camera! But, as shown in this (hopefully useful) guide, exporting your pet from the UK to Canada can go smoothly and safely and all work out well, as it does for millions of people travelling with pets each year, despite any irrational fears!