If you're thinking of moving with your cats to the UK, you'll quickly discover there's a lot of rules, regulations, and paperwork involved. It is an understandable policy, considering that present rabies doesn't occur in the UK, and the aim is to keep this terrible disease (and others) out. If your cats don't qualify for the Pet Travel Scheme (PETS) then they will have to go through quarantine.
What is the Pet Travel Scheme (PETS)?
The Pet Travel Scheme (PETS) is like a passport system for cats, which enables cats (and dogs and ferrets) from specified countries to enter the UK without quarantine, provided all the rules are met.
This includes having a microchip, valid vaccinations, and a blood test for rabies. For the current requirements, see the Defra website (UK's Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs). If you can't meet all these requirements, or you're moving from a country not listed, then your cats and you will have to endure quarantine.
Cats Quarantine in the UK
Cats not qualifying under PETS have to be quarantined for six months at an approved facility at your own expense. You have to obtain an import license and arrange for quarantine before moving. Your cats will be collected at the airport (or port of entry) by the quarantine kennels, cleared through customs, and taken to the quarantine facilities. You may not collect your cats yourself, but you can visit them in quarantine as often as you like.
I interviewed Marion Boddy-Evans, About.com former Guide to Painting. She and her husband, Alistair Boddy-Evans, Former Guide to African History, had moved with their cats from South Africa to the UK in 2008.
Their cats were in quarantine for six months. Marion shared this experience:
When we moved from South Africa to the UK we selected a quarantine facility near Heathrow airport because we knew cats faced a 12-hour flight, plus all the waiting time to pass through customs. In the end, they traveled for nearly 24 hours, door to door, in their cat crates. Our choice meant we had to travel some distance to visit them during quarantine, but we decided this was better than making them travel for even longer before they got into quarantine. At the end of the quarantine period, the quarantine kennels transported them to our new home, using the crates they’d flown in originally.
Although cats fly in the cargo hold of a plane, this is a heated and pressurized space. Pet transport companies will provide you with a sturdy crate that meets the airline's requirements (which has got to do with holes that aren't so big paws can be poked out, for instance). All the relevant address and customs labels are stuck to this, and the door should be secured with a keyring or plastic tie so it can't open accidentally. Shred some newspaper and place a clean blanket on top of this. If your cats will be traveling for a long time, freeze the water in the water container so it will be drinkable later in the flight.
What to Expect from Quarantine
A quarantine kennels isn't a pampered cat hotel but are more like a basic hostel. Marion shares more experiences:
We found the facilities to be meticulously clean every time we visited, quality brands of food were used, and the person in charge of that section was devoted to the cats under her care. We were able to provide blankets, baskets, and climbing poles as well as food treats. When we asked for a specific food for one of our cats who had lost weight, this was provided.
Our cats shared three to a kennel, but if you’ve only one cat she'll be by herself. The individual kennel areas were small, but had a window (covered with metal mesh) that opened to the fresh air and a metal mesh gateway to the corridor. There was also a small heating unit for winter. A vet was available if necessary, and the pet insurance the kennels organized covered the bill up to a limit.
Boredom is a factor, especially for cats used to having space to explore and play. Cats who thrive on a comfy spot to sleep, food, brushing, and a bit of love will get all those. Marion said that her youngest, most active cat took to tossing the cat litter out of the tray in boredom! She and Alistair tried to compensate with home-alone cat toys, like a mouse that squeaks when it's touched. She adds, "Now he's home, he's fortunately not showing any hangover from his time in quarantine (and not tossing kitty litter anywhere)."
Visiting Quarantine Kennels
If at all possible, you and/or a family member should arrange to visit your cats in quarantine, as often as possible. No matter how well-planned your move to the UK has been, travel of any kind is inherently stressful to cats, and a feeling of abandonment is something to avoid at all costs. It is especially important to visit regularly if you only have one cat in quarantine. Although is was a day-long trip, Marion visited her cats regularly. She told me:
I can't imagine not visiting. Sure, it's not the kind of place you'd normally spend an afternoon, but you need to remind your kitties you haven't forgotten them. They certainly remembered and were pleased to see us. Though not as pleased as we all were when six months were finally up and both kitties and humans were home together at last.
Although a long-distance move with cats may seem like a daunting prospect, with careful planning and research, it can be done successfully, as Marion and Alistair have demonstrated. Ghost and Buffy, pictured here in their new home in Scotland, could be saying, "There's no place like home."