joanna irl

PCSing with Pets (aka how I took my kitties to Hawaii)

I recently got a question from another military spouse about how I took my cats to Hawaii, so I thought I’d tell you a little about the process we undertook in order to bring the pets on our PCS. I will try my best to keep my info accurate as of this writing, but always check the Hawaii Department of Agriculture’s website for the most up-to-date info!

The first thing you need to know is that Hawaii is a rabies-free (or as close to it as possible) place! This is good news for your furry family member once you’ve arrived, but it means that there will be some legwork on your behalf in the months leading up to your PCS. This can be tricky now as the DoD isn’t officially scheduling moves until 60 days in advance (again, as of this writing), but as long as you have about 5 months’ notice, you’ll be fine. It takes a little money and a little scheduling, but I can tell you that if you put in the work, you can pick your pet up at the airport (or within a few days) and it’s not at all stressful.

Have basket, will travel.

The basics of taking pets to Hawaii

Pets must undergo a 120 day quarantine to guarantee them rabies-free, but here’s the key: it can be before you move. Hawaii has a 5 Day or Less program that your pet may qualify for if you can do the legwork beforehand. If coming from somewhere else in the US, you will need to have a blood sample overnighted to one of the two rabies labs in the country and the pet must pass the blood test more than 120 days before arriving in Hawaii. The good news is the test is valid for 36 months, so you can do it at any time before the 120 day window. If you can do that, the rest is relatively easy.

Your pet must also be microchipped and you’ll need the microchip number for all your documentation.

Other things you’ll need: 

  • The form and import fee required by Hawaii’s Department of Agriculture
  • Paperwork from the previous two rabies vaccines, which must be more than 30 days apart
  • A health certificate from  your vet within 14 days prior to departure declaring your pet healthy enough for travel
  • A flea and tick treatment applied by your vet at the time of the health certificate
  • An airline-approved crate to ship your pet (more about that further down)

Double check the checklist from the HDOA’s website, of course, to make sure none of the requirements have changed, but I can tell you that we took the kitties to Hawaii in 2009 and eight years later the requirements are the same.

We knew we were going in Hawaii about 7 months in advance of the actual move, so I was able to get the bloodwork sent to Kansas State University’s Rabies Lab more than 120 days in advance. I timed the vet visits and got copies of the cats’ rabies vaccination certificates, then had my vet apply a flea and tick prevention and give us multiple copies of health certificates. The cats qualified for the 5 Day or Less program and were actually released to us in the airport as soon as they’d been processed. We took them straight to the hotel with us the day we arrived.

That military cat life.

General Tips for PCSing With Pets

Any time you’re moving to a place where you need to fly your pets, do your research to find out the best airline for them. This changes just about every time we move and the service with the best rating three years ago won’t be the best one this year. There are pet-dedicated services but know that they are charging you a service fee to still book your pet on the same exact airline that you could book yourself, so save yourself the $50-100 (or whatever the markup is) and just call the airlines yourself.

If you are sending your pet cargo (which is totally fine! this is what we do!), be sure to find out if your pet will be climate controlled the entire way. You do not want your pet sitting on a hot or cold tarmac. Climate control and temperature restrictions are the main things I look for when choosing an airline for my pets.

Crates are a good investment, even if you’re only planning to fly your pet the one time. “Airline safe” crates are usually available at the Exchange or online and while you may pay more for them, it’s like investing in a car seat for an infant: you’re keeping them safe by having the right equipment. Ideally your pet should be able to sit up without the tops of their ears brushing the top of the crate. My cats always spend their trips lying down, but at least they have the option if they want. Be sure to check with your chosen airline for the specific requirements. (Note: My cats have flown on different airlines than I have– the military often chooses our flights but I choose for the cats so they are not locked in to whatever deal the military has made.)

Some people may suggest that you give your pet a sedative when flying, but my vets have all recommended against doing that. It’s much more stressful for an animal to “wake up” in the middle of an airplane with no idea where they are or how they got there than it is for them to be aware of the process, so we’ve always opted to simply leave them be.
EDIT: I was reminded that “comfort sprays” are not sedatives and can be very helpful for animals to relieve stress! We use Feliway spray in the crates (even on road trips) and it makes a big difference for our kitties! Just a couple of spritzes in a small space is all it takes.

Kitty left behind by neighbors in military housing; I worked with a local rescue to rehome him.

Other notes about Military Pets

NEVER leave your pet behind if there is any way to avoid it. Military families are infamous in the animal rescue community for adopting and then dumping pets because of the cost/effort involved in moving them every 2-3 years. Because of this there are MANY animal groups that will not allow military families to adopt pets. Understand that if you are in the military you are VERY LIKELY to move sometime in the life of the pet, so take that pet adoption seriously. I won’t go anywhere my cats can’t go and J’s detailers all know that.

If you aren’t sure you want to commit to a pet because you know you’ll be moving in 18 months or three years or at some other random interval, maybe consider fostering a pet. This is a great way to have the experience of having a furry friend without the lifetime commitment, and many rescue groups are in constant need of good fosters.

Have you done a military move with pets? Any other tips I have forgotten? Let me know! 

joanna irl

Just another cat video: Caspian chasing his tail

Yeah, I know the internet doesn’t NEED another cat video, but surely the internet WANTS another cat video, right?

Caspian does this ALL THE TIME and no one ever gets to see, even when I try to cleverly flip a video-chat camera around. Tuesday I finally caught him on camera, so here you go. He’s been doing this his whole life, but now there are wood floors which make for better SPINNING.

joanna irl

Fat Cat, Skinny Cat: How I got my overweight cat to lose weight

For years now, I’ve had a problem: one of my cats was too big.

Caspian's chub

Caspian’s always been a big guy, and has really large paws (mitts, really) and is tall and long… but he’s also bad about clearing his food dish AND the other cat’s if she doesn’t eat quickly enough and I’ve never been able to get him to lose weight. We tried everything, from prescription diet food (in four varieties, no less) to restricting food intake (which led to grouchy kitties) to free feeding (he’ll get full eventually and learn to just walk away, right? WRONG), and nothing worked. Leena was getting to be pretty big, too, and I really wanted to get them to lose weight.

82/365 Leena's soccer ball

Why is a chubby cat a problem? Surely there’s just more to love, right? Well, the problems increase the older they get, from joint problems to diabetes, which can be expensive to treat in cats, not to mention once they are over fifteen pounds (which Caspian was), the flea and tick medicine (and any other medications they need) increase in cost. So it’s unhealthy and can be expensive. With the cats approaching seven years old this spring, I needed help.

Finally I met a vet who suggested something obvious, and yet still outside the box for most people. She suggested simulating a “wild” diet.

Now, that doesn’t mean I started buying frozen mice, but the idea is similar: in the “wild” (i.e. for feral cats), one mouse a day and then a bit of something else is about what they need for basic caloric intake. Non-sedentary cats (so actual feral cats) need more, but mine really don’t. They get what fiber they need from the guts of their prey, and they don’t eat nearly as much as their indoor counterparts.

So this, then, is what we did: Every evening, the cats each got a “mouse sized” scoop of wet cat food. That’s about 25g, or about 1/4 of a large can of wet cat food. Then in the morning they each got about 1/8 cup of dry kibble, to keep their teeth clean and give them the fiber they need.

I added to this a scheduled playtime of at least fifteen continuous minutes of playtime, right before bed. This not only got them to move, but wore them out so they’d let me sleep all night.

After six months, I took them to the vet and had them weighed… Lo and behold! They’d lost weight. After three years of everything else not working, the “wild” diet did!

Caspian has hips!

Check out the HIPS on that kitty cat! Caspian went from 15.3 lbs to 13.4, which is right in his range (like I said, he’s a big guy). Leena went from 13 to 10.8, which is also about right for her.

Leena and her sleek self

So sleek! (She’s fluffy so her fur makes her look a little bigger.) I’m very happy with the results and wanted to share them in case you, too, are having trouble with an overweight animal. My guess is that if you work with your vet, you can find a similar diet for dogs or any overweight animal.

Caspian is normal sized

Bigger kitties might have more to love, but hopefully my kitties will now be around that much longer for me to love. ^_^