In past articles, we have discussed the implications of air travel on snub-nosed or flat-faced (brachycephalic) pets and also on dogs who have certain common genetic disorders. But what about your feline? Cats are vulnerable to a long list of genetic disorders as well, suffering from physical malformations and ongoing health problems such as breathing difficulties and organ failure.
Will your kitty’s inherited condition keep her from moving overseas with your family?
Cats, dogs, and other pets are among the millions of animals that fly each year, to and from locations all around the globe. The safety record is astounding, really, with very few cases of injury of death. But your furry companion is no statistic, she is a revered member of your family. Her safety and comfort are paramount. So if your girl has a genetic disorder of some type, let’s look at if (or how) that might affect her ability to travel by air.
Which cats are most susceptible?
Veterinarians note that purebred cats are more likely to inherit health problems than mixed-breed cats, precisely because they are purebred. Repeated in-breeding narrows the gene pool, increasing likelihood that traits associated with abnormalities will show up in the next generation. In a number of cases, breeders are breeding cats with the specific purpose of accentuating some genetic anomaly. Very flat-faced Persians are one example, as are Scottish Folds, and Manx cats.
However, most genetic disorders don’t produce visible results, they affect your kitty’s internal function. For instance, Maine coons are prone to inherit spinal muscular atrophy. Occasionally, cats are born blind or deaf, which can be the result of a genetic trait. Fortunately these cats can live normal, healthy lives, given a few obvious environmental considerations (such as keeping your deaf kitty indoors).
What may seem cute is actually a problem
Most people assume traits such as flat faces, excessively wrinkled skin, and very short or missing tails are merely “cute” physical characteristics. They don’t realize that these are real, physical deformities that pose serious health dangers. The resulting health problems can affect a cat’s everyday quality of life as well as her potential fitness to travel.
Brachycephaly is the official term for the snub-nose facial appearance that results from malformed nasal structures. Along with chronic breathing difficulty and greater susceptibility to heat and humidity, flat-faced cat breeds can suffer secondary heart and other organ problems.
Cats can inherit pre-disposition to asthma, hip dysplasia, and kneecap dislocation, but the most common are:
- Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD). About 4% of all cats, purebred or mixed, develop this problem.
- Heart disease, particularly hypertrophic cardiomyopathy which causes heart failure at an early age and is common in Maine coons and Ragdolls.
- Manx syndrome. That fetchingly short tail on your beloved Manx or Manx-type cat is in fact the result of spina bifida, a neurological birth defect that often leaves humans unable to walk easily or even in wheelchairs. In cats, the rear legs may be deformed, and nerve damage typically leads to urinary and/or fecal incontinence.
- Polycystic kidney disease. This one is associated with Persians and can cause chronic kidney disease, leading to early death.
How do these issues affect fitness to fly?
International flights almost never allow pets to ride in the passenger cabin, so your dear kitty will be flying in a special part of the cargo hold designed for live animals. Normally, that’s not a problem for cats and dogs, but her medical condition could change that.
Some chronic conditions, though serious, can be controlled with medication, such as pain reducers or insulin. But these must be administered at specific times, often multiple times each day. The timing can make it difficult or even impossible to find a flight itinerary that fits. If your overseas move is a great distance, this problem will be more pronounced, because there may be no one authorized or available to give your girl her meds.
If your Manx has rear leg problems, she probably has problems with balance as well as pain. For air travel, she will have to remain inside her travel crate for several hours at least. She will be safe from outside dangers, but she must be able to sit and lie down and maintain her balance as she is transported to and from the plane. If she cannot do that comfortably, or she is incontinent, her trip could be much more stressful and scary than you want for her.
Airlines have gotten much stricter about accepting snub-nosed cats and dogs. Many simply will not anymore, and those that do impose restrictions on flight length, specific breeds of cats and dogs, etc. If your girl falls into this category, you will have to carefully check your airline’s rules.
If your cat is elderly or obese, this can present additional problems. Advanced age and extra weight can exacerbate genetic health problems conditions.
Talk to your vet before you make any other decisions about moving your cat overseas. If your kitty meets the airline’s eligibility standards and her vet says she’s a go to fly, you’ll feel more confident about the safety and comfort of her journey.