Flying With Your Cat

cat hiding under rug

Traveling with the family dog seems to get a lot of press, but what about our feline friends? It's quite easy to travel with a cat, even on a plane. Travel with pets has become more common, and travel culture has evolved to reflect the trend. This short guide can help you travel safely and efficiently when you fly with your cat.

Should Cats Fly?

In an ideal world your cat is best in its own environment if you can get someone to look in on and feed but there will be times when you have to fly with your cat.

With some preparation, paperwork and planning, bringing your cat on a plane is relatively easy. It's not as complex or terrifying as it sounds. With just some simple advance planning, you and your pet can travel together in confidence and comfort.

No matter where you're going or which airline you choose, finding a carrying case should be your first priority. Make sure you have a suitable travel carrier for your pet to travel in. It must be comfortable enough for the animal to stay in for extended periods of time. Secondly, decide whether you want your cat to be in the cabin with you or transported as cargo.

If you choose the latter, a hard-backed case will be needed to protect your pet from heavy luggage in the baggage compartment, and the airline will sometimes have this as a mandatory requirement. Some airlines, due to weather or space constraints, will not allow you to fly your cat as cargo, but insist that your pet be in the cabin with you.

This is a preferable option, as the cargo hold can be cold and cramped, and is usually reserved for larger pets like big dogs. After taking these things into consideration, you are ready to book your flight. 

Plan Ahead

Before you book your flight, or flights, consider your feline passenger. What is its general disposition? Is it young or old, quiet or active? An energetic or noisy cat might be better flying as cargo, but an older, calmer cat can stay with you in the cabin. Can your cat stay in one spot for a long period of time, perhaps with only a small toy, water and the occasional snack?

Virtually all airlines allow pets, but not without restrictions, and these can vary. It's usually easier to get a cat on a plane than a dog, as they are smaller and have fewer cultural stigmas (taking a dog to any Muslim country, for example, can be difficult).

Contrary to popular belief, airlines almost unanimously request that you not sedate your pet, or at least do so lightly and only if absolutely needed. A sedated animal can be more easily confused or frightened, and harder to calm down.

Many airports have pet friendly areas that you and your pet can use to rest between flights. Some charter or "no frills" airlines still do not allow pets at all because of space and baggage issues. The major carriers usually have all three major choices available; your cat can travel in the cabin with you, as baggage on the same flight, or as cargo on another flight.

Depending on your mode of travel (ferry, car, airplane), certain restraints will be mandatory in transit. You will be required to purchase them on the road if you don't have them, which will be more expensive and cause delays.

Cat hiding in case

You Won't Need To Hide Your Cat in Your Suitcase

Visit The Vet

Getting your cat's health checked by a vet and officially certified are two of the biggest steps you have to take. Aside from the documents for customs, the airline will require their own documentation that describes the cat's vital statistics (weight, age, size, color) and confirms that it has a clean bill of health. Ask your vet about motion sickness medication for your pet even if it is a seasoned traveler, and try to choose something that won't sedate the animal.

To find these vital statistics, use the equipment at the veterinarian's office. Weigh your cat using the scale to ensure accuracy. Measure the length from the tip of the tail to the tip of the nose, and the height from the floor to the top of the shoulder, and obtain written confirmation regarding your pet's measurements from your vet.

Ask for documentation regarding vaccinations, chronic conditions or surgeries (if applicable). Up-to-date rabies shots are required for any cross-border travel and may also be required by a motel or other transportation. Most airlines will only require a certification of a recent vet examination and confirmation of a rabies shot. This will most likely need to be accompanied by a similar certification from a government agency, such as the FDA or the CFIA.

Island nations such as Japan, England and Australia are notoriously strict and will require at least a few weeks of quarantine regardless of your preparations. Other countries, like South Korea, Canada and Mexico, have the minimal requirements of a rabies shot and a clean bill of health. The US is also quite accessible, with the exception of Hawaii.

Check with the embassy of the country that you wish to visit for the exact forms and regulations. Follow these to the letter. Failing to do so might result in you and your pet being turned away, or even worse, your cat could be euthanized. Avoid this nightmare and be prepared.

Touch or Paw Down

If you are crossing an international border, make sure you have the proper paperwork on hand, and that you have at least two copies of each; otherwise, your pet may end up in quarantine (or in extreme cases, euthanized) at your expense. Plan ahead to avoid any such traumatic experiences. Bring a supply of any medications or special food your pet needs.

These might be difficult to find, depending on where you're going. Rent a car with a pet-friendly company to avoid dealing with trains or public transit, which usually do not allow pets unless they are working animals (like seeing eye dogs). Keep in mind that transit might be an issue depending on your holiday destination.

Consider your arrival arrangements carefully. Determine if you will need a hotel, and for how long. Use the Internet to find pet-friendly lodgings along your route and contact them directly to make reservations. If you book a hotel online, contact the hotel to confirm the reservation and ask about any other requirements.

Budget carefully, as motels often require pet deposits, and pet-friendly rooms can be more expensive. The motel will require you to provide a contact number to confirm your reservations, as will the airline (if applicable), along with details regarding your cat, including its measurements and weight.

There are many reasons to take your cat with you when you travel. Perhaps you are taking an extended vacation and your affectionate, sensitive feline companion can't bear to be left alone. Maybe you're taking an employment contract overseas that might last months or even years, and you can't bear to give your best friend away. Fear not, as your feline friend is now welcome in airports, planes and hotels, as long as you stay informed and plan ahead

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References:

(Airline Pet Travel Information: pettravel.com/news-airline-pet-travel.cfm)
(Pets Welcome, Travel Tips: petswelcome.com/articles/travel-tips)
(Traveling with Pets: flysfo.com/services-amenities/traveling-with-pets)

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