Number of miles I’ve flown with cats.
Maybe you have a summer home on the San Juan Islands. Maybe like me you move a lot. Or maybe you’ve inherited your Great Aunt’s cat and need to transport him to his new home.
But here’s the big question:
Would you enjoy spending several days in a compact car with your cat? Can you imagine checking into motels on the interstate with your feline friend?
Most airlines offer the option to fly with cats either as carry-on luggage or in the pressurized and temperature controlled cargo hold.
Sound scary? It doesn’t have to be.
Over two million pets travel by plane every year in the U.S. And while tragic, animal deaths on planes are uncommon.
But, here’s the good news: with careful planning and extra precautions to keep you and your cat calm, you can safely fly with cats.
Book your flight
The first thing to do is to decide on your airline and check availability. Each airline has their own set of rules to fly with cats. So once you know which flight you’ll be on you can dig into the specific requirements to prepare your cat for flight. Also, costs vary from $100 to hundreds of dollars per pet so avoid sticker shock and do your research.
- Book a nonstop flight, if possible. It’s less stress for your cat and there’s less chance of leaving your cat behind during a layover.
- Avoid excessive hot or cold temperatures. So, in the summer, opt for morning flights. In winter, wait until it warms up later in the day.
- Avoid busy flight days such as holidays and weekends.
- Book a seat in first class and/or on the side of the plane where cargo is loaded so you can observe.
Buy an airline-approved pet carrier
Make sure your cat carrier is airline-compliant. There are different rules for cabin versus cargo. If your cat is flying cargo, the crate must be IATA compliant, which means your cat must be able to stand, turn around and lie down. It must be rigid, solid and leakproof. It must have proper ventilation and accommodate water and food bowl attachments on the front door. Check with the airline for a complete list of IATA cargo crate requirements.
My cats traveled in cargo in the Petmate Sky Kennels which you can buy in multiple sizes via Amazon.
- Label the carrier with identification, live animal stickers, and anything else your airline requires.
- Attach a photo of your pet to the carrier and keep a copy with you.
- Include your contact information (flight number, phone number) on the carrier.
Acclimate your cat to the cat carrier
Set the cat carrier out for 2 – 4 weeks before your trip. Then, let your cat get used to being inside it before he gets on a plane. Plus, it will smell like home to reassure him.
- Make it comfortable with a fluffy blanket.
- Put a few treats inside to create a positive association with the crate.
Get a medical certificate
Within 10 days of your flight, you will need to get a health certificate from a licensed veterinarian.
- Check the health requirements for your destination, especially if flying outside domestic USA.
- Keep a copy of the certificate with you while you fly.
Feed your cat
Don’t feed your cat within 4-6 hours prior to your flight. Make sure to build in extra time to feed your cat early to allow time to digest and rest.
- Keep cat food and a bowl in your carry-on so you can feed your cat when you arrive at your final destination.
- Carry cat treats with you to give your cat a little something when he lands.
Keep your cat calm
Many people ask about sedating their cats prior to getting on the plane. According to the American Vet Medical Association sedating cats during air travel may increase the risk of heart and respiratory problems. It can also cause them to become disoriented and stressed. Both of my cats are anxiety-prone and we use off-the-shelf calming aids regularly.
- Spray a calming pheromone spray into the carrier while acclimating and ten minutes before leaving for the airport.
- Place a comfortable blanket in the carrier that smells like home.
See Related:7 Cat Calming Remedies You Can Buy Off The Shelf
Get through security
Security procedures vary by airline. When we flew Alaska Airlines, we had to take each cat out of the carrier and let a security agent inspect them (even though when I booked their flight the agent said this would not happen). United has a separate pet drop off point away from the terminal and they handle the inspection in a private room.
- Gather all documents and photos you must present when you drop off your cat and keep copies for yourself.
- Arrive at least 30-60 minutes prior to the pet drop-off time (which differs from your check-in time).
- Optionally, train your cat to wear a harness and leash prior to flight day if you’re worried about going through the security check point.
I’ve flown with my two cats across country twice via cargo. I would have preferred them with me but they’re a Siamese-mix and vociferous. My husband and I worried they might meow and annoy other passengers on the plane. In hindsight, I don’t think they would. They clam up and crouch far back into the cat carrier in crowds.
I won’t lie. I was on edge both times we flew and only felt relief once I saw them on the other end. But, the good news is they survived both flights, and I have seen no long term negative effects. However, I have no plans to fly with my cats again. So we won’t be testing my theory of traveling with them in the cabin!
See RelatedKeep Calm While Moving With Cats