Cats are, by nature, curious beings but for many felines that curiosity doesn’t always extend to when they travel! Cats are typically in their comfort zone when they are in their own domain, and exploring any new surroundings under their own terms.
However, this does not mean cats cannot fly! You may be heading off on vacation, relocating, thinking about taking your pedigree cat to a cat show, or someone with an emotional support animal. There are going to be times when you’re going to consider flying with your cat.
Navigating different airline policies, airport terminals and the plane itself can be overwhelming at the best of times. Start preparing well in advance – at least a few weeks – to make it as easy as possible for both you and your cat.
Check airline policies for carrying pets
Make sure you check with the airline you intend to fly with that they do carry pets. All airlines regularly update their pet policies, so always check what a particular air carrier’s current policy and charges are ( for example see the Delta pet policy). Some will allow cats in carriers in the cabin, while others will accept them in the cargo hold only. Check the airline’s requirements for the cat carrier to use, documentation, along with check-in and boarding procedures.
Your cat’s carrier will need to meet the airline’s requirements in terms of size and materials. For cats traveling in cargo holds, a hard-sided carrier is usually specified for safety. A soft side cat carrier may be permitted in the cabin. Soft carriers also usually fit better under the seat during take-off and landing.
The airline may also require a health certificate from your vet to say your cat is healthy to fly and is up to date with vaccinations. Many airlines have restrictions on allowing brachycephalic breeds of cats and dogs with flat faces to fly, such as Persian cats. This is because of the risk to the animal, and the difficulties they can have breathing at altitude in an airplane.
Familiarize your cat with its carrier
Oftentimes the only time cats spend in a carrier is when they are off to a vet. This means they may have an association with a pet carrier with feeling or well, or the object that takes them to a place they don’t enjoy!
Cat comfort zones
Take time to teach your cat that the pet carrier is an okay place to be for a few weeks before your departure date. You can help familiarize and desensitize your cat to both the inside and outside of the carrier. Leave the carrier open, and in an area of your home where your cat can assess and explore it as and when they choose. Encourage your cats into the carrier with toys and treats to teach them it is a happy place.
Once your cat has become used to the presence of the carrier and it is a familiar object, start carrying them around in it. If you can, take them for short car journeys in their carrier so they become used to going out and coming back to safety.
Make sure you can handle your cat when taking them in and out of the carrier. You will need to do this at airport security while their carrier is x-rayed. Some terminals provide a separate room for you to do this. In others, you may want to consider placing a harness on your cat to make them easier to hold while they are out of the carrier.
Get a vet check and advice
Many airlines will require a veterinarian’s health certificate and evidence of vaccinations before they accept animals. Even if they do not, cats are notorious for masking any symptoms of not feeling in tiptop condition. It’s always a good idea to have your cat checked by a vet before you fly to make sure they are well enough to do so. Your vet can also give you advice specific to your cat on ways to keep them comfy during travel, including when to limit their food intake prior to boarding.
Check your cat has ID
If your cat is not already microchipped, consider getting it done in case you are accidentally separated. Their cat-carrier, collar, and any harnesses should be clearly labeled with their name, your name, and a phone number to reach you while you are traveling.
Yes, you may need a little knapsack for your cat! There are a few supplies to have on hand during your flight.
Food and a bowl: You are unlikely to be feeding your cat during the flight, as cats travel better on an empty stomach. However, if you have flight delays or are on a long-flight have their regular food and a few treats with you.
Carrier cleaners: Line your cage with a waterproof pad, and have one or two spares in case you do need to change it while you are in transit. Pack some wet wipes or paper towels, disposable gloves and a bag to dispose of any waste material.
Portable litter tray: Consider packing a small portable litter tray for your cat to relieve themselves on a long flight or layover.
Flying with your cat
Keep to your own regular routine as much as possible on the day of travel. Cats soon pick up on behavior that’s out of the ordinary. Allow them time to do their usual toileting, or encourage them to use a litter box before you place them in their carrier.
Comfort and reassure your cat as much as you can through the openings in the carrier while you are transporting them. If your cat is traveling in the cabin with you, try giving them a little water shortly before you land as they can dehydrate during the flight, as people do.
Prior preparation is always important whether you’re taking a one-off flight with your moggy, or expect to be a more regular flyer with an emotional support cat. Make the experience the most stress-free it can be for both of you and your cat by getting things ready, and familiar, ahead of time.