When, along with my faithful Chow Chow, Marcello, I joined my husband aboard our Westsail 28 in Mexico, I was pleased to see the high percentage of cruisers who had their pets aboard as crew. When word got out that I was a veterinarian, I quickly learned how many pet problems people had, mostly for want of proper advice.
How big your boat is and how active your pet is are crucial factors in the decision to take it along. Marcello, middle-aged and medium-sized, loved nothing more than to sit in one spot outside all day and meditate, so he was quite welcome aboard our 28-foot Westsail, although he relished our frequent walks and runs on shore. The ratio of deck space to canine energy wouldn't have worked for a bouncy Labrador. Most cats simply need a little training in how to use ropes to climb back aboard after falling off; otherwise, they do fine.
Before going foreign, call the consulate for every country you'll be visiting and find out what restrictions may apply to onboard pets. (Jimmy Cornell's Noonsite website¿at www.noonsite.com¿carries this information for most countries.) It'll make a big difference in the island countries if your pet needs to get off the boat or not. I didn't take my dog to the South Pacific because many countries wouldn't have allowed him off the boat, and he needed his daily walk. Cruisers with small dogs and cats that never leave the boat don't have that problem.
Before setting off, tell your veterinarian what you're doing, where you're going, and for how long. Also, have your veterinarian show you the signs of a healthy (or not so healthy) pet. Tell the vet you might be calling for advice from a foreign country. Make sure you get your pet an international health certificate and a three-year rabies vaccine.
In addition to any needed prescription drugs, obtain an adequate supply of flea and tick controls, heartworm and internal-parasite preventative, and a broad-spectrum antibiotic such as cephalexin or enrofloxacin as well as a tetracycline drug. Also take antihistamines, anti-inflammatory and analgesic drugs, and topical anti-inflammatory and antibiotic creams.
Ask your vet also about eye and ear medicines, a mild tranquilizer for emergencies, a local anesthetic, and suture material.
Bring a good book on common pet illnesses, a rectal thermometer, bandages, wraps, gauze squares, and splints. Hydrogen peroxide is a disinfectant and an emetic, and activated charcoal can help in the event of an accidental poisoning.
I recommend talking to a groomer to find out how to keep your animal's haircoat and nails well maintained. You'll need combs and brushes, toenail clippers, silver nitrate sticks (to stop bleeding, if necessary), a toothbrush and an adequate supply of toothpaste and mouthwash, and moisturizing shampoo. If you don't use a long-term treatment for fleas and ticks, take a shampoo¿those made with pyrethrins are safest. And for dogs that like to swim, include ear cleanser. Daily vitamin and mineral supplements are handy to have in case you can't obtain the quality of food your pet is accustomed to at home. S.D.S.