Traveling With Your Cat

Traveling with a cat can be daunting. But have no fear! Whether flying with your cat or traveling by car, the key to decreasing stress for all parties involved is to plan and prepare well ahead of time. The earlier you begin your travel planning, the better your trip is likely to go! This is the first part of a two-part series on traveling with your cat.

Preparation: Start Early!

Taking steps to make travel easier and stress-free for your kitty and you are very important, but even before that, you’ll want to make sure that you’ve met all the requirements for traveling.  It’s guaranteed to be a bad day if you get turned away at the airport, so let’s start with all the preparations you may need to make.

Dr. Weronika Gajowniczek
Dr. Weronika Gajowniczek

Traveling With Your Cat:  Health Certificates

If you are traveling with your cat interstate or internationally, your cat may need a Health Certificate. Depending on your destination, it may take more than one vet visit (and sometimes several months!) to meet all the medical requirements for a Health Certificate. 

Some countries (and Hawaii) have requirements that must be started months before your trip, and in VERY particular orders. We recommend using a Pet Travel Coordinator to manage the process in cooperation with you and your veterinarian so that everything goes as smoothly as possible. States and countries have different requirements, including but not limited to microchips, vaccines, vaccine titers, and parasiticides. The USDA has a very handy website with all of this information to help you when traveling with your cat.  Even if you hire a coordinator, check this site regularly throughout your preparation process; states and countries change their requirements frequently.

Most countries and some states require that a pet have a microchip before import.

Airlines often have requirements of their own, which may differ from state or country requirements.  Airline-specific requirements are nearly always easily found on the airline website.  Check this on your airline’s website prior to booking. 

Some countries do not accept standard International Health Certificates but have their own Pet Health forms that must be acquired and filled out. Some require that the filled-out forms be translated before you submit them for approval.  In a few cases, you must work with the embassy to get and submit those forms. This process can be very slow, so find out early and plan in advance!

Traveling With Your Cat:  A Microchip May Be Required

cat travel microchip

Most countries and some states require that a pet have a microchip before import. Even if a microchip is not a travel requirement, having your cat microchipped is an excellent idea before traveling with your cat. Runaways with microchips are far more likely to be reunited with their loving owners, even if they’ve lost or don’t wear a collar.

Once a microchip has been placed, you can register your pet’s unique number with your contact info (and maybe your vet’s as well). 

Some types of microchips are not accepted for international travel to certain destinations.  If your kitty may travel internationally in the future, consider getting an ISO (International Standards Organization) compatible microchip. They are 15 digits in length.

At Uniquely Cats, we implant ISO-compatible microchips with lifetime registration. Microchip implantation is quick and easy, literally just like getting an injection, and can be done for any Uniquely Cats patient without a doctor’s appointment.

Traveling With Your Cat: Collars Are A Good Idea, Too!

Even if your cat is microchipped, when traveling with your cat consider having him or her wear a collar or harness with an ID tag during travel. In the unlikely event of an escape, anyone can read the number on the collar and give you a call. This helps circumvent the one downside to microchips:  you need a transponder to scan for the number. The most important information on a collar’s tag is your phone number.  For optimal safety, be sure to get a breakaway collar or a halter designed specifically for a cat.

Traveling With Your Cat: Get Any Needed Medications In Advance

If your cat is taking any medications, make sure you have enough to get through the trip (and extra, in case your flight is canceled or you are otherwise stranded somewhere).  Keep that medication in a carry-on; if that’s not possible, divide the medications between different checked bags.

If you are moving, make sure that you have enough medication to last until you can set up a relationship with a new veterinarian.

Flying With Your Cat

Flying With Your Cat: Make Sure Your Carrier Meets Airline Specifications

When flying with your kitty, make sure that your carrier is compliant with the airline’s rules. Nearly all airline websites have a section detailing what types of carriers they accept for in-cabin and under-cabin travel.

Flying With Your Cat: Tips for the Airport

Withhold food for at least 4 hours before leaving home when flying with your cat. (A teaspoon of food used to administer a calming medication before travel is fine.)  This helps with motion sickness as well as decreasing the urge to use the potty while en route. If giving any medications, follow the directions as indicated by your veterinarian.

You may be asked to remove your cat from the carrier and carry her through Security. Be aware that her collar or harness may need to be removed if it has any metal.  Hint: Make sure her claws have been recently trimmed — in case she grabs on too tight!

Flying With Your Cat: Airport Layovers

When flying with your cat, fly non-stop if possible. For very long layovers, consider booking a night at a pet-friendly hotel.

Flying with your cat

Make sure you have plenty of time between flights so you can give your kitty a potty break. Find an enclosed room where you are allowed to let your kitty out. “Family Restrooms” are private, and have fully-closing doors. Just make sure to check for any escape routes or hiding nooks prior to opening the carrier. Please be respectful of others and only take as much time as you need!

Unless your cat is well-trained on a harness and used to being very social, for optimal safety, limit time outside of the carrier.

Flying With Your Cat: When Your Cat Can’t be With You

For most domestic flights, cats are allowed to be in the cabin as long as their carrier fits under the seat. Airlines usually have limits on how many in-cabin pets are allowed per flight. There are some countries, and Hawaii, that do not allow for any in-cabin pets. Cats flying to these destinations must be transported in the cargo hold.

Only healthy cats should travel in the cargo hold. We recommend that you consult with your veterinarian to discuss any health risks during the trip. Many airlines do not allow brachycephalic (snub-nosed) cats to travel in cargo due to a decreased ability to regulate their own temperature. 

For the safety of their most precious cargo, airlines have temperature restrictions. The outside temperature at the departure, arrival and layover locations must be between 45-85 degrees Fahrenheit during the expected time that the plane is in each location. Reputable airlines have climate-controlled cargo holds for furry fliers once in the air. The temperature restrictions ensure that your cat is at a comfortable temperature during the flight and the waiting periods of loading and unloading, and transport to and from the plane.

Most airlines do not allow sedated pets in cargo. An animal flying in cargo needs to appear alert.

Rules about not opening carriers are strict, so there is not much that can be done while on the plane – other than apologizing to the neighbors.

Flying With Your Kitty:  Cat Travel FAQs

Most kitties do just fine when flying with their people, but there are many potential concerns about a plane trip with your cat.

  • How do I know if my cat can fly with me in the cabin?
    • Check with your airline! Airlines have different policies, as do the countries of destination. 
      • Example: no in-cabin pets are allowed on flights to the UK, but may be allowed to France. 
  • What forms do I need to carry?
    • A copy of your cat’s Health Certificate
    • A Pet Passport (if required for your destination)
    • Any other documents required by your airline
  • What else should I bring?
    • Any medications
    • A portion or two of your cat’s food
      • Especially if you have a layover or are traveling somewhere that you may not be able to acquire their food immediately
      • Hint: TSA allows canned food 3.4 oz or less in carry-on luggage
    • A collapsible bowl
    • A small, secure bag of kitty litter
    • A travel litter box
    • Extra carrier liners
      • In plastic bags so that you have something to keep the used ones in – just in case!
      • Disposable gloves and wipes are handy as well!
  • Are there any age restrictions?
    • That depends on the airline — many specify that kittens must be at least 8-12 months old for domestic flights
    • Kittens must be at least 4 months old for international flights, due to rabies vaccination requirements 
  • Can I let my cat out in the cabin?
    • Unfortunately, no.  Airlines require that carriers are kept under the seat in front of you at all times, with all openings completely closed. 
  • What if my cat needs to use the litter box during the flight?
    • Rules about not opening carriers are strict, so there is not much that can be done while on the plane – other than apologizing to the neighbors. Line your cat’s carrier with a disposable pad or towel that can be quickly swapped once you are off the plane and in a secure area. 
  • Can I have my cat with me on transoceanic flights?
    • Airline rules vary, but one common one is that in-cabin animals are not allowed on flights lasting more than 12 hours
    • Check months in advance if possible.  You may need to book multiple shorter flights to be able to bring your cat with you to your destination.. 

There is a lot that you’ll need to prepare when planning to travel with your cat.  Starting early is the best way to minimize stress and ensure a successful trip. Contact your veterinarian and Pet Travel Coordinator as soon as you have plans so that everything can be properly timed. With the proper preparation, traveling long-distance with your cat can be a pleasure!

In part two of traveling with your cat, we’ll talk about managing your kitty’s stress and traveling with your cat by car.