Whether you’re a world traveler or flying home for the first time ever, be forewarned that flying with a cat is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced.
Cats have quite the personality and often times are very particular about their travel plans. If you’re not carefully prepared before you leave, you could be dealing with a mess mid-flight.
Just like humans, cats can feel a lot of anxiety and stress before getting on a plane. If their human owner is stressed, they might even feed off of that and become even more anxious.
To ensure that they are properly satiated but not too full before a flight, most vets recommend that you feed your cat about 4-6 hours prior to the flight. This includes the time that you’ll be waiting at the airport.
However, while monitoring your cat’s food intake is a huge factor in determining how pleasant the flight is for both you and your cat, there are other factors that can also make a positive or negative difference.
In this article, we’ll discuss the proper way to prepare for a flight with your cat. We’ll also discuss some tools that will make it easier for you.
Is Flying the Best Idea for Your Cat?
According to veterinarian Robin Downing with VCA Hospitals, while many cats travel with no trouble, some get violently ill, meow loudly, defecate and urinate at increased levels and some even need to be sedated.
Unless you’re aware of how your cat travels, it might be wise to find a friend or boarding facility to watch him or her instead.
While slightly different than airline travel, you can simulate a flight by putting your cat in a carrier and driving around town.
This will allow you to see how your cat truly feels about travel and if he is very stressed out, please leave him at home or sedate him for the flight.
This YouTube video shows one couple’s experience bringing their cat on a flight. While their cat was relatively well behaved, it shows how much extra work bringing your cat with can be.
Not only do you have to manage their behavior, but sometimes, that of others at the airport that want to interact with your cat.
Can I Travel with My Cat?
While most airlines allow cats on a flight for a fee, some airlines, including some regional jetliners do not take pets of any kind. Here is a list of airlines that allow you to bring pets on your flight, with a fee.
Before even booking your reservation, it is a good idea to call the airline and confirm that the flight you’re interested in will allow animals on it.
In some cases, your cat cannot go in a carrier under the seat but must be stowed underneath the plane, which is very stressful for the animal.
Should I Take My Cat to the Vet Before a Flight?
According to the ASPCA, you should take your cat to your veterinarian before flying. You’ll want to make sure your cat is healthy enough to fly to avoid serious injury or even death while your animal is on the plane.
This is especially true for cats who are very young, very old or have had health issues in the past, but it is a good idea to take your cat to the vet regardless.
First, make sure that your cat is up to date on all vaccinations. Some airlines will make your veterinarian sign a certificate confirming that your cat is up to date on all shots.
This is especially important if you’re flying overseas as many countries have strict regulations on the health of animals that are coming into their country.
If your cat is on medication or has an illness (like cancer, anemia or something else) ask your veterinarian if flying could have a negative impact on your cat’s health.
You’ll also want to ask how you can manage his or her illness and how it can be best treated while you’re on your trip. Your vet should also know if there are certain vaccinations and medications your cat might be required to take prior to entering another foreign country.
Finally, remember that while traveling can be extremely stressful for humans, it can be even more so for your cat. They can get motion sickness and suffer from extreme anxiety due to the change in their environment.
Your veterinarian might suggest some temporary medications to give your cat, so they are calm in flight. At this point in time, they can also advise when you should feed your cat before the flight so there’s no risk that they will vomit and spit up the medications.
If you’d prefer not to give your cat a medication, you can choose to add a calming product to their food/water starting a few weeks prior to your trip.
This Hemp Oil for cats is a low dose and safe for cats who might be a little fearful. These are medications that are best taken with your cat’s normal food for the day.
When Should I Feed My Cat Before a Flight?
While you’re busy worrying about getting yourself packed and making sure everything is in place for your cat’s travel, don’t forget to feed him!
Experts, like those at The Nest’s team of expert veterinarians, agree: you should feed your cat four hours before you leave on your trip.
Feeding your cat too close to flight time might increase nausea and the chances that your cat will vomit on the plane.
However, you should still allow your cat to consume as much water as he or she wants. The food that your cat eats four hours prior to leaving won’t be fully digested, and water is an important part of digestion.
If your cat isn’t used to riding in cars or doesn’t like riding in them, you might want to tack on the travel time to the airport in your calculations of when you should feed your cat.
Cats love their routine and a flight is something completely abnormal to them. It interrupts their schedule and their mindset and because of that, it can impact their feeding schedule.
It is incredibly common for cats to stop eating for a day or two after their flight, so don’t worry if your cat seems disinterested in their favorite foods after your trip.
If you’re taking a very long flight or you have a connection, you still do not need to worry about feeding your cat in the middle of the airport.
He or she will be ok to wait to eat until you get to your destination. However, you can bring a small collapsible bowl to feed your cat water while you’re in the airport.
Veterinarians recommend that you either bring your cat’s food with you on the trip or purchase some of their preferred food when you land at your destination.
Cats are very sensitive to changes in their food, so it is recommended that you bring the exact brand and type of food that you normally feed your cat. A small, air-tight container with a measuring cup/attached bowl is perfect for a long weekend trip.
If there’s a special treat that you feed your cat, like wet food, or a very flavorful treat, make sure to bring some along.
While your cat might be disinterested in his normal food, he might decide to break his hunger strike if you have some extremely high value treats like these.
The Purebites Chicken treats are freeze-dried, so they are perfect for travel because they make no mess.
Should I Feed My Cat During the Flight?
There’s mixed information out there on whether you should feed your cat during a flight, and it largely depends on your cat’s behavior during the flight.
If your cat is loudly mewing or restless, you could offer him a high-value treat to calm him down. However, it is not recommended that you open the cat carrier and feed your cat a full meal. Depending on where you are in flight, it also might not be allowed.
If you’re giving your cat a sedative, make sure you follow the instructions from your veterinarian on how often your cat needs to eat.
Keep in mind, while your cat might want water during the flight, this can be very messy, so it might be best to wait until the flight lands before dispending water.
What Other Products Should I Bring When Traveling with My Cat?
As previously mentioned, you need to plan ahead before bringing your cat on a plane. Besides feeding your cat four hours prior to the flight and bringing a small bowl for water, you’ll need to bring some other items.
For example, if your cat is on a very specific diet or needs his food to be refrigerated, consider using food cooler and storage container combination products.
Of course, if your cat is eating, that means that he is going to need to use the bathroom. It can be a very stinky, long flight if your cat has an accident in his or her cage.
To prevent this from happening, you can also pack a collapsible litter box that you can clean out in an airport bathroom.
This product is also another great option if you want to have your cat’s food and bowls in one stylish, easy to carry package.
What Else Should I Know About Traveling with My Cat?
Above all else, besides knowing when you should feed your cat before your flight, you must have a good carrier for your cat.
You cannot just walk into an airport holding your cat. The airlines require that you have a carrier that meets very specific size requirements.
Call the airline or visit their website to find the exact size requirements, although they are about the same for all. The best carriers are typically made of hard plastic or nylon, large enough to fit your cat but small enough to fit underneath your seat.
The carrier should also have a door that is large enough for your cat to go in and out and the inside of the carrier should be large enough for your cat to turn around.
Purchase the carrier a few weeks in advance so that you can leave it open and let your cat go in and out of it and get comfortable.
Place some of his favorite treats inside the carrier and when your cat goes inside, shut the door for just a few minutes. This way, your cat will feel less trauma when he must spend hours inside of the carrier while traveling.
Can I Change My Cat’s Feeding Schedule to Help This Process?
Yes, and if you do so, it will help to ease your cat’s anxiety. If you know what time your flight is leaving, you can start to slowly change when you feed your cat to align with your departure time, so the feeding feels natural for your cat.
It might not be possible due to your personal schedule, but it certainly will help your cat feel more like he is in his normal routine.
For example, if you have an evening flight, try to feed your cat in the late afternoon so it mimics the time you’ll be feeding him on the day of your flight. Do this every day for the month before your flight and your cat will barely notice a change when you’re traveling!
Ultimately, when flying with your cat, you must make the decisions you feel are best. A veterinarian can make many recommendations, but you are the main advocate for your feline friend and should make your decisions on what will make him or her most comfortable and calm.
Feeding your cat four hours prior to a flight is the best-recommended advice but honoring what works for you and your cat will make for the best trip to your destination.