- Make Good Choices
I am meant to move from Washington, DC to Geneva, Switzerland this fall. There are a lot of things about that which should stress me out, but right now the only thing I'm bothered about are my pigs :)
I'm wondering if anyone has any experience flying with guinea pigs since the pandemic began. It seems that several airlines have suspended pet shipping since the pandemic began, and (unrelated to the pandemic) there are no longer any airlines that will allow guinea pigs in cabin on international flights.
I'm speaking with a pet shipper, but they've indicated that the pigs will likely have a layover in Frankfurt of several hours to "possibly a day." Several hours is one thing, but a day seems far too stressful for them, to me. I suspect they won't eat or drink. Has anyone done this? Dog people rave about the "pet lounge" and staff in Frankfurt but I never trust that facilities like that know anything about guinea pigs.
My guinea pigs will be 5 and 6 by the time we move. They both have a history of interstitial cystitis. My boar, Gus Gus recently developed molar spurs and other tooth issues which necessitate regular filing, and my sweet Peppa Pig had a hormone implant put in this week to deal with a cyst on her ovary. (She only has one ovary. Long story.) All that to say they are not infirm, but at the same time require a great deal of care that I want to make sure they continue to get and am determined to keep them with me.
It is looking like it might be best for me to leave them with friends or family for a week and have them shipped as manifest cargo on a non-stop flight after I arrive in Switzerland, but I haven't discussed that with the pet shipper yet. I welcome any advice or personal anecdotes anyone has!! Thank you!
Here is a collection of links - however, as I mentioned, many are old. You may have to do a lot of leg work to get answers.
https://www.guinealynx.info/records/view ... f=11&t=124
- Make Good Choices
Although the fact that your five year old pig made it to Germany ok 40 years ago is reassuring, @renonvsparky !!
- Make Good Choices
Just wanted to provide an update on this topic in case it can be of use to anyone in the future. Short version - I did end up using a pet shipper but did NOT use the Frankfurt pet lounge. 5 year old Gus Gus, 6 year old Peppa, and I made it safely to Geneva, Switzerland in September with no major issues! It ended up costing me around 3800 USD to ship them, which was about 700 less than I was quoted, so that was a pleasant surprise. Details follow, for anyone who is interested.
My biggest take away from this experience is don't be afraid to advocate for your pigs! The pet shipper was very knowledgeable about airline policies, customs, freight shipping etc, but they did not know much about guinea pigs despite having previously shipped them (I made sure ahead of time). A primary example is their advocating the pet lounge as a "break" in travel for the animals, another is that they tried to sell me a medium-large sized dog carrier for the pigs to travel in. They were concerned with the amount of space (good) but weren't considering the line at which a lot of space becomes TOO MUCH space for guinea pigs. I initially felt guilty when I showed up to pick up the prepared crate and sheepishly asked if they could prep a smaller one. I am so thankful I overcame that feeling.
I contacted the pet shipper in January for my September move. I would recommend engaging the shipper as early as you can, but know that there are a few things that have to happen at the last minute and they will be stressful. I was able to pick up the crate in April to both figure out how to line it, and to give the pigs time to get used to it.
Crate: The crate I ended up going with had internal dimensions of about 17in wide by 22in deep. It came with a food bowl attached to the door which I moved all the way to one side and attached a small, plastic, Lixit water bottle next to it. The bottle had mixed reviews online, both for not leaking at all and for being hard to get water out of. I tested it out ahead of time and it WAS hard to get water out, but the pigs drank out of it at home and at the end of the day I was pretty sure they would NOT drink out of it while traveling, so I prioritized it not leaking. I lined the crate with a GuineaDad liner and used command strips to make sure the pigs could not tunnel under it. (I sewed one side of the strips to the back side of the liner and used the adhesive to stick the other side to the crate.)
Hides: My pigs are more roommates than besties and they don't like to share space. I used two GuineaDad crunchy tunnels as hides and zip tied them together so they would be harder to flip over. They ended up looking like two little pig sized pods and fit perfectly in the crate with just enough room behind them for one pig, and room in front for the food bowl and one pig. I put GuineaDad pee pad liners underneath the hides, just as an added layer of absorption that I could also change between the drive and flight (see below) and also pull out immediately on arrival if necessary.
Last Minute Tasks:
Flight Reservations: I needed the pigs to have a non-stop flight, so we flew Swiss Air directly to Geneva. Swiss Air only flies cargo out of JFK, so we drove from DC to New York City day-of-flight. I debated whether to go up the night before, but in the end it seemed less stressful for the pigs to go into the airline carrier in the morning and have one long, stressful day as opposed to unloading them in a hotel and starting over the next morning. I booked that flight in April, but the pet shipper informed me that they could not book cargo until 10-14 days before the flight. They also informed me that if there was more 'important' cargo or too much cargo, the pigs could just be bumped. There was nothing I could do about that, and I couldn't really change the day of my own flight (work move) so I just crossed my fingers and hoped it would work out (it did).
USDA Paperwork: This was hands down the worst part. The USDA knows this, and I can only assume thrives on the stress they impose on others. Among any other required paperwork for importing your pets to another country is the USDA APHIS form that certifies your pets are not carrying communicable diseases and (in the case of cats/dogs etc) are up to date on vaccinations. The health check has to be completed by a USDA accredited veterinarian (double check that your vet has this accreditation) and has to be done no more than 10 days before your flight. But you should do it around day 6 or 7, because if your flight is canceled or otherwise delayed and the health certificate becomes out of date, you have to start it over.
So. 9 days before our flight, we had the health checks done, and my vet submitted the paperwork to the USDA (regional office in Albany, NY) via online portal, along with a pre-paid, self addressed overnight FedEx label. All the USDA has to do is review the information and certify the form (aka put a stamp on it) and mail it back. The airline was asking for the certification, the pet shipper - everyone needed it. The USDA did not even LOOK at it until two days before my flight. They do not answer the phone, they do not respond to emails, they do. not. care. We had to leave for JFK from DC at 0830 on a Wednesday morning. The USDA stamped the form at 1415 on Monday afternoon. Had anything gone wrong with FedEx, we would have been hosed. It was one of the most stressful weekends of my life. But once again, they have designed it that way, have no remorse about it, and there's nothing you can do but suffer through it.
Finally having the paperwork in hand 12 hours prior - we left Washington, DC at 0830 to get to JFK at 1300. The flight was not until 1915, but the pigs had to be checked in with the forwarder by 1330. I fed them in the morning, and put some veggies in the carrier for the drive. When we got to JFK, I changed out the pee pads under their hides, put more veggies in the carrier, a ton of hay, and filled up the pellet bowl in the carrier. Luckily for us, Switzerland has very few import restrictions, so I was able to put whatever I wanted, really, in the carrier with them. Double check based on the country you're traveling to. Some countries (lookin' in the mirror, USA) will not let you carry in food/vegetation and may have an issue with the hay and veggies.
I attached an Apple air tag to the carrier so I could keep an eye on where they were and took myself to the main terminal to wait for check in to open. I had heard these don't often update correctly and so was doubly pleased to see that when I boarded the plane, they seemed to be on it. I tried to relax and not imagine where they were or what they were thinking because the guilt was STRONG.
Arrival in Switzerland:
I wasn't able to collect the pigs from the cargo area of the airport in Geneva for 2.5 hours after I landed. Their air tag thankfully updated, though, and I could see that they were in Geneva, in the cargo terminal, right where they were supposed to be. There was a slight delay because (surprise to everyone but me) the pigs were not considered "pets" and the customs paperwork had to be updated to change that classification. When I finally got them back in my possession they were rattled but thankfully ok. They certainly looked stressed, but not much (if any) more stressed than they are at the end of an 8-10 hour drive, which they have done quite a few times.
By the time I was able to get them out of the carrier, they had been in it for about 24 hours. It was...musky... but they were both dry and seemed no worse for the wear. The liners held up really well and absorbed amazingly (which I knew they would - if you don't have any, they are worth the price) and the crunchy tunnels were still upright and providing shelter. All of the vegetables were gone and most of the hay. I'm not sure they ate many (if any) pellets and the water bottle was still full (no surprise there).
I initially thought that Gus Gus would weather the travel just fine, because he is so outgoing, not afraid of much, and has been taking long car rides with me since he was a baby. I was worried about Peppa Pig because she is skittish naturally and when we go on long car drives, she will not leave her hiding place and does not eat or drink when the car is moving. They fooled me. When I opened the carrier door and put out some floor mats, Peppa came right out to get some snacks and Gus stayed in. Peppa bounced completely back within 24 hours and was acting like nothing happened. It took Gus about a week to return to what I might call normal. I don't think I gave Peppa enough credit for surviving her early life/pre-rescue traumas. Gus has been too pampered I guess : )
One unforeseen complication was a lack of good pellets on the local economy. I don't have a car here, and the few pet stores within walking distance of me cater only to cats and dogs. For a country that made it illegal to own only one guinea pig, I was surprised at how hard it was to find supplies. I only brought about 2.5 lbs of Oxbow food with me, thinking I'd be able to find something similar here. The few timothy pellets I did find were really large and kind of looked like bird food. Peppa (again, early traumas I guess) dutifully ate whatever I put in front of her, but Gus wasn't having it.
Luckily, just when I thought he might come for me in my sleep, my Amazon order of Oxbow arrived through the DPO and we were all saved from Gus' hanger.
A month in and they are both doing great. I took them to their new vet earlier this week just to get a relationship started and he proclaimed them both "perfect." I thought he would want to file Gus' teeth - but he insisted they didn't need it quite yet and after he just whipped out a needle and put Peppa's hormone implant in right then and there, I just agreed LOL. Hopefully he has some anesthesia for when Gus DOES need his teeth filed...
That's about it! A nine month odyssey in a large nutshell. I was VERY worried about how they would fare on the flight. Everything you hear says "don't fly with your guinea pigs, they can't take it" - add to that they are both old and have chronic issues. That being said, they had two primary vets in DC and neither ever expressed any concern with their doing well on a flight. They are both happily napping in different hides on either side of my living room as I type this, totally adjusted to Swiss life. Happy to provide any more detail on any parts of the process if anyone finds themselves in a similar situation!
I hope anyone here who makes a similar trip is not delayed and does not have any of the misfortunes you have described (and avoided), happen.
Should you have any photos of the travel box and how you set it up, I would be more than happy to add them to your post.
And I am so glad you all arrived safely!!