traveling with cats on a plane

Are you taking a long plane trip with your cat? Perhaps you’re visiting or moving to another country and taking your cat with you. Or maybe you work for a rescue organization and are taking a cat to another country to find her forever home.

If this is the first time you’ve ever flown with a cat, you may not know how the process works. Even if you have flown with a cat before, there are specific steps you need to take to ensure that everything goes off without a hitch.

In order to travel successfully on a long plane trip with a cat, you need to begin planning and preparing months in advance.

Doing your research, getting an appropriate cat carrier, and taking your cat to the vet are all essential to having a successful plane trip with your cat.

Do Your Research with the Airlines 

VCA Animal Hospitals suggests that you find an airline that will allow your cat to travel in the cabin with you under the seat rather than in the cargo/luggage hold. Traveling in the luggage/cargo hold carries risks.

For instance, cats and dogs have perished due to extreme temperatures – hot and cold – while a plane was delayed after leaving its terminal and sitting on the tarmac. Poor ventilation and rough handling are also to blame for cat injuries and death when traveling in cargo holds.

According to the Humane Society of the United States, airlines are required to report all companion animal incidents that happen in the cargo hold. Research each airline’s performance record before deciding to fly your cat in a cargo hold.

You’ll need to contact the airline well in advance as there are limits on how many animals can fly in the cabin during each flight. The airline will charge an extra fee for your cat to fly with you.

You’ll want to ask the airline if they have any special health or immunization requirements in order for your kitty to fly and which carriers they accept for transport.

Be aware that if your cat travels with you in the cabin, you will not be allowed to sit in an exit row or against a bulkhead. There must be a seat in front of you for your cat’s carrier to go under.

Try to schedule a non-stop, direct flight whenever you travel with your cat. This will reduce the amount of stress your cat must endure.

If you absolutely must fly with your kitty in the cargo hold, schedule a non-stop, direct flight if at all possible. Fly on the same flight with your pet if at all possible.

You can ask the airline if you can watch your cat being loaded into and unloaded from the cargo hold. Try to choose flights that will accommodate temperature extremes in the summer and winter months.

Early morning or evening flights are best during summer, and afternoon flights are best during winter months. Avoid flying during the holidays whenever possible. Rough handling is more likely to occur when airline employees are rushed.

If your flight is delayed, you can ask the airline employees to unload your cat from the cargo hold but do not leave her exposed to the weather conditions on the tarmac.

It’s important to note that brachycephalic cats, such as Persians and Himalayans, cannot fly in the cargo hold, according to Petfinder.

Get Your Cat’s Traveling Carrier Well in Advance 

Ask the airline you’re flying with for the specific dimensions of the carriers they accept for transport and be sure to follow these specifications accordingly. Most airlines will accept either soft-sided or hard-sided carriers.

However, only certain brands of soft-sided carriers are accepted, and this may vary by airline, so be sure to ask which specific carriers are accepted on the airline you decide to fly with.

You may want to opt for a soft-sided carrier because it is more comfortable for your cat and can fit under the seat in the cabin easier than hard-sided ones.

Acclimate Your Cat to His Carrier 

Once you’ve acquired your cat’s traveling carrier, put it out in the open, and make it accessible to your kitty at all times.

You’ll want your kitty to learn to associate this carrier with positive experiences, so feed your cat in the carrier or place treats or favorite toys in it for your cat to discover. You want your kitty to feel like the carrier is a great place to hang out every day.

You’ll also want to practice putting your cat into and taking your cat out of the carrier. You want this process to become a regular routine your cat is comfortable with. This process will be important when you go through airport security.

Take Your Cat to the Veterinarian Close to the Time of Your Flight 

Most airlines require a health certificate from your veterinarian in order for your kitty to fly. You’ll need to have this completed within 10 days before your flight.

You’ll also need to ensure that your cat’s vaccinations are up-to-date. Have your cat’s rabies vaccination certificate ready when you go to the airport.

Create a Travel Plan with Your Vet 

Create a travel plan for your kitty with your veterinarian. If your cat doesn’t travel well, your veterinarian may give you a sedative to help de-stress her on the flight.

There are several other strategies you can use to help calm your cat during the flight as well. A ThunderShirt swaddles your kitty and can help ease anxiety.

If you want to use a ThunderShirt, you’ll need to acclimate your cat to it well before the flight. It will take time for your kitty to get used to the pressure the ThunderShirt applies to her body.

You’ll need to take baby steps to get your cat used to the ThunderShirt and provide her with lots of praise and treats to help her associate the ThunderShirt with positive experiences.

You can learn more about how ThunderShirt works by watching this YouTube video.

If you want to use a ThunderShirt to help calm your cat, you should purchase it well ahead of time to give your cat time to acclimate to it.

Before you ever try the ThunderShirt on your cat, you should give her some treats, using the folded ThunderShirt as a “plate.”

Every time you put the ThunderShirt on your cat, you should give her treats so that she learns to associate it with positive things.

Begin by having your cat wear the ThunderShirt for only a few minutes at a time, and slowly increase the amount of time your kitty spends in it as she becomes comfortable with it.

It’s safe for cats to wear the ThunderShirt for an extended period of time. Initially, you should remove the shirt every one to two hours to check for irritation points, which occur rarely.

Once you’ve confirmed no irritation points have developed in its initial uses, you can keep the ThunderShirt on your kitty for an extended period of time. The company recommends that you remove the shirt at least twice a day for 30 minutes.

Pheromones may also help reduce your cat’s anxiety. You can use Feliway wipes and spray in your kitty’s carrier. A pheromone collar may also help decrease your cat’s anxiety level.

Rescue Remedy flower essences is a natural calming remedy that is safe for both humans and pets. Don’t combine natural and pharmaceutical medications without first consulting your veterinarian.

Don’t give your cat a sedative without discussing it with your veterinarian first. Sedatives can affect a cat’s body temperature regulation, according to Doctors Foster and Smith, so only give your cat the dose your veterinarian recommends.

If your cat has never taken the medication your vet prescribes, make a “dry run,” at home by giving your cat a dose of the medication sometime before your flight so that you’ll know how your kitty reacts to it.

Check Your Destination’s Requirements

Every state and country has its own requirements for incoming cats. Check your destination’s requirements well ahead of time. Specific blood tests and vaccinations may be required, and these are often time-sensitive.

According to Cat Health, you may need six months or more to prepare to fly to an International destination, so check the country’s requirements as soon as possible. Many countries will also require that your cat is quarantined.

Provide Your Cat with Identification

When traveling on an airplane with your cat, ensure that he wears a collar with two identification tags. One tag should list your name, telephone number, and address.

The other tag should list the name, telephone number, and address of a secondary contact person.

The Humane Society of the United States also recommends that you attach a travel label to the outside of your cat’s carrier containing your name, address, phone number, destination, and the information where you or another contact person can be reached when the flight lands. Attach, “Live Animal,” stickers to the outside of your kitty’s carrier as well.

Keep Your Cat Safe While Going Through Airport Security

Your kitty’s carrier must go to the luggage screening device. Your cat cannot go through this screening device, so you’ll need to take her out and carry her through the human screening device in your arms. Make sure your cat is wearing a snug-fitting harness and leash to prevent her from escaping.

Have Your Documents Ready

Have your cat’s health certificate and rabies vaccination certificate ready and available to show the airline at the airport.

You’ll also want to keep a photo of your cat at the ready. If your cat gets lost in the airport, a photo will make it easier for airline personnel to search for him.

Prepare Your Cat for the Flight

Trim your cat’s claws before the flight so that they do not get caught if she scratches the carrier’s door. Don’t feed your kitty for four to six hours before your flight.

You can give your kitty small amounts of water during this time. An empty stomach decreases the chance of your cat becoming nauseous or vomiting during the flight.

Line your cat’s carrier with a puppy potty pad. This will absorb any urine or stool if your kitty needs to urinate or defecate while he’s in there.

It’s also a good idea to bring a few pairs of latex gloves, some paper towels, a few extra puppy potty pads, and a few Ziploc bags along in case you need to clean up your cat’s carrier after he’s done his business in it.

Keep Your Cat Safe While Flying

When you get on board, request that a flight attendant notify the pilot that you are flying with your cat. The pilot may take special precautions if he knows that a pet is on board.

If your cat is flying with you in the cabin, she will need to stay in her carrier and under the seat during the entire flight.

Check Out Your Cat After the Flight

If your cat traveled in the cargo hold, take him out of his carrier to check him out as soon as you are in a safe and secure place.

If you notice any injuries or anything else seems wrong, take your cat to a veterinarian right away. Have the veterinarian put her exam findings into writing, including the date and time of examination.

If You See Something Wrong, Speak Up

Don’t hesitate to speak up if you see someone mishandling a pet – either yours or someone else’s – at the airport. Request to speak to the manager of the section where the incident took place. Be sure to report the mishandling both verbally in person and in writing.

Traveling can be a stressful experience for both you and your cat. However, with a lot of planning and preparation, you can make your airplane trip a successful one.

Following the tips provided in this article will help ensure that your kitty is as comfortable and as happy as he can be when traveling on a long airplane trip with you.