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Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

My name’s Aggie – together with my fiancée we live in Botswana. We have three cats. The oldest one already lived in the house to which we moved. She’s  a very nervous cat. We adopted two younger cats–Roscal (age 1-1/2) and Tyson (age 1).

We will be moving back to Europe in May ’09. We’d like to bring the cats with us but we’re not sure how will they respond to such a long trip and six months quarantine. Will they be able to adapt to the much colder climate in Ireland? Is it better to leave them here–which would be a heartbreak for us–in good care?

Will the older one be better off to stay on her own, in the house she grew up in? She was very nervous around the younger cats but has now started to socialize with them slowly.

~Aggie & Brendan

Siouxsie: It certainly looks like you’re going to have to do a lot of bureaucratic stuff in order to be able to import your cats into Ireland.

Thomas: I’m sure you’ve already done your research including visiting the Irish Department of Agriculture website and looking at the instructions on how to travel into Ireland with your pets. There’s a whole swath of regulations about approved carriers, getting veterinary health certificates and proof of rabies vaccination, mandatory microchipping, and so on. This is all designed to keep new diseases and parasites from coming into the country.

Dahlia: If you were traveling from other European countries or eligible non-European countries (including the United States), you could use the Pet Passport system, which would decrease the number of burdensome regulations and eliminate the need for the six-month quarantine. But since your traveling from Botswana, which is not on the list of approved countries, the quarantine will be required.

Siouxsie: It also looks to us like the quarantine boarding would be done at your expense.

Thomas: The first thing you need to consider is whether you’re able to undertake the time and expense of getting all necessary certifications, prior approval for travel with your cats, and payment for six months of quarantine. Veterinary health certificates are only valid if they’re given within four months of your travel time, so you’d have to make sure to get your cats to the vet some time in February or March.

Dahlia: If you do decide to go ahead with this, make sure you read the instructions very carefully and comply with all of them to the letter–otherwise your cats may not be allowed into Ireland. If you have even the slightest question about any part of the regulations, contact the Irish department of agriculture and food, and make sure you understand everything. You don’t want to make a potentially tragic mistake.

Siouxsie: According to a friend of Mama’s who was considering bringing cats from the U.S. to Ireland–at a time before the U.S. was an approved pet passport country– you can quarantine your cats at home, but you have to build an approved enclosure which does not allow your cats to have access to any other animals. Call the Department of Agriculture for details on how to build an approved enclosure.

Thomas: It seems to us that it would be less expensive, and easier on the cats, to build an approved enclosure in your home than to board the cats at a quarantine facility.

Dahlia: We’re quite sure that your cats will be able to adapt to the climate in Ireland. They may want to stay inside a lot until their fur gets thick enough to tolerate the cooler temperatures–which will definitely be a plus while they’re quarantined for the first six months!

Siouxsie: Mama’s friend who lived in Ireland for several years says that the temperatures never get cold enough to be a real problem for cats. But since your cats are used to much living in a much warmer climate, they’ll probably appreciate wooly beds that will allow them to keep warm until they get used to Ireland.

Thomas: This is particularly true since central heating is very rare in Ireland and it would be dificult to find a home that maintains a consistent temperature throughout.

Dahlia: As for how your cats will cope psychologically with the traveling: they won’t like it, but we suspect that the younger ones will cope pretty well. The oldest cat may have more trouble adapting to her new environment, though.

Siouxsie: We certainly think it would be a kindness to bring the cats with you. They’re used to you and they’ve come to love you as well. It would be just as heartbreaking to them if they were to be left in Africa as it would be fore you to leave them there.

Thomas: Our only concern is with the oldest cat. Since she came with the house you lived in, we don’t know if she’ll take well to moving. This depends largely on how much she trusts and interacts with you. Some cats bond to people and some cats bond to places. If the oldest cat has become bonded with you, enjoys spending time with you, and seems to feel safe and happy in your company, then bring her with you.

Dahlia: If, on the other hand, she only comes to you for food and otherwise leaves you alone, she might be better off staying in Botswana–as long as you have a friend who will promise to take care of her after you’re gone.

Siouxsie: When you go to your vet to get health certificates, ask him or her to tell you honestly if any of the cats have conditions that could harm them during travel. Heart conditions or breathing problems may cause severe consequences when you combine traveling in an airplane and the general stress of travel. If any of your kitties has a condition like this, you may be better off leaving that cat in the care of a trusted friend for the sake of his or her health.

Thomas: So, Aggie and Brendan, we hope we’ve been able to answer your questions. We’d love to know how things turn out with your cats and bringing them into Ireland. If you can write us a follow-up letter, it would be very helpful for our other readers who may be thinking about international travel with their cats.

Dahlia: And happy holidays to all of our readers. Whatever winter holiday you celebrate, we hope it’s a joyous and peaceful one.