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[Note: Sandy and Coleman have been good friends of ours for many years. They spent many of those years getting their boat ready for cruising - and they finally set sail. They traveled with their cat, Mr. Mischief, down the Chesapeake Bay, down the intra-coastal waterway and through the Bahamas. They offer advice here on cruising with a cat. Their contibution to our web-site is greatly appreciated and if you are thinking of going cruising with your cat, or just boating with your pet, their tips can be invaluable. So pour yourself a cup of coffee, get out a note pad to jot down what you learn and read on.]
HOW WE CONVINCED OUR CAT TO GO CRUISING
Information, Ideas & Tips for Successful Cruising with Cats
by Sandy Blake
We are pet lovers (cats in particular). To us, the commitment made when acquiring a pet is second only to the huge responsibility undertaken with the rearing of children, and the concerns of caring for pets on board is not unlike those of caring for children. The problem is you can’t even hope to be able to explain to or reason with cats. So, given the usual feline predisposition towards certain elements (like water and motion) the idea of cats on boats would seem to defy all logic. How does one put a cat on a small, moving object that is surrounded by water and hope to have a positive experience?
·Extremely timid - hides from everyone and everything, including you
·Dislikes loud noises
·Hates riding in the car (uncontrollable if not in a pet carrier)
·Very elderly or frail
·Will not tolerate being indoors except in the foulest of weather (sleet, hurricanes, sub-freezing temperatures)
Some traits that may indicate your cat may not like the seafaring lifestyle:
None of the above is an absolute contraindication, simply a red flag.
Some indications that you may not enjoy having a cat on board:
·You don’t pay a lot of attention to your cat on terra firma
·You believe a cat can take care of itself anywhere
·You don’t like distractions
·You loathe the idea of a litter box, extra cleaning chores
·You don’t think you could stop worrying about your cat on a boat for even one minute
·Your sailing partner doesn’t like/is allergic to/can’t be bothered with the cat
·You think it is morally and ethically wrong to surround a feline with deep water
Again, these are not absolute contraindications, but you need to have some honest discussion with yourself and the co-captain before taking the next step... because cats do require more attention on a boat; you do need to be more aware of where they are; you will have to deal with cat hair, fur balls, the litter box, illness; you will have to learn to not worry obsessively.
Some factors in your relationship with your cat that will help create a successful transition:
·You pay a lot of attention to your cat (talk to him/her, can read his body language)
·Your cat trusts you completely
·Your cat likes being near you, but not necessarily in your lap
OK - You’ve decided to try convincing kitty that sailing would be a great joint adventure. Now what? (For expediency, and out of habit, we’ll refer to the cat as “he” from here on.)
·Introducing your cat to sailing should be like coming into the slip - slow - slow - slow. Start by bringing home some clothing, linens, cushions or other “boat stuff” that has that good old boat stink to it and let your cat explore it. He’ll smell your scent with the boat “scent.” After he’s explored a bit, pet him, talk gently to him. We would say “boat” and his name over and over, occasionally petting him as he sniffed the boat items…. a new twist on the “good kitty” spiel. This went on for months due to our ever-increasing to-do list (see “boat math”).
·Once the boat smell is familiar and you’ve done a couple of shake down outings without the cat, you can take the next step, the weekend kitty-cruise. This outing should be dedicated entirely to introducing your cat to a boat. Don’t plan any chores. Choose a good weather window and a close destination, even if it’s only anchoring out in the nearest cove overnight. At the boat, be sure to spend some time letting kitty explore his new environment below decks before leaving the dock. Lay out his blanket from home and a favorite toy, set out a bowl with a little kibble, and let him explore while you keep watch on him. Kitty should quickly identify this new space as “his” and settle in. We actually sensed that Mr. Mischief liked the cozy confines of the boat and felt very at ease in then because of their smaller scale compared to rooms in a house.
The Introductory Outing: Mr. Mischief finally ventures into the cockpit to examine his water-bound world.
Getting the Boat Ready for Your Cat :
What you do here greatly depends on your boat. Our ocean-going sailboat has a fully enclosed cockpit and an 8” toe rail. With the cockpit enclosure fully snapped and zipped, we have an extra measure of security (not to mention comfort and living space.) The high toe rail is also an extra safety margin. What we cannot do because of our Genoa track and stanchion installation is use the fishnet safety netting that attaches to the lifelines and is intended for child and pet safety. I would highly recommend installing this, especially if you do not have a full cockpit enclosure. I bought some planning to use it, until I realized that it wouldn’t work on our boat.
The high toe rail on our sailboat adds an extra measure of safety for small pets.
·1: you are “busy” - anchoring, weighing anchor, docking, high traffic or unfamiliar areas where safety requires your concentration, bad weather, engine checks, fueling or maintenance, etc. It might be as simple as putting kitty below and latching the companionway doors. I found that in less-than-pleasant conditions, our cat instinctively found a secure, comfortable place - usually at the foot of the keel-stepped mast or tucked into the large V-berth. However, he learned to recognize the signs and sounds of coming into dock and always wanted to “help” or satisfy his curiosity. Our standard rule became, “if we can’t pay attention to the cat’s whereabouts, he goes below until we can.” Preventing natural cat curiosity from becoming a “cat-tastrophe” is paramount!
·2: anywhere there is strong current, whether you are at anchor or in a marina (such as St. Augustine or Charleston, SC). Let’s face a hard truth here: if kitty goes overboard, there is a better chance than not that you will not get him back on board.
One very important consideration is ensuring that you have a way to confine the animal in a safe place below decks when:
·4: anywhere in SC, GA, & Florida - one word: Alligators. I saw them in the Canaveral Barge Canal. Marinas in SC were posting warning signs about keeping pets on leashes because of alligators (“splash to an alligator means food”). Don’t be careless or fool around with this situation!
Leaving the Dock: companionway doors are shut and Mr. Mischief is secure below.
View of Enclosure, which snaps to cockpit coaming and zips shut
·3: when you leave the boat for any period of time and can’t take kitty. Be sure you leave him some dry food and water so he can cat nap happily until your return!
Another item we added to our boat was a set of inexpensive small (18” x 24”) rubber backed, nylon loop area rugs. Besides decreasing wear and tear on the cabin sole, they provided non-skid places where our cat could curl, bathe, play, or just hang on in a mild seaway. They also trapped cat hair and were easily washed and hung over the lifelines to dry.
What to Pack in Kitty’s Duffel Bag:
·Your veterinarian contact info, immunization, ID microchip and neutering records, any other health-related records you think might be good to have in an emergency
·A pet life jacket of the correct size - add strips of Solas reflective tape to it.
·A good grooming brush or comb
·Two food bowls: unbreakable plastic with rubber-rimmed non-skid ring
·His favorite cat food Wet food in foil packets (to minimize trash volume) or cans and reusable plastic lids. High quality (low fat and/or organic/food grade ingredients) is best for weight control and overall health (not to mention the lack of odor when you open the can)
·Dry food stored in a sealed container (large Tupperware or Rubbermaid style cereal storage boxes of beverage containers work well).
·Catnip - unless your cat ignores the stuff
· Non-cardboard Scratching pad (fasten a piece of carpet around a keel stepped mast)
·Fuzzy blanket or two to curl up in (a scrap of polar fleece or micro fleece works well - they wash and dry quickly and don’t hold dampness
·Toys are a must! A 4’ piece of ½” line with a stopper not in one end makes a great interactive toy for tug-of-war
·A “refillable” catnip toy and extra catnip
·A 3’ length of raffia, twine or ribbon
·Any plaything your cat is particularly attached to
·Medications - enough to last the entire trip
Mr. Mischief with two of his favorite toys:
A refillable catnip carrot and his marlinspike project (a thoroughly tangled knot of raffia)
·Flea and parasite control - Since heartworm among cats has become increasingly common in the SE (particularly SC, GA and FL) I use Revolution, an odorless monthly drop applied to the back of the neck that protects against heartworms, intestinal parasites, fleas and flea eggs. The last thing you want on your confined living space is an outbreak of fleas! This stuff works as do Frontline and Advantage; however, they do not protect against heartworms and internal parasites.
·A leash and harness or non-breakaway collar
·Pet shampoo (see What if Kitty Gets Sick)
·Cat grass (sprouted and ready to chew and seed kits ready to sprout)
·Pet friendly litter box cleaner (and deodorizer if you wish)
We kept all of the supplies and toys except for food and documents in a recyclable shopping bag from a pet store. It readily identified what the contents were, and everything was in one convenient place. The vet records were stored in the ditch bag in the same packet with our medical records and boat documents.
If Kitty Gets Sick:
·DO NOT administer any over-the-counter meds intended for human consumption or use any soaps or shampoos (no matter how organic and earth-friendly). Call your vet!
Our cat became ill twice. The first time was less than a month into our trip when the diesel cabin heater mal-functioned in the night and spread a nasty, oily film all over everyone and everything in the boat (and everything topside that was downwind).
I called our vet immediately asking what I could use to shampoo him. Their answer was simple - nothing except pet shampoo. I had none, and no way to get any.
I brushed and toweled Mr. Mischief as best as I could, but it wasn’t effective (enough). The poor cat followed his instincts and licked fur clean, after which his body had to clean out his insides.
My next call to the vet was to inquire what to do for a cat whose vomiting had turned to dry heaves. There are few things sadder than comforting a cat with dry heaves. The vet’s advice was simple and wise: do not stop the vomiting in this type of situation; vomiting is nature’s way of getting the bad stuff out of the body. As long as the animal drank or ate a little and did not appear otherwise ill, let nature take care of it.
The vet also advised that at one time Kaopectate was fit for feline consumption; however, the formula had recently been changed, and Kaopectate is no longer safe for cats. (This advice dates from Nov. 2007). The one product I was told I could use for stomach upset was a regular strength PepCid antacid tablet cut in half with a pill cutter. Before you try this, check with your vet; the dosage may be based on the cat’s weight (our cat weighs 17 lbs.).
Feeding the Four-Legged Cruising Kitty:
We kept our cat on its regular feeding schedule of light morning and evening meals. The only change we made was to add water to the wet food to make it the consistency of a thick stew. We did this to assure adequate water intake as dehydration can occur easily in sun and wind. Our cat also insisted on drinking water out of the galley faucet, which resulted in my gently tapping the foot pump to minimize waste while he lapped water from the small stream or off of his paw. At anchor we would leave a small bowl of kibble out at night; however, underway, all food was stowed… no snacking allowed!
Saving the Most Intriguing for Last (Almost) - Solving the Litter Box Dilemma:
One of the biggest questions we had was how to mange the litter box. Litter boxes take up a lot of space. The waste has to be handled and replacement litter stored.
The idea of clay litter pellets scattered about the cabin was hardly appealing, not to mention scratches in the wood finish, and the potential for the stuff finding its way into the bilge and possibly impairing the bilge pump function.
Borrowing on the inspiration of a dog owner who used a plastic grass doormat for their pooch on the foredeck of the boat, I created a “litter free” litter box - literally.
For a total financial outlay of less than $10 I purchased the essential components from Wal-Mart:
§a plastic fake green grass door mat, complete with plastic daisy;
§a plastic rectangular “cake taker” with snap on lid, and
§a small package of thin gauge plastic clothesline.
I traced the outline of the cake taker on the back of the doormat with a magic marker and cut just inside the line. The matt fits perfectly inside the bottom of the cake taker.
I then punched a small hole the diameter of the clothesline in both the cake taker and the mat and secured an 8’ length of clothesline to each piece.
The remaining piece of mat (about half of it) fits the exterior contour of the cake taker and serves as a scratching spot.
So why the length of clothesline? Its purpose was two-fold: secure the box while underway by tying it to something or shoving the lines under a settee cushion; dangling the box and mat overboard for rinsing in the water and tying it fast to dry.
The advantages of this arrangement are numerous: after use, the contents can be emptied into the marine toilet and the box and mat dangled overboard by the lines for a thorough rinsing; there is no litter to store or dispose of; if your cat has an intestinal or digestive problem, you see the evidence immediately. Bright red blood in a stool alerted us to an unexpected problem that could have become serious quickly. I was able scoop a sample into a plastic bag and take it and the cat to a vet where testing revealed “an unusual bacteria that definitely should not be there.” An antibiotic was prescribed, and within 48 hours we were able to confirm, “problem solved” by monitoring the cat box. No additional expensive testing to identify the exact bacteria was necessary.
It is important to clean the box with a purpose-specific product. There are many common cleaning agents that are toxic to cats; it is important not to use them on a litter free box. Good products are available at pet stores and from your vet. The plastic in the mat and box does build up a slight the ammonia smell after a while; however, this is easily removed by periodically cleansing both using boiling (or very hot) water and a very small amount of chlorine bleach after thoroughly scrubbing them with a pet-safe cleaner. The cleaning mild bleach solution must absolutely be done in the open air on deck or on the dock to avoid breathing harmful fumes that will result if there is any significant amount of ammonia from urine residue that mixes with the chlorine bleach. Let the litter box soak for five minutes, then rinse with hot water, hose thoroughly and set in the sun to dry. After cleaning, we often dried the two pieces by tying them to the life lines with the plastic clothe line and hanging them overboard while at anchor or docked.
Back at the beginning of this section I mentioned a disadvantage, which is also an advantage since it allows (forces) you to immediately tend to the used litter box. That disadvantage is, of course, the temporary unpleasant smell. The good news is you can quickly get rid of it by emptying the box (yes, even in the middle of the night), doing a quick clean-up, applying some deodorizer and spritzing the air with a spray odor eliminator such as Smells-be-Gone.
Cat head for the Head Cat
Veterinarians We Can Recommend from Personal Experience:
Isle of Palms/Charleston, SC vicinity:
307 Mill St
Mt Pleasant, SC 29464
Lake Worth/North Palm Beach, FL vicinity:
Juno Beach Animal Hospital?
12834 US Highway 1?Juno Beach
FL 33408?(561) 626-8000
We found that most marinas are staffed with at least several animal lovers who are happy to provide local knowledge and recommend veterinarians to cruising pet owners.
Before You Leave
Take your cat to the vet for a physical check-up to include a microchip ID injection if one has not already been inserted, assure all vaccinations are current, get copies of the vaccination records, especially rabies, a health certificate signed by the veterinarian, and proof of the spay/neuter procedure to take with you. Inform your vet of your plans and get any advice for your particular pet, including contact info for any vets he may know of along your travel route… just in case!
On-Line Resources - Veterinary:
Captain Doctor Dave is a former cruising veterinarian and Commodore in the SSCA (Seven Seas Cruising Association) who has written an excellent book, Wilderness Veterinary Companion for Cruisers and Other Outbackers, (which I own) and a second book, Pets on Board, which I do not have. You can order these books and find a lot of helpful information and links on his website:
On-Line Resources - Entry into Foreign Ports:
Document Requirements and On-Line Resources for Foreign Travel:
·Tip #1: DO NOT pay to for information and pet entry forms that you can download for FREE from country websites!
·Tip #2: Get your cat a microchip ID. It’s a simple, painless injection in the back of the neck that almost any veterinarian can do. Most countries in the Caribbean require this ID; they do not want pets lost or left on the shores of their mall island nation.
A list of frequently updated pet entry requirements by country is available at:
You should also check the official visitor websites for each country. Download any forms you may need and keep an extra blank copy with you unless you have an onboard printer.
Bahamas Based on Our Personal Experience:
The ease with which our cat was accepted into the Bahamas amazed us. We were prepared for questions, bureaucratic hoops, fees, perhaps even forms we’d not heard of. To our delight none of that came to pass. The Bahamas are very pet friendly. A copy of the current rabies vaccination, proof of microchip ID tagging, the Bahamian entry permit and a current signed health certificate for the animal are all that is required. Leave your pet onboard and bring that paperwork with your passport to the customs office where you clear in. There are no requirements for pet exams, international certificate of health or shots administered ten days before arrival, no quarantine, or other paperwork. In the Bahamas, at least, the officials seem to understand that people who cruise with their pets value and care for them as family members and have no intention of abandoning them. The number of cruisers with cats and dogs on board amazed us. One restriction you will find here is the same one that we encountered in every marina we stopped in: pets are welcome ashore on a leash. While there were always two or three other boats boasting sailor cats, ours was the only feline who went ashore on a leash.
Mr. Mischief with Collar and Leash Ashore in the Bahamas. He quickly learned that a soft “no-no” and a gentle quick tug on the leash meant that he could not go under the picnic table or through those bushes and would agreeably walk around them following our lead.
A Large Gator in Harbortown Marina in the Canaveral Barge Canal
Go to the website below for information and the PDF copy of the required application document to bring your pet into the Bahamas.
A Final Word About Safety - the Harsh Truth:
Animals do fall overboard. If you pet falls overboard while you are underway or where there is strong current or waves or high wind, the chances of retrieving him are very slim. Think of challenge of spotting and rescuing a man overboard, and then translate those challenges to something much smaller. Your pet’s tiny head can become impossible to see in less than one minute. We heard one cat fall off a powerboat in slip at a marina; there was a splash, followed by ear-slitting yowling, people yelling, then quieter conversation. The cat had been quickly plucked from the still water; he was lucky.
Some basic safety equipment can improve the odds for rescue. Keeping a cat in a pet life preserver, as you can imagine, is not an option. We kept a Shur-Line heavy-duty 12’ fish pole and net tied to a grab rail with two bungee cords. The net was large enough to hold the cat and the pole long enough to reach the water from deck. A flotation device tied close to the boat at the stern that the cat can grab onto, or strips of carpet suspended on each side of the boat near the stern and long enough to reach the water and allow the cat to climb them like a tree are additional safety options. However, the best safety measure is owner attention. Never let your cat roam untended and unwatched on deck; his curiosity will get him in trouble. (Despite all of our diligence, Mr. Mischief scared us to death twice at anchor when we caught him walking the taffrail at the stern. (We quickly unzipped the stern curtain and snatched him to safety.)
Truly, the old adage about “an ounce of prevention” applies to cruising with pets!
With common-sense planning, patience and attentiveness, your favorite feline should quickly adapt and learn to enjoy the seafaring lifestyle. We found sharing the confined quarters of a boat with a cat to be a tremendously rewarding experience. The hours of amusement and companionship far outweighed the extra work, worry, care and concern we expended making sure our “best friend afloat” was happy, healthy, and always accounted for in any situation.
Underway, Mr. Mischief learned to enjoy the passing scenery from the safe confines of the cockpit. When the center section of the dodger screen was removed for ventilation, he learned that he was not allowed on the deck and contentedly sniffed the passing scents from atop the companionway cover.
Worn out from hours of watching and sniffing he dreams of a calm anchorage where he is allowed to explore the decks under the watchful eye of his family.
Sandy Blake is a scuba diver and an excellent photographer. See some of her photos HERE.
When we decided to cruise, we hunted all over the web, visited owners groups, posted questions, and looked on veterinarian sites for information about cruising with cats. We found exactly nothing except for a few photos of cats on sailboats, so we knew it could be done. The question was how to do it safely and make it enjoyable for the feline part of the cruising equation. It is so true that, “If kitty ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” We had so many questions and no good answers. Comments like “Cats adapt,” and “They find their spot” just weren’t helpful. What about food? What about flotation devices in case they fall overboard? What if they get sick? What about… The Litter Box?!!!!
With a little creativity, some common sense, some experimentation, and a few simple rules, we were able to make cruising down the ICW and over to the Bahamas with our 17 lb. indoor/outdoor five-year-old cat a delight. In fact, we now can’t imagine cruising without him.
However, we must interject one caveat: not all cats are good candidates for maritime companions. Most cats adjust, some more quickly than others; others may not.
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