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Few events in life can be as stressful as moving. Add pets into the mix, and everyone’s blood pressure, including your dog’s or cat’s, will most likely rise.
Your pets may understand a few words, but they will not comprehend, “Can you please be on your best behavior in the back seat as we drive 1,700 miles across the country to our new home?” That means it’s up to you to get them ready for the move and help them acclimate once they arrive.
Derek Huntington, the president of the International Pet and Animal Transportation Association, said moves should be approached with a simple understanding: Pets are precious cargo.
Act “as if you were transporting your own children,” Mr. Huntington said.
Prepare for the move
Find your inner Zen: Dogs and cats know a lot about their owners and notice when they are stressed out. If you misplace the tape while packing and throw a fit, your tantrum will add to your pet’s anxiety. Set an example by staying calm.
Take it slow: Packing up all at once is likely to make your pets anxious, so start the process early and stretch it out over several days. Take breaks from packing to allow your pets to continue their routines.
Once they get used to the crate, use it to take them on short trips around your neighborhood and then longer ones. Likewise, if your pets will be buckled up in pet seatbelts during the move, have them wear the harnesses around the house first, Ms. Salerno advised.
The big day: While you’re packing up your house, consider sending your pets away. The flurry of activity could cause them to get worked up, or even panic and escape out the front door. Drop them off at doggy day care or board them with a veterinarian.
“From your pet’s perspective, moving day is filled with strange noises, unfamiliar voices and some commotion,” Ms. Salerno said.
To drive or to fly?
Which is best?: The answer is likely to come down to distance. If your new home is within driving distance, transport your pets in a kennel by car or buckle them up with pet seatbelts. Long-distance moves, especially international trips, may require a flight.
Flying 101: It’s not as simple as just showing up at the airport with your pet. Rules and regulations for flying pets vary by airline. But on most commercial flights, small dogs and cats may ride in a carrier under your seat, as long as you pay a fee, usually ranging from $100 to $150 one way.
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Larger dogs must fly in the cargo area of a plane, a pressurized and temperature-controlled space under the seats. The fees are higher, and there are more limitations. Cats and dogs that travel in cargo must ride in kennels that adhere to regulations set by the Agriculture Department and the International Air Transport Association. Make sure your kennel complies before you arrive at the airport.
If your pets are flying in cargo, you should try to transport them during the fall or spring. Many airlines, including American Airlines, will not transport pets if any stop in your journey is colder than 45 degrees or warmer than 85 degrees.
It is also important not to medicate your pet before a flight. In fact, some airlines will refuse to transport pets that have been drugged. “Years ago, tranquilizers were the No. 1 cause of death in shipping pets, since the drugs depress the heart and respiratory system,” said Sally B. Smith, who operates Airborne Animals, a pet transportation service based in New Jersey.
But do bring proof of recent vaccinations to show airlines.
There are risks: In 2016, 26 animals died on commercial flights in the United States, down from 35 during the prior year, according to the Transportation Department. And 22 animals were injured in 2016.
But airlines transport hundreds of thousands of animals every year. “Shipping a pet is very safe when the proper precautions are taken,” Mr. Huntington said.
Driving 101: Driving with your pet will require extra stops along the way for bathroom breaks and may add a few hours to your journey. You may need a few extras for the trip, like a restraint harness (a seatbelt for your pet), portable toys, a no-spill water bowl and a seat cover to protect your upholstery. The Wirecutter has specific gear recommendations for driving with your pets here. If your pets tend to get car sick, feed them several hours before the drive and wait until after you arrive to feed them again.
Many hotels do not allow dogs, while those that do are likely to charge a pet cleaning fee. The site TripsWithPets.com offers a route planner that shows pet-friendly stops.
Hire a professional: It may seem like a splurge, but a professional mover might make sense for logistically difficult moves.
Pet movers offer a variety of services, including personally transporting your pets by car or even private plane, or researching and arranging the best route on a commercial flight. They can also navigate tricky situations like quarantines and flight regulations, Mr. Huntington said.
A mover may charge around $1,000 to relocate a small pet, Ms. Smith said, though international moves cost much more. It is important to make sure your mover is registered with the Agriculture Department.
Acclimate to a new home
Don’t give up now: You may feel relieved when you arrive at your home, but for your pets, it is a whole new world. There are sights, smells and sounds to discover. Unpack their belongings first and set them in an area of the house that can be all theirs. “A move is a big deal for your pet, especially if it’s accompanied by a long journey and an extended break from his usual routine,” Ms. Salerno said.
Explore the area: Introduce your dogs to the area with walks, allowing them to stop and sniff around the neighborhood. For anxious pets, keep them in their crates when you leave the house until you are comfortable allowing them to roam. Pets with separation anxiety may require extra attention.
“If your pet seems out of sorts, somewhat sad or uninterested in his new surroundings, simply give it some time,” Ms. Salerno said. “Chances are, he will eventually come around on his own terms.”