LIFESTYLE

How to Fly with a Cat: Sharing the Soaring Experience with Your Feline Companion

cat flying on plane
Steve Corelli
Written by Steve Corelli

Travel of any kind can be stressful for your cat. Air travel takes this a notch higher. While this is not the best experience for cats, circumstances may force you to take your cat along. In such circumstances, learning the nitty-gritty on how to fly with a cat may prove less stressful than the stress of knowing that your cat could be having a hard time dealing with your absence or being with a stranger.

There are several things worth noting as far as flying with your cat is concerned. These involve consultation and collaboration with your vet, airline of choice, and pet shop to ensure that the process is as comfortable as possible. Some effort is therefore required on your part. Luckily, the only work for you to do is to read and implement this early in advance. This is because we have all the information that you need laid out in one package.

Do you need to know about existing policies and restrictions on pets and air travel? We’ve got you covered. We will also brief you on the necessary documents and equipment necessary for your pet’s first flight. It would be unfair of us if we did not accompany you and your kitty through the security check, into the airplane, and along the journey up to your destination airport. Below is detailed information on this.

Pre-Departure Preparations

Flying with your cat is not a pack-and-go affair; adequate time has to be allocated to preparations. This allows you to be acquitted with rules and regulations that govern flying with pets.

#1: Booking and Airline Pet Policies

necessary documents for flying with a cat

Allocate time to find out airline pet policies which will inform you on appropriate measures to take as you prepare to travel.

Once you have decided to fly with your cat, call the airline a month earlier. Find out animal import regulations of the state or country you are flying to. This will help you get the required travel documents for your cat in advance.

An Import Permit and a Health Certificate are some of the common documents that are required by most countries. If it’s the first time flying with your cat, get him a pet passport.

Below are other preparations and consultations to make.

#2: Visiting the Vet

vet checking a cat health state

Most, if not all, countries require every animal entering them to have a health certificate. This is done as a control measure especially against rabies. Visit your vet with a health certificate which is provided by the airline. Mostly, it’s required to be filled ten days before the travel date.

It should include up to date vaccinations as well as pest control measures undertaken. Remember to get a refill of any medications your feline might be using. Such should be in a well-labeled clear bag.

See Also: Cat Vaccination Schedule

While getting the health certificate, you can ask the vet about a microchip implant. The chip acts as an ID and a tracker should your cat get lost during the trip. It is a one-time simple and painless procedure.

Typically the microchip will be injected under the skin at the back of his neck. If you do decide to get one for your cat, have your vet check if it works before traveling.

#3: Purchasing a Cat Carrier for the Cabin

buying a cat carrier

Before settling on one, find out the approved dimensions from the airline for the cabin. You should also inquire about the brands and make that are authorized in the cabin. This is information that you can get from their website.

Generally, the carrier should be spacious enough for your cat to turn around in. A soft-sided carrier made of strong plastic with a tight latch and a secure or zippered top should suffice.

#4: Carrier for the Cargo Hold

When you purchase your cat’s carrier, it should be International Air Transport Association (IATA) compliant. IATA recommends one cat per crate, but two compatible and same species animals can share one as long as they both weigh below 30lbs. You should also check for other airline-specific rules.

Here is a list of minimum requirements for cargo hold carriers/crates.

  • It should allow ample space should your cat want to stand, lie down, or turn around.

  • The allowed materials for the carrier include fiberglass, weld metal mesh, metal, plastic, and wood or plywood. Wood may not be allowed by certain airlines

  • Many airlines require metallic fasteners; ensure these are in place and working properly.

  • The carrier should have a leak-proof floor and handles along the sides

  • The door should be strong enough not to be easily bent by the cat and safe so as not to cause any injuries.

  • Ideally, it should not have a door on top but should offer enough ventilation—about 16% of the total surface including the roof. This should, however, not reduce the strength; it should not be collapsible.

  • Food and water bowls should be accessible and refillable from outside. Ensure that your cat’s food is in a plastic bag.

  • The carrier should have a sticker indicating “LIVE ANIMAL” plus feeding and watering information.

  • The cat’s health record should be attached and labeled; “DO NOT REMOVE! ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS.”

  • It should not have wheels to keep it from rolling.

  • Your cat’s name and your contact information should be attached outside the crate.

  • A leash and a collar should be attached outside the crate and in a plastic bag.

  • It should not contain anything that can bounce due to motion and harm the cat.

#5: Accustoming Your Cat to the Carrier

orange cat in a carrier

Your cat will spend considerable time in the carrier, especially for a long-haul flight. It’s therefore advisable to make him feel comfortable in it. Have it open around your house to encourage him to practice entering and exiting. This will come in handy during airport security checks.

Encourage him to sleep in the carrier. You can do this by closing it while he is inside for short periods. Increase the time as he becomes used to it. If he has his own bed, then place it in the carrier. Your cat is attracted to your scent and placing one of your used shirts in there is a motivation for him to use the carrier.

Feed him in the carrier for several days before the travel date for positive association. You can also spray it with pheromones to make it less intimidating. Throw in a toy or two to make it a fun place to be in. All this reduces the anxiety of spending time in the carrier in unfamiliar surroundings.

Even if he gets accustomed to the carrier at home, it may not be same during the flight. Noise inside the airport and plane can be unraveling. Get him used to the commotion by taking him in his carrier to busy places like the park or the mall as you shop. You can also get him used to the noisy atmosphere by taking him to the airport grounds a few days before traveling.

Nervousness can make him scratch the inside of the carrier. Long nails may also get in the fabric or tiny openings—leading to injury. Remedy this by clipping his nails. Do this within two weeks of travel since it’s how long it takes for cat’s nails to grow long again.

Once he gets used to the carrier, take him for car rides in it. This will get him used to the confinement during the flight. The vet’s might not hold good memories for your feline so don’t use the carrier you use during visits. The idea is to have him associate the carrier with an enjoyable experience.

See Also: How to Travel with a Cat

In-Departure Preparations

The long-anticipated day is here. You’re finally going to fly with your cat. If you’ve properly prepared for it, this process should be painless, but here are a few extra tips on how to make it through the flight without any unwanted issues.

#1: Getting Your Cat through Security Checks

When you reach the security checkpoint, the carrier goes through the luggage x-ray machine together with your other carry-ons. You will carry your furry friend through the metal detectors. All the beeping sounds and other noises can make him jumpy. Hence it’s advisable to have a harness to restrain him on the off chance he gets loose from your grip.

Start by presenting your luggage, shoes, jewelry, and other metallic objects like a phone to be screened. Next, remove your cat from his carrier and secure him on your arm with the harness in place. Once the carrier is through the machine, walk with your cat through the detector.

On the other side, start by putting him back in the carrier followed by collecting your other belongings. It is also possible to have an alternative security check that allows your cat to stay in the carrier. You can check this with the particular airport.

#2: Flying with Your Cat in the Cabin

Cat flying with its owner on the board

Airlines allow cats to either be transported in the cargo or luggage hold or in the cabin. Air travel can be very stressful for your furry friend especially if it’s the first time. Having a familiar face nearby will help ease the anxiety. It’s therefore advisable to have your feline with you in the cabin. This can be done by having him in a carrier placed under the seat in front of yours.

This convenient arrangement, however, comes at a small fee. Contact the airline in advance to find out their requirements for having your cat in the cabin and the charges. Early booking also comes in handy considering only a handful of animals are allowed in the cabin. Do not pick a seat on the exit row or behind bulkheads. This will ensure that there is a seat in front of you to place the carrier under it.

Tag the carrier with an identification label. It should contain your contact information. This should include the name and phone number(s) of your home. If you are traveling to a different state/country, ensure the tag has the contact info of the hotel or the place that you will be staying at. This will help in identifying your cat in case the carrier gets lost in the airport or during the flight.

#3: Cargo and Checked Baggage Travel

Not all cats get to enjoy flying in the cabin. Some airlines don’t allow pets in the cabin. Others also restrict larger cats due to inadequate room below the seats. There are also airlines whose regulations require all animals to be transported in the cargo hold during long flights.

However, not being able to have your cat in the cabin is not a good reason to leave him at home while you go vacationing. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) provides guidelines that ensure the cargo hold is conducive for animal transportation. These have been adopted by major airlines. Hence your cat should be well taken care of.

These are measures that have been put in place to protect pet exposure to extreme temperatures in holding areas, terminal facilities, airplane before departure, and the space between the aircraft and the terminal. These restrictions are as follows:

  • Heat Restrictions: When current or forecasted temperatures at the departure, stopover, or destination airport are above 840 F (270C), most airlines do not allow pets. The limit is 750 F for snub-nosed cats. This is because the cargo hold can heat up quickly by absorbing heat from the tarmac. Lack of air-conditioned holding area is also a great determinant. If you cannot get an airline with conditioned holding area, choosing a flight that leaves at night and reaches the destination in the morning may work in your favor. While the restrictions are still on, some airlines may be flexible in such an instance.

  • Cold Restrictions: Pets are not allowed in airlines when temperatures are below 450F at any point of the itinerary. A low-temperature acclimation certificate may or may not allow your cat to be checked-in depending on the particular airline. However, when the temperature goes below 200F, no pet will be allowed even with the certificate. The certificate contains your name, your cat’s name, the name and signature of the vet, the vet’s accreditation date and number, and the temperature to which the cat is acclimated.

See Also: How Cold is Too Cold for Cats

#4: Feeding your Cat Before and During the Flight

feeding a cat

Do not feed your cat at least 24 hours before flying. This will reduce chances of him vomiting due to nausea that he may experience on the flight. This does not, however, mean that you starve him; have some dry food or a few treats that he can munch on lightly during the flight.

Do not give him water within one hour to departure. This will reduce chances of him pissing during the flight. However, thirst cannot be controlled; during the flight, be on the lookout for signs of thirst. Let him lick on ice cubes or offer a little water, just enough to keep him hydrated.

See Also: How Much Water Should Cats Drink

His carrier should be lined with disposable absorbent pads to dry urine and other ‘accidents.’ A few zip lock bags together with disposable gloves will come in handy while cleaning up his mess and disposing of used pads. Kitty litter is not allowed by most airlines. The same goes for improvised litter like woodchips.

On Arrival

cat on arrival

If your cat doesn’t travel in the cabin with you, depending on your destination, where and how you pick your cat on arrival may vary. You may have to wait for your cat to be cleared by customs or advised to claim him at the cargo facility.

Once you have your cat, he will definitely need some comfort and reassurance after the journey and the separation. Within a short time, he should already be feeling thankful that you brought him along.

Wrap Up

cat near the plane

You may find yourself flying with your cat for one reason or another. This calls for necessary preparations and arrangements for the comfort of your kitty. You also need to be knowledgeable of certain policies and restrictions that determine pet air travel.

Depending on different airlines, your pet can accompany you in the cabin or travel in the cargo hold. Thankfully, cargo holds have been made more conducive for pets and should therefore not put you off.

Whether your cat travels with you or in the cargo hold, an IATA compliant carrier is needed. Some airlines may also require some specifications of the carrier. Proper labeling and identification ensure that the cat can be traced to you in case he gets lost.

Once in the destination airport, several procedures could be involved before your cat is released to you. These can either be clearance by customs or by the cargo facility.

Some of the travel documents that you may need include a health certificate, pet passport, import permit, and a low-temperature acclamation certificate. If your cat is flying for the first time, it is just a matter of time before he gets the hang of it.

Did you find this information helpful? Do you know of any information that we have left out? Have you ever flown with your cat? Tell us your experience. For this and any other feedback, leave your comments below. If you’re flying with your cat because you’re moving to a new location, check out our article on how to introduce a cat to a new home next.

About the author
Steve Corelli
Steve Corelli

Steve Corelli is a Pet Nutrition Expert from Allentown, Pennsylvania. He is the author of many nutritional strategies for different breeds and a member of some Pet Food development teams. His Maine Coon Stephan, as you might guess, is always well-fed.

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