Cruising with pets is one of the most enjoyable activities you can experience. Pets are pets whether they are in your home or on your boat. My family has cruised with pets at one time or another since 1975.
If you are planning to introduce a dog or cat to sailing life, it is best to do it while they are young and agreeable to a lifestyle change from a stable home to the moving platform of a boat. Dogs are innately agreeable to life at sea. As a matter of fact, they love the fresh air, and the variety of new smells that waft through the air. Also, by nature most dogs want to be anywhere that you are.
All this companionship with your dog or cat requires planning. Their needs are different from preparing to go with children and they must have the same care and attention as each crew member has requiring their needs and requirements. First of all, be sure to have a collar with dog tags and identification. Also, see the vet about having an Identification Chip put into your pet’s body. Cats, too, require an ID chip in their body. Even though your plan is that they will never leave the boat alone, you should take this precaution, in case they do get lost.
Cats! Last year we adopted two kittens from the Naples Humane Society. Their names are Mr. Barnes, or “Barney,” and Mr. Noble. Almost immediately, we brought the kittens to our sailboat and took them for a trial sail to get them used to living in smaller quarters and familiarize them with the motion of a vessel underway. Show your cat where the litter box is and be sure to keep it clean so they will use it every day. Let them pick out a comfortable place where they feel safe and secure to sleep. It has been our experience that our two cats really like to sleep near each other. Keep in mind that cats like to sleep high up rather than on the floor. There they feel safe and secure in any type of wind or sea.
To begin with, you should consider taking your pets—dogs or cats, or even birds (which I will talk about next) on overnights to local anchorages or marinas.
Be sure to leave plenty of water available for your dogs or cats. When the sea and wind are too strong to safely leave bowls filled with water, take a few minutes to go below and make sure your pets are okay. Also, you can bring them into the cockpit, secure them, and let them lie on the leeward side in the cockpit to enjoy the fresh air.
You can take your dog off the boat on a leash for a walk around the boat-yard, marina or town. Not so easy with cats. We have taken our cats ashore to some beaches in the Abacos. I have a harness for them with a leash. No, they do not walk around like dogs. We have a high-sided cart on wheels which we use for hauling groceries and boat supplies. We put the cats in the cart with their harnesses tied to the handle in case they decide to jump out. We can then pull them along. Yes, they are somewhat negative about the whole arrangement, but they have become used to it and put up with the whole process. We keep a constant eye on the cats in the cart.
Before you leave home, even if you just go day sailing, visit with your veterinarian to make up a first-aid kit for your dogs or cats. Accidents happen and you should be prepared. Include splints, bandages, as well as your pet’s medicines. Barney, one of our cats, has a tendency to get seasick. Underway, he sometimes vomited and frothed at the mouth. We called a vet and went online to a few cruising forums and were advised to give a ¼ tablet of Dramamine a half-hour before the trip. It seemed to do the trick. The effect lasted eight hours. Note: when you give the pill to your pet, the sourness may cause him to foam at the mouth. This is normal and brief.
Right here on Marco, there are two other boats who have traveled, and continue to travel, with pet birds on board! One boat, Volare, owned by Barbara and Steve Fleischer, travels all the time with a parrolet named Figaro, better known as “Figgy.” While they are underway, Figgy is kept inside his closed cage which is tied down. He likes to listen to music while under sail. He particularly likes Classic Pop and Sinatra! Merylynnbird is a georgous parrot who lived aboard Therapy, owned by Ray Rosenberg and Linda Spell, and sailed from California to Mexico.
If you plan to leave the USA and sail to another country, you must get immigration papers for your pets to enter the country. You need a certificate of health and their vaccination records for each island nation in the Bahamas, or Caribbean, or wherever you are going.