Driving and flying are arguably the most common methods of travel, and an increasing number of people, including airline operators themselves, consider flying a poor choice when traveling with a pet.
According to Alastair Bland, a writer for Smithsonian, flying is particularly dangerous for brachycephalic or snub-nosed dogs and cats because of their increased susceptibility to respiratory problems.
Cats fitting this description include the Persian, the Exotic Shorthair, the Himalayan, and the Burmese.
Flying is also dangerous to animals that are sensitive to temperature extremes, like the hairless Sphynx cat.
Traveling overland is thus safer for pets. If you don’t feel like driving, taking the train is another option.
Does Amtrak allow cats on their trains?
Amtrak, which is more formally known as the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, operates throughout most of the United States and a few places in Canada.
Until 2016, Amtrak did not allow any animals on their trains, except for service animals like guide dogs.
They now allow cats and other pets to travel along most of their routes. Amtrak, however, does impose certain rules:
- The cat and its carrier combined can’t weigh more than 20 pounds
- The trip has to be seven hours or less
- No more than five pets are allowed per train; service animals are exempt
- Only one pet per customer is allowed
- Pets are allowed only in Coach Class and have to be kept out of Business Class, sleeping cars, etc.
- Customers pay an extra $25.00 for their cat
- The cat has to stay in the carrier while on the train or station
- The carrier has to fit under your seat
- The cat has to be at least eight weeks old, well-behaved, and in good health
- You need to provide proof that your cat has had all of her scheduled shots
- You can’t ship or check your cat; she has to travel with a human
The following video describes some of the changes in Amtrak’s pet policy:
What about other railways?
The website PetFriendlyTravel maintains a list of railway systems in the US and other countries.
Each railway has its own rules, but practically all of them agree that Fluffy has to stay in a carrier while on the train.
Many railways have rules regarding the size of the cat carrier, for it will often have to go under your seat or the seat in front of you.
They may also want up-to-date information on shots. Visit the website or contact the train operator for more information.
How should I prepare my cat for a train ride?
Tabby James, a writer for the Adventure Cats website, strongly recommends that a cat going on any type of trip have identification.
That includes a collar with contact information on the tags and a microchip. The latter is particularly important, for cats are infamous for wriggling out of their collars.
The microchip, by contrast, is injected between their shoulder blades. Any vet or shelter that finds a lost cat can use the information to track down and contact her owner.
Just make sure the information is up-to-date; if you’ve recently moved, have your vet update the information on the microchip.
Before doing so, however, you should ask the train operator which shots, health certificates, and records are required.
You don’t want to get turned away because just because you don’t have the right paperwork!
How should I pick a cat carrier?
The main criteria in picking a cat carrier are the railway’s rules and your cat’s size. The carrier needs to be big enough so Fluffy can comfortably stand, sit, and turn around.
On the other hand, it shouldn’t be so big that she feels insecure or slides around in it.
First off, the cat carrier has to be escape-proof. The cat must not be able to wriggle out of it half-way through the trip.
A good cat carrier should also be easy to clean. Cats can get motion sickness just like humans. If and when that happens, you want to be able to clean up the mess with as little trouble as possible.
Finally, it should be easy to get the cat in and out of the carrier. Some carriers open at the top to make it easier to just pop the cat in.
Hard plastic carriers are probably the best-known type. They are easy to clean and generally escape-proof. They are also inflexible and may not fit under the seat.
Soft-sided carriers are made of thick cloth with mesh siding to allow ventilation. They are easier to stash under seats than hard carriers, and they are often easier to carry.
They can be harder to clean than hard carriers, and they are not always as escape-proof.
Some cats have been known to claw open the mesh or even work the zipper to get out.
Rollable and backpacks are variations of soft-sided carriers. Rollable have wheels on the bottom, while backpacks are just that.
While rollable makes it easy to transport the cat, some felines find the noise of the wheels frightening.
Cresta also suggests encouraging the cat to treat a new carrier as a bed. If Fluffy feels sufficiently comfortable with the carrier that she is willing to sleep it in it at home, she probably won’t panic when you put her in it for the trip.
A new carrier will smell strange and threatening, however. You should, therefore, put in things like old towels, blankets, or shirts that have your familiar scent on them.
Such items will help keep Fluffy calm during the trip. Pheromone sprays like Feliway can also relieve a cat’s stress, and a calm cat won’t disturb the other passengers with her plaintive crying or yowling, and she won’t mess herself out of fear. She may even simply sleep through the train ride.