Transporting Older Pets

Considerations When Shipping Older Pet Dogs and Cats

Older pets commonly have metabolic and organ problems that can affect them during air or ground transport.  Knowing a bit about these conditions can help to minimize problems with these pets going on a long journey.

Transporting Older Pets

Diabetes (Photo credit: maury.mccown)


Diabetes is a common condition in dogs and especially in cats.  Diabetes is a condition that is caused by dysfunction of the pancreas. The pancreas is an abdominal organ that has digestive function, but also produces insulin.  Pets usually get the type of diabetes that results in decreased production of insulin.  This causes issues in glucose metabolism and can result in secondary effects such as infections and neurologic deficits.

Diabetic pets are generally managed with high fiber low carbohydrate diets and insulin injections usually given twice daily.

For pets that have diabetes that is well regulated (they are on the proper dose of insulin and have had blood glucose level and other values checked by a veterinarian) shouldn’t have too many issues during shipment unless they have concurrent disease.  A few preparations are useful to minimize any problems.

  1. Try to keep meals for diabetic dogs and cats as close to the normal time as possible
  2. Make sure they get their dose of insulin at the normal time after they’ve eaten.  Do not give insulin if they don’t eat. Giving insulin without a normal meal intake could result in low blood sugar.  This would be the mostly likely complication during the transport of a diabetic.
  3. Assure that an adequate supply of the pet’s brand of insulin and appropriate syringes are available at destination.  Do not depend on these products traveling with the pet.  While insulin should remain viable for a considerable time at room temperature, conditions can’t be guaranteed over the road or in the air and many airlines will refuse to transport medication with a pet.
  4. Attempt to give them their next insulin dose as close to normal time as possible after shipment.
  5. If their insulin is delayed by up to 12 hours they are not likely to have any problems.  Their blood sugar level will be high, but as long as it’s regulated again fairly soon there should be no negative sequelae.

Always consult with a veterinarian if you notice any problems including abnormal behavior or weakness during the transport process.


Hypothyroidism is a condition where the thyroid gland stops producing enough thyroid hormone.  This is a condition common to dogs and rare in cats.  While this condition requires regular medication administration, there is really no adverse effects of missing a few doses.  If the pet misses a dose during shipping, resume dosing at the next regularly scheduled time.

Renal disease

Chronic renal failure (CRF) is a common condition in older cats. In this condition the functional tissue of the kidneys degenerate resulting in water and potassium loss in the urine and reduced ability to eliminate phosphorus.  The primary clinical symptoms seen with CRF in the cat is increased urination and water intake, dehydration, weight loss, and anorexia.

The primary consideration in transporting cats with CRF is to make sure they eat and drink before departure and more likely than not to have a dose of subcutaneous (SQ) fluids.  I generally recommend several administrations of SQ fluids daily in the days leading up to travel followed by another administration after arrival no less than 12 hours after the last treatment.  There are many medications that a cat in renal failure may be taking so make sure they have a ready supply at destination.

Cats in advanced renal failure may not be a good candidate for long drives or flights.  Consult with the cat’s primary veterinarian at the start of trip planning.  If they feel that the cat should not travel long distance it’s obviously in the cat’s best interest and they won’t be willing to sign a health certificate when the time comes.


Just about everyone is familiar with arthritis.  Inflammation and destruction of joint surfaces results in pain and difficulty in moving.  Arthritic pets may have soreness and stiffness after travel.  Be sure they get their regular pain medication at the appropriate time around the travel event and they should be fine.  Warm packing their muscles before and after travel and cold packing their joints after a little slow exercise following arrival will help with comfort and function.

Heart Disease

The term “Heart Disease” can encompass many many different heart conditions.  It is important to know what heart condition a dog or cat has before agreeing to transport him or her.  Pets with mild heart murmurs are not likely to encounter any issues as most of these pets don’t have any clinical disease.  Pets in heart failure are generally not good candidates for long distance travel.  Stress, extreme temperature fluctuations, problems with ventilation, etc can all contribute to decompensation resulting in death.

If you are unsure of suitability for travel, be sure to consult with a veterinarian about a specific case / condition.  Being well prepared will help problems with older pets with health conditions.

For help with domestic and international transport of dogs, cats, and other animals contact AirVets Pet Relocation

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *