Cat travel cage and thoughts on flying with a cat

What is the best kind of cat travel cage? I am thinking here of aircraft travel. For traveling in a car there are a myriad of cat and pet cages or carrying devices, all of which will be fine. But when we fly with a cat, we are using a third party (an outside agency, the airline) and they are bound to have rules generally in addition to rules about cat travel cages and cat travel. Also, as a cat travelling on a plane is usually going to be travelling for considerably longer than the usual car journey, extra provisions need to be in place. There is also the fact that cat might be in the hold so cannot be monitored directly. And it is oh so stressful.

United Airlines had most animal deaths last year

A United Airlines cat traveller. Good luck and Bon Voyage.

This is what I would do in preparation:

  1. Telephone the airline and find out exactly what their requirements are regarding pet carriers, cat cages. Different airlines may have different size requirements. And if the cat travel cage is the wrong size it won’t get on the plane and that is the end of the journey — chaos follows.
  2. Pets need a ticket, so that has got to be bought and as mentioned if we travel with more than one cat or pet it may be necessary to leave one in the aircraft’s baggage hold area. That will probably affect the ticket price (i.e. the cat in the cabin will have a more expensive ticket!)
  3. The phone call to the airline (or brochure) should include details of the airline’s pet age restrictions and companion animal health code. These will probably include [this is not a comprehensive list] — (a) a minimum age requirement of 8 weeks and weaned (b) no more than 2 kittens 8 weeks to 6 months of age and weighing 20 lbs or less may be transported in the same kennel (c) a vaccination certificate for all adult cats (d) a veterinarian’s health certificate dated within 10 days for domestic flights and 2 weeks for international flights (e) the airline may require a vet’s note to say that the cat can withstand temperatures within a certain range. Clearly, regulations and rules will vary from country to country as well as airline to airline. The ‘pet passport’ requirements are complicated. A considerable amount of time and attention to detail appears to be necessary unless flying within the EU for instance.
  4. The cat travel cage should have sufficient space to stand and turn inside the cage (subject to size requirements if travelling in the cabin).
  5. The cage should be strong enough to prevent crushing and the floor should be water tight to prevent urine leakage (absorbing base would be useful)
  6. The cat travel cage should be well ventilated (goes without saying really).
  7. The cage should have a stable water provider unit or tray that ideally can be topped up from outside the cage.
  8. Ideally the cat should be familiar with the cage before travelling as it may help reduce stress.
  9. The cage should be identified clearly with the person’s and cat’s details and particulars.
  10. Tranquillizing cats before flights should be done with a vet’s approval only.
  11. The cat should be fed and watered before travel and I’d make sure she had gone to the toilet before travel too and I mean No.1s and No 2s). I know my cat’s habits so can tell when she will go to the toilet (more or less). Although I am not sure how you ensure that your cat has gone to the toilet ?.
  12. It might be that your cat is allowed out of the carrier (if in the cabin) in which case a leash is a must I would have thought, which means leash training too (gets complicated doesn’t it! – see cat on a leash)
  13. Clearly insurance needs to be looked at especially if our cat is valuable financially (all companion cats are valuable emotionally or should be).
  14. It is probably wise to have our cat checked over by a vet before flying, just in case.
  15. Foreign countries may require quarantine (i.e. a country that is rabies free from a country where there is rabies). This should be checked out but perhaps the vet’s certificate will cover this.
  16. The flight time should be minimized, ideally, with direct flights. The thought of getting a connecting flight with my cat would give me nightmares!
Cat flier at Frankfurt International Airport

Cat flier at airport. Photo source: Marco Feldhoff.

Calming measures when flying with your cat and some more thoughts

Some owners might think that their cat requires a sedative to see them through the flight without too much stress. It might not be necessary because it seems that cats do better even when flying for the first time than people often think.

Useful links
Anxiety - reduce it
FULL Maine Coon guide - lots of pages
Children and cats - important

The advice is that if a sedative is used the owner and veterinarian should have conducted a trial run beforehand because individual cats react in different ways. You don’t want to learn about problems with sedatives just before you travel.

It is said that it is useful to have two types of cat carrier: one for taking your cat to a veterinarian and the other for flying. The idea here is to avoid giving your cat a signal that they are going to a vet which is a stressful experience when you put them in the cat carrier. But if you put them in a different cat carrier, they might not have that initial stress.

The advice is to train your cat to accept the cat ‘flight carrier’. That means leaving it out and making it a comfortable area so that the cat associates the carrier with a pleasurable situation. The advice is to place the carrier in a warm place and put a favourite toy in it together with a soft blanket to make it as appealing and as warm as possible. When it is used the cat should be rewarded.

Further advice is to go on short journeys with your cat in the carrier that you intend to use for the flight. And these journeys might get longer so your cat acclimatise is to it.

A lot of cat owners know about artificial pheromones that you can buy over-the-counter which helps calm cats. The best known is Feliway. It should be sprayed within the carrier which would hopefully provide a cat with a feeling of safety and reassurance.

Air travel for cat

Air travel for cat. Image in public domain.

Cats have to be removed from the cat carrier one you go through security. This is an opportunity for a cat to escape. This is particularly likely to happen because your cat will be stressed as you are in a foreign place. The advice here is to swaddle your cat in a blanket. I would also fit a harness before placing your cat in the carrier to which can be attached a lead when removing him or her from the carrier security.

You will have to ensure that your cat gets used to the harness because the best harnesses are wide and place pressure on the flank which tends to make cats go floppy and behave in a rather strange way. It would certainly be useful if the cat is leash trained before flying because it helps to provide a backup, manageable situation if the cat has to come out of the carrier.

In America, I’m told that most airlines offer space for cats in either the cargo area or the cabin. For longer flights placing your cat under the seat in front of you is perhaps less successful than placing your cat in the hold particularly as airlines have special areas in their cargo space to keep cats and dogs safe and as calm as possible. It also means that you can place your cat in a larger crate which allows you to place more facilities within the crate such as the litter box and small bed.


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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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