Flying can be a stressful experience at the best of times, but add traveling with a pet into the mix and things can get even worse. However, as with most things, preparation is key. With these tips on flying with a cat, you’ll get from A to B stress-free, and without getting covered in scratches!
Before You Book: Check the Rules!
While there are some general rules of flying with a cat, which we’ll get into in a moment, each airline also has its own regulations and procedures regarding flying with animals, so start by checking them. For example, here is information regarding American Airlines pet travel.
The most important thing to check is whether the airline of your choice actually accepts animals at all—and if so, can they travel in the cabin, or do they need to travel as cargo? Traveling in the cabin is preferable, as you will be able to keep an eye on your cat throughout the flight.
Be careful to confirm the price of flying with a cat, as this can vary greatly from airline to airline. You will also need to see if the airline requires any additional paperwork, and what the carrier regulations are. Many airlines will not carry snub-nosed or brachycephalic cats for fears of them having difficulty breathing, so always check that your breed of cat will be accepted. Make sure you know all this before you book to avoid disappointment.
If you’re flying with a cat that is your emotional support animal, the rules are slightly different. You will be able to bring the cat with you into the cabin on domestic flights free of charge, even where the airline does not otherwise allow pets. You will still need veterinary certificates and an emotional support animal letter from a licensed mental health professional, however.
In general, when traveling with a cat you will need to make sure you have proper veterinary certification and proof of vaccinations, plus a safe and secure travel case. You are responsible for your cat’s safety!
If you’re traveling internationally, you need to check very carefully whether your cat will be allowed to come with you, and if the animal will need to spend time in quarantine.
Once You’ve Booked: Head to the Vet!
When you’ve booked your flights, the next step is to get your cat checked by a veterinarian. Ask for a general check-up to make sure your cat is fit and healthy enough to fly. You will also need to get a health certificate and copy of the cat’s vaccination record showing that it has had all its necessary shots, especially rabies.
If your cat is on any medications, make sure to get enough to last the duration of your trip. You can also ask advice on medications to make the journey easier on the cat, such as travel sickness tablets or sedatives. While you can buy these things online, it’s best to get them from a veterinarian who can give advice on dosing and how they will interact with any other medication your cat is on.
While you’re at the veterinarian surgery, it’s also worth checking that your cat is properly microchipped and asking the vet to trim its claws. This will help to stop your cat hurting itself or clawing its way out of its carrier en route.
Before You Fly: Get Your Cat Acclimatized!
If you don’t already have a carrier that fits the specific regulations of the airline you’re flying with, get one as soon as possible so your cat has time to get used to it. Start by leaving the carrier open within your house, so your cat can explore at its own pace. Once your cat has got used to it, start giving your cat its food inside the carrier (still with the door open) to encourage a positive association with the carrier. Then start closing the door for short periods of time, offering treats and words of support, and building up the time in the carrier.
Once your cat is comfortable in the carrier inside the house, you can start taking the cat places in the carrier to help get it used to different sounds and smells. Drive around so the cat is used to movement, and go to places like outside shopping malls, bus stations, or even the airport if you live close enough, so the cat can experience being in a crowded place (always make sure it’s cat-friendly of course). Build this up gradually, and remember to give your cat lots of treats!
Immediately Before You Fly: Be Prepared!
One of the best ways to keep your cat calm before you fly is to stick to your normal routine as much as possible before the flight. Cats can always sense when we’re rushing around and stressed out, so try to get everything ready in advance to avoid this. If possible, pack your own bags a few days ahead, and don’t let your cat see you doing this. It will be one less thing to worry about on the day of departure!
The next step is to get the carrier ready. Check with the airline how you will need to label the carrier, and what you will need to attach. Make sure you label it clearly in a way that will not come off!
Prepare enough dried food for one meal, or two if you are on a very long flight. If you’re bringing the cat with you in the cabin, put the food in your carry-on bag. If the cat is traveling as freight, attach the cat food to the outside of the carrier with clear feeding instructions. Even if it is only a short trip, you should do this in case of delays or diversions. If your cat will need to take medication, do the same with this.
Get the carrier ready by making it comfortable with a pad or blanket. If your cat is nervous, consider putting in a piece of clothing that smells like you or the cats bedding that smells familiar. You can also purchase artificial cat pheromones that are supposed to soothe and calm the cat.
Feed your cat 4 to 6 hours before the flight, then remove any uneaten food. This will give time for the cat to digest, and avoid it messing or vomiting in the carrier. Leave water out until an hour before the flight. If your cat needs any medication, give it with the food.
Finally, secure your cat in the carrier and ensure that it is well fastened. Double check that you have all of the necessary paperwork, and away you go!