Try and think back to your first time flying. Maybe you were not really scared but the excitement mixed with anxiety might have caused an uncomfortable feeling in your stomach. This is pretty much the same for your cat. Cats don't like traveling since they are usually most comfortable in familiar environments.
This makes air travel for cats challenging, more so because you can hardly take test drives as in the case of car road trips. The silver lining, however, is with air travel all you need to ace through it is proper and early planning. We give you all the important tips in planning for plane travel with your cat.
Take A Trip To The Vet
Air travel can be even more difficult for sensitive cats such that a medical checkup for your cat is high on the list of things you need to do before flying. Have her checked out for any diseases before the travel day for safety as well as to avoid any last minute illnesses that might cut short your trip.
The other reason vet visits are important is to get your cat vaccinated and issued with a certificate for traveling. Some airlines have a time restriction on the certificate where most give 10 days for the completion of your trip after the health certificate is issued. You should, therefore, check up with your airline to confirm if there are any time restrictions as well as any details the certificate should contain.
Be sure to give your cat a rabies vaccine early before the day of travel and if you already have, keep the certificate to hand when traveling. It's also a great idea to make sure your cat is as comfortable as possible by using a flea collar for cats before your trip to kill any unwanted lice and ticks.
Cabin vs. Cargo Hold
You will have to decide whether your cat will travel with you in the cabin or fly solo in the cargo hold. Obviously, cabin travel trumps cargo mainly because you have the advantage of monitoring your cat. Chances of her getting lost are also minimized.
However, sometimes this option is out of your hands due to airline rules making cargo hold the only travel option for your cat. No problem, you can still make the best of this by making her as comfortable as possible. Ensure her carrier is properly ventilated and has sufficient cushioning. The size should also be large enough to allow easy stretching, lying down and standing.
Most importantly, label the external sides of the carrier with large signs reading "Live Animal” to make cargo handlers aware of the content of your carrier. While at it, have updated contact information attached to the carrier both inside and out just in case one comes off.
A rule of thumb when your cat is traveling in the cargo section is to go for a tough, hard sided (plastic) carrier as opposed to ones made of fabric. Take a look at cat carrier recommendations here.
Looking for a carrier designed for cabin use? Try the Sleepypod Air Cabin Cat Carrier.
Book The Right Flight
As you would expect, airlines have restrictions on the number of pets that get to travel in the cabin. For this reason, booking your flight early gives you the chance to travel close to kitty.
Before booking, ask all the important questions like whether they allow pets or not. Also, find out all the relevant documents you will need for traveling with your cat.
Be ready to pay extra (about $100 ) for bringing your cat to the cabin and if need be, you can pay for extra leg room in case your carrier is large or you have more than one cat. Also, keep in mind that the cat carrier will be considered as one of your carry-ons.
Identify Her Plus The Carrier
An airport is a big place and items get lost every day, pets and their carriers are no exception. It goes without saying that you should label your cat carrier for easy identification. This is especially if it is going to travel in the cargo hold.
While at it, have the cat wearing a collar with updated identification information. This includes your contact information. Instead of using your home phone number, have your cell phone number to make it easier to reach you in case of anything.
A modern alternative to having a collar is pet tracking using a microchip. As opposed to popular belief, pet tracking will not help you track your cat using GPS. That is a whole other tool altogether. Pet tracking contains all the information relating to your cat and has to be scanned first to reveal this. When done right and by a certified vet, pet tracking should be safe for your cat. When getting a microchip for your cat, get the vet to scan it before leaving to ensure it reads correctly.
Get An Airline Approved Carrier
If you have flown with your cat before, you should probably hold on to your cat carrier because it is airline approved. Different airlines have different rules on the carriers they require. The surest way to find the right carrier is by looking into the airline website or giving them a call. However, generally, most airlines take a similar approach to cabin approved cat carriers. It should be made of a durable material able to contain your cat throughout the plane ride.
The carrier should also be well ventilated for the sake of your cat’s safety. In fact, it is advised you not travel with flat nosed animals for long hours since they have a hard time breathing as it is. This is directed to all you Persian and Himalayan cat owners. Have a properly ventilated carrier and if your cat is flat nosed, avoid long flights.
Speaking of flight hours, try and avoid midday flights in summer as they could be too hot and uncomfortable for your cat. Some airlines require your carrier to open both at the top and side for cabin travel as well as have a soft removable bottom pad.
Cat backpacks make a great alternative to a traditional cat carrier and many are also airline approved.
Pack The Essentials
This goes without saying, you should travel prepared in order to keep your cat as comfortable as possible and by keeping to routine feeding time and grooming. Carry dry food and snacks to make sure she stays well fed throughout the trip. Keep a water bottle close as well, to keep her well hydrated throughout the ride. With feeding comes the responsibility of handling cat waste. For this reason, pack a couple of waste bags to contain the cat waste until you get to a place where you can dispose of it. You should also pack a suitable cat leash and harness so you can stretch your cat's legs when required.
As you would expect, there will be no stopovers for your cat to stretch out or urinate. Even worse, a litter box may be too bulky to carry in the cabin hold. In such a case, you can invest in pee pads for your cat and have one placed at the corner of her carrier.
Keep her well-groomed before leaving the house since chances are, you will not get lots of opportunities to do so on the plane. Speaking of grooming, have her nails well trimmed before your flight to minimize any chances of her breaking free from the carrier.
Get Kitty Accustomed To Flying
This is not easy. Well, unless you own a private jet and you can afford frequent test drives for your cat. No? You will have to settle for the next best thing, car rides. By taking your cat on frequent test drives before the flight date you build her tolerance for traveling. You also get her accustomed to being in a carrier and away from a familiar environment.
In the spirit of getting her accustomed to flying, make sure she is well prepared for the noisy airport environment. A good way of handling this is by keeping the radio on when doing the test drives. It doesn’t have to be too loud, just enough to resemble a busy airport.
Keep Your Cat Calm Through The Flight
The trick to keeping your cat calm is to make her as comfortable as possible. Other than keeping her carrier well ventilated and padded, make her carrier feel as close to home as possible. How? Easy. Cats have a great sense of smell. Put one of your shirts in the carrier as well as her usual beddings to give the carrier a familiar scent.
If all fails, you can count on medication to keep your cat calm. I know this is not what any pet parent wants to do to precious kitty but, sedation is nothing to worry about. It will keep a hyperactive cat calm throughout the flight. Just make sure you consult your vet first, especially on the doses required.
Have A Safe Journey
If there is one thing you can take from this entire guide, it is the importance of comfort when traveling with your cat. A happy cat means a happy owner which leads to a safe journey. So, take necessary steps to keeping your cat calm and happy.
However, if you really don’t have a choice, make sure you take into consideration the tips above. One last thing before I go, don't be afraid to hold or pet your cat when traveling. It helps in keeping her calm. Well, unless she is a bad kitty and she might attempt to make a run for it. That said, we wish you and kitty a safe flight. Ciao!