Today we’ll be looking the top tips for flying with a cat, as this is probably one of the most sought after topics especially for cat owners. So grab your kitty, a cup of coffee and let’s get started.
Travel, especially air travel, can be difficult for cats. You want to ensure your cat is healthy enough for the flight.
In this post we’re gonna cover just that and more, below are some outlines for you to consider for a smooth and secure cat-flight experience.
1- Check in with your veterinarian.
Your veterinarian will examine your cat and make sure it is up to date on all of its vaccinations. If your cat has an illness, you can ask your veterinarian how it can be managed or treated (if possible) prior to your flight.
Side note: Leave pregnant cats alone.
It is not a good idea at all to travel with a pregnant cat or with newborn kittens.
If your cat is on medication, ask your veterinarian about how you can continue to medicate your cat on your day of travel.
If your cat is currently on medications, after consulting with your veterinarian, schedule their administration according to your travel schedule.
Pro tip: Use tranquilizers sparingly.
Do not give your cat a tranquilizer before your flight, unless advised by your vet. Tranquilizers can affect your cat’s ability to regulate its body temperature, which can have terrible consequences if your cat is traveling in the cargo hold.
If giving tranquilizers, test the medication on your cat at least a couple of days before. This will allow you to calculate the ideal dose and avoid overdosing or underdosing the cat on the travel day.
You should also note that there are time restrictions on health certificate completion. Airlines typically require health certificates to be completed within 10 days of a flight, but you should confirm your airline’s specific time restriction.
You may also want to note that it’s in your best interest to put in an extra hour when checking in at the airport before you board the plane, just incase a delay in paperwork processing for your cat occurs at the security check point.
2- Help your cat get used to its carrier.
Your cat might need at least one month to get ready for air travel. During this time, invite your cat to spend more time in its carrier. Make it look inviting by putting some of your cat’s comfort items inside of it, such as comfortable bedding and favorite toys.
Leave the carrier open at all times in a location where your cat frequents, such as its bed or a scratching post.
This lets your cat explore the carrier at its own leisure without fear of you closing the door when your cat steps inside of it, this way your cat will get more used to its carrier and ultimately come to recognise it as a part of its territory.
Feed your cat in the carrier so he/she can have a positive association with it.
Alternatively you may consider spraying cat pheromones inside the carrier so it smells familiar to your cat.
Pheromones are signal-carrying hormones that are released to promote a specific response by another member of the same species, Pheromones can help a cat feel calm and safe. You can discuss with your veterinarian about getting a synthetic pheromone.
Side note: Check for an airline approved carrier.
Be sure that you have an airline approved carrier, if in doubt take the carrier to the airport long before your day of flight and ask them if it is an acceptable carrier for the cabin. It will need to be able to fit under the seat in front of you, so it will be fairly small.
Have a cloth that covers the openings around your cat’s carrier so your cat cannot see what is going on around them.
Pro tip: Secure your cat in its carrier.
Before you leave the house, make sure your cat is securely within the carrier. An airport can be a frightening place for cats, and you definitely do not want to give it any opportunity to bolt out its carrier.
To make the carrier more comfortable for your cat make it smell familiar (e.g., cat pheromones, its bedding, clothing with your scent on it).
You could also ask the airport security staff if you can go through an alternative screening where your cat can stay in the carrier.
Some days prior to take off, Keep your cat’s health certificate(required by most airlines- better safer than sorry) and vaccination information both on you and taped to your cat’s carrier somewhere.
Be sure that your name, phone number, home address, destination and alternative contacts incase you cannot be reached. Wouldn’t you feel horrible if your cat got lost like luggages are prone to do?
Remove any collar accessories, such as small trinkets or charms, that could get easily snagged on a part of your cat’s carrier. Make sure its collar is appropriate for travel 10 days before your flight.
3- Prep your cat for greater outdoor experiences.
A good place to start is by taking your cat on car rides. When your cat is comfortable with its carrier, place your cat inside of it and take it on car rides. Start with short car rides — just around the block and back. As your cat gets more comfortable with car rides, take it on longer rides.
Staying still in the carrier while the car is moving may be a bit bewildering to your cat at first, but it will get used to it over time. It’s also advisable to try to start the car rides at least a few weeks before your flight.
Side Note: Acclimate your cat to loud noises.
Not only is the plane noisy, but the airport can be noisy too. When your cat is comfortable with car rides, take it to the airport and sit outside with your cat in the carrier.
The loud noise and commotion may be terrifying for your cat at first, so it will probably take a few trips to the airport before your cat becomes used to the loud noises.
And don’t forget to regularly give your cat some treats to reward its good behavior. Allow a considerable amount of time for your cat to get accustomed to airport noises.
Pro tip: Trim your cat’s nails.
If your cat’s nails are long, it could use them to scratch up the interior of the carrier during the flight. If your cat has to travel in the cargo area, it could get its nails stuck in the carrier’s bars, which could lead to injury. If you are not comfortable trimming your cat’s nails, have your veterinarian do so.
A cat’s nails should be trimmed once every 10 days to 2 weeks, so time the nail trimming so your cat’s nails do not become long again before the trip. If you will be away from home for a long time, bring some nail clippers with you.
4- Establish a feeding overview for your cat.
Your cat should travel on an empty stomach to prevent vomiting or elimination accidents in the carrier during the flight.
However, if your flight gets delayed for several hours or more, it would be a good idea to give your cat a few nibbles of food to keep it from getting too hungry.
If your cat is in the cargo hold for a long flight, attach a bag of food to the carrier with feeding instructions, this way flight staff can attend to your cat.
Feed your cat 4 to 6 hours before your flight.
Maintaining a normal feeding schedule may be tricky if your flight is less than 4 to 6 hours before your cat regular mealtime.
During your month of preparation, consider gradually adjusting its mealtime so it will coincide with the 4-to-6 hour time window before your flight.
Once you have fed your cat before the flight, do not feed it again until after you arrive at your destination. You or the flight staff may have to feed your cat though, if you have an international flight or a flight with multiple stops.
Your cat can have water up to 1 hour before the flight.
Side note: Keep your normal routine.
As much as possible, keep a calm and normal routine on the travel day. Cats do not always respond well to change, so a sudden change in routine could increase your cat’s anxiety and stress levels and may cause your cat to act out (e.g, excreate outside of its litter box).
Endeavour to keep calm in your preparations and to maintain your cat’s normal feeding schedule to ensure your cat uses its litterbox as it usually would.
Pro tip: Limit your cat’s feeding frequency.
Regardless of whether your cat is travelling in the carbin or the cargo, withold food for your cat the night before and the morning of your trip.
If your cat vomits in its carrier, you won’t be able to take them out to clean it.
They can still have water the night before and morning of the trip, most cats can hold their urine quite well for 24 – 48 hours and are unlikely to urinate in their carrier.
If your cat does have a tendency to urinate in the carrier then be sure to put something absorbent and padded on the floor of the carrier, and consider putting something like 2 to 3 layers of a crocheted blanket on top.
The urine will fall through the crocheted blanket and into the absorbent material below. So your cat will not necessarily be sitting in their own urine for several hours.
5- Plan adequately ahead of time.
Airlines are often limited with how many pets can travel in the plane’s cabin. For this reason, you should book your flight well in advance (1 month or more) to increase the chances of your cat staying with you in the cabin.
When you call to book your flight, ask if the airline allows pets on the plane, and if your cat can travel in the cabin. Because of your cat’s small size, it is preferable to have your cat travel in the cabin rather than the cargo hold.
Side note: Expect to pay an extra fee.
You should expect to be charged an extra fee for your cat, which may be up to $100. Be aware that if your cat can travel with you in the cabin, it’s carrier will count as one of your attributed carry-ons.
Pro tip: Pay attention to seat numbers.
When you book your flight, make sure to get a locator number for your cat that is associated with your seat number.
Try to book a direct, nonstop flight. Also, avoid booking a flight for the middle of the day in the summer.
You may also contact the airline before your trip, To discuss travel policies and any required paperwork unique to them.
Whether your cat will be traveling with you in the cabin or in the cargo hold, it’s a great idea to practice some verbal and nonverbal communication to keep it calm before the flight.
For example, look at your cat in its carrier and blink slowly until your cat blinks back—this is a positive form of communication for cats. In addition, you can talk to your cat reassuringly before and during the flight.
So how long can a cat travel by air?
When it comes to how long a cat can tolerate air travel, It depends on that particular cat. Most cats can can handle being on a plane for 2 to 3 hours. If your flight will be longer than that, consult your vet for further pet care instructions and intricacies.
if you are going on a trip and will return later, it would be best to get a cat sitter. Only bring such a cat on a long flight if it’s completely necessary.
Some other important things to note include:
• Pets can become injured, lost, or even die in the cargo hold of a plane. Avoid cargo travel for your cat as much as possible.
• Persian cats should not travel in the cargo section, since their facial structure can make it hard for them to breathe.
• Do not put your cat through the X-ray machine at airport security.
• Show up at the airport early, most airlines have a limit as to how many animals are allowed in the cabin and if the airline books too many pets, it will be a first come first serve basis.
For instance, if you are number three and they only allow two pets in the cabin then you will be forced to take another flight or send your cat cargo.
Wait till you arrive at your final destination before you take your cat out of its carrier, Airplane travel is extremely stressful for cats so give your cat a chance to de-stress first.
Air travel with a cat involves a lot of preparation. The better prepared you are, the better the experience will be for you and your cat.
What If you have two or more cats or if your cats are large?
Well, you enlist a professional pet shipper who can coordinate to move all your pets, big and small.
Its essential to hire a professional pet shipper when you wish to transport more than one cat. One reason is that airlines don’t allow more than one pet(in cabin) per passenger.
Moreover, Moving with one cat can be a bit stressful but travelling with multiple cats can be quite overwhelming.
Between vaccinations, travel documents, health certificates and carrier crates etc. You can easily find yourself way in over your head, but all that’s not necessary if you request a specialized team of pet relocation experts who can help.
Flying with a cat usually means a lot of planning and preparation but for some cat enthusiasts, it’s worth it. Keep calm and enjoy your travels.