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Traveling With Your Bird: The Basics

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Traveling with your pet always presents challenges, espcially with pet birds, which require bird cages and other special aviary needs Pet friendly travel accommodations may be not be readily available; unfamiliar surroundings can make many pets anxious; some animals suffer from motion sickness; cats need their litter boxes; dogs need to be walked and exercised.

Nevertheless, in spite of these challenges, travel with pets is commonplace. According to statistics compiled by the Travel Industry Association, 14 percent of all U.S. adults say that they have traveled with a pet on a trip of 50 miles or more, one-way, in the past three years. Not surprisingly, dogs are the most common pet travelers (78 percent), followed by cats (15 percent).

Birds, however, come in at a distant 2 percent. This should come as no surprise. Traveling with a bird presents special challenges that are not faced by dog and cat owners.

Although some bird owners feel that certain species are too "high-strung'' to tolerate travel, at least one prominent bird expert disagrees. Katherine Quesenberry, DVM, a board-certified avian specialist and head of the Avian and Exotic Pet Service of the Animal Medical Center in New York, said, "You can travel with any species as long as you take the necessary precautions.''

Preparation is the key

Once you've made the decision to take your bird with you, thorough preparation is essential to a successful and low-stress trip. Those preparations fall into three broad categories: lodgings; rules and regulations; equipment and supplies.

Pet-friendly lodgings

Many hotels and motels do not accept pets. Some won't accept cats or dogs but will allow birds. So, make sure to do your research in advance and make reservations at a bird-friendly venue. Remember also that birds are extremely sensitive to cigarette smoke, so it's essential to reserve a non-smoking room and to double-check on this when you arrive.

Rules and regulations

Each state has regulations concerning the importation of animals. Some states specifically exclude certain species of birds. Regardless of species, most states require that if you are transporting a bird into the state it must be accompanied by a health certificate signed by your veterinarian within ten days prior to your departure. The Animal and Plant Inspection Service of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Web site has links to the current regulations of each of the states.

Equipment and supplies

There are three essentials to bring with you on every trip with your bird: a birdcage designed for travel; food and water; cleaning supplies.

  • Cage: For car travel, use a cage designed for car travel that can be fastened with a seat belt. Use the largest size cage that does not interfere with the driver's visibility. Never put the cage in the front seat, where an exploding airbag could injure your bird.
  • Use food and water dispensers that won't spill from the jostling of the vehicle. You can also put a clean sponge in the bottom of your bird's water dish. This prevents spills while allowing your bird access to water. Introduce the sponge to your bird a few days before the trip. Don't fill the cage with hard objects or swinging toys that might cause injury in a sudden stop.
  • Bring an ample supply of your bird's regular food and any special treats. Quesenberry suggests bringing some fresh fruit to keep your bird adequately hydrated.
  • To protect against possible loss of your bird when out of the cage, make sure to have its wings clipped before your trip.
  • Cleaning supplies should include spare cage liners; paper towels or wipes for cage cleaning; disinfectant (make sure to use a type that is safe for birds); a small scrub brush or toothbrush.

Quesenberry reminds bird owners that "car sickness can be a problem with any bird, as it can be with people. This tends to occur more frequently in larger birds. Some birds will get hyperexcited in cars and this may contribute to the problem.'' So, the important thing is to know your bird. Try taking some shorter car trips to see how your bird handles the experience. Ginger root is also recommended to help car-sick birds.

Last, but not least

Aside from the need for a health certificate, for the sake of your bird -- and your peace of mind -- have your bird examined by an avian veterinarian prior to your trip just to make sure it's in good health.

And in case there is a medical problem while traveling, it's a good idea to get the name of an avian veterinarian near your final destination, as well as along the way.

Some time spent preparing for your trip will make the experience a breeze, both for you and your bird.

Credit: Reviewed by Amy I. Attas, V.M.D.
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