Aircraft wing as seen through window

Traveling with Cats on an International Plane Ride

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Traveling 10 minutes in a car with a cat can sometimes feel like an epic adventure.  They’re hardly known for their love of movement whether that’s by car or plane.

How to Fly with Cats

Traveling with cats on an international plane ride is rarely ideal but in today’s modern world where people can have responsibilities hundreds and sometimes thousands of miles from home, it’s not always easy to avoid.  Flying with cats overseas doesn’t have to be a nightmare but it does require some planning, some paperwork and a few signatures.

Before You Book Your Plane Ticket

The first thing to do can sometimes be the most difficult.  You have answer honestly:

is it fair to take your cat with you?

Cats are versatile creatures; they’re tough little cookies but elderly cats or those with chronic health conditions and some snub-nosed breeds may not be fit for travel.

In the early planning stages, it’s for you as an owner to decide but if you need a health certificate from a veterinarian then the choice might be out of your hands. If you don’t think your cat is up to the trip, then the sooner you can make arrangements for a suitable new home the better for everyone.

If you’re only going to be away for a few weeks or a month, then it might be easier to put the cat in a boarding cattery.

Generally speaking, cats must be 15 weeks or older to fly internationally. Check with the airline before booking a ticket for your kitten.

Do Your Research Before Traveling with Cats on an International Plane Ride

Check what the requirements are for bringing a cat into your final destination country: vaccinations, health certificates, paperwork etc.  US residents can use the Aphis website to see the requirements of individual countries.  The IATA website has similar information on what’s necessary to travel with a cat.  You might also need to have the information translated into a local language.

It’s often worth making an appointment with an accredited veterinarian (accredited so that he or she can sign documents relating to the cat’s health that’ll be accepted at your destination).  A veterinarian can advise you on the correct paperwork you’ll need as well as working out a timeline for any vaccinations or health checks.  Some countries require examinations and certifications to be carried out within a strict window of time. This is far easier to arrange and manage when you have enough time.  If you have any concerns about traveling with your cat on a plane, then often a vet is the best person to ask.

If your cat isn’t microchipped, then book an appointment to have it done.  This is often a requirement of carriage; it’s relatively painless for the cat and provides some measure of security should the cat go missing either before, during or after your trip.

If you’re worried about arranging it all yourself, then you can ask an international pet location service to handle the logistics.

The sooner you can start planning your trip the better.  Some countries are relatively straight forward but others are a little more cautious.  Getting a cat into the UK from some rabies prone countries, for example, can take around 12-weeks to arrange.

Quarantine in Australia lasts a minimum of 12-days (which the owner has to pay for), and can last longer if officials are concerned with the animal’s health.

Passengers on aircraft during safety briefing

Booking Your Plane Tickets

Each airline will have different regulations and restrictions on carrying animals.  Some will allow cats to travel as carry-on baggage.  Others will insist they travel in the hold as checked-luggage. You may even have to ship your cat as cargo.  It’s worth doing your homework.

It’s safer to keep your pet in the cabin with you but this isn’t always possible.

Try to book a direct flight wherever possible but be aware that Delta, for example, now has a maximum flying time of 12-hours for cats.

If you’re checking your cat in or sending them by cargo, then pick a departure date and time when temperatures aren’t too hot or cold.  Some airlines refuse to fly animals when the outside temperature is above or below a certain number.

When you think you’ve found an airline, call them and double-check what size carrier you’ll need. Airlines and immigration services may request a certificate of health, too. This should state the cat’s microchip number, any rabies vaccinations, the cat’s age and gender and confirmation from a vet that the cat is fit to fly.  In the EU you can use your pet passport.

If you can fly your cat in the cabin, then book your ticket as soon as possible.  There’s a limited number of spaces in the cabin for pets and it’s first-come-first-served.  Inside the plane, your cat counts as part of your carry-on luggage allowance and must be stowed under the seat in front.

For checked-in baggage, phone the airline before booking to see what the procedure is.

For international shipping, you can’t always book your cat to travel until a maximum of 14-days before traveling. Contact the airline’s cargo handler for more information.

Inside of an Argos cat carrier

Choosing a Cat Carrier

Generally carry-on cat carriers must be soft-sided and need to fit under the seat in front of you.  Restrictions are tougher for traveling in the hold.  Confirm requirements with the airline before traveling as policies can vary.  

These are affiliate links (we’re paid a small commission if you buy something through them), but If your cat’s traveling in the hold, then we’d recommend the Sky Mate Pet Kennel We also recently wrote a post on the Sturdipet pet carrier which is soft-sided and used by many owners for traveling inside the aircraft cabin.

Usually, you’ll need to add a live animal sticker to the carrier if it’s going in the hold.  The pet should have a water bowl clipped to the inside, too. These are both inexpensive and easily available to buy online.

Before You Fly with Your Cat

Cats are going to hate traveling if they hate their carrier.  Invest a little time ahead of your flight to get the pet used to its box.  Put the carrier in a public area of the house with bedding, toys and treats inside and encourage the cat to explore and then settle inside.  This might take a bit of time but it’s so worth it.  The cat should rub its head against the sides and lay a scent which next time it will recognise as its own and feel calmer.  Getting the cat to feel relaxed in its box is half the battle.

Writing in Conde Nast magazine, Cynthia Drescher wrote that she’d prepared her cat for flying by taking it on buses and trains to get it used to the noise.  It’s not a bad idea.

Avoid sedation wherever possible.  If your cat is prone to anxiety and distress, then you may be tempted to use medication to calm them down.  This is not recommended if your cat is flying in the aircraft’s hold.  Use Rescue Remedy or spray a synthetic pheromone spray such as Feliway into the carrier to reduce anxiety.

If you’re flying with your cat in the cabin, then you’ll need to buy a leash and harness as you’ll have to carry your cat through security whilst the carrier goes through the scanner.

Double check that you have all the documents with you.

Traveling with Cats on an International Plane Ride: On the Day You Fly

Keep a normal routine wherever possible although, refrain from giving the cat too much food.  Use exercise as a way to burn off any nervous or excess energy and this will hopefully encourage sleep.

Feed them a small light meal about 6-hours before you fly. Too much food can sit uncomfortably on the stomach and cause motion sickness.

Keep some dry food in your carry-on bag along with a collapsible water bowl.  It’s useful, too, to put puppy training pads in the bottom of the carrier in case of any accidents.

Spray the inside of the crate with Feliway if you’re worried about anxiety.

Keep all your important documents in an easily accessible place so you won’t have to scramble through bags looking for them.

Bend down and talk to the cats every so often so that they know you’re there but don’t disturb them if they’re sleeping.

During a layover, find a quiet completely enclosed toilet to let your cat stretch its legs. Baby changing and disabled can work for this. Don’t use it too long however as other people may need to use it..

Traveling with Cats: Recap

Traveling with cats on an international plane ride can be an anxiety inducing experience for everyone – owner included!  But it’s worth remembering that millions of pets fly around the world each year. Cats are hardy creatures. Whilst they’re probably not going to thank you for sticking them in a metal tube and hurtling them through mid-air, they’ll be fine on the other side.

There’s so much information on the internet but we think the important things are:

  • Ask yourself if your cat is healthy enough to fly internationally.  Check whether they’d be flying in the cabin or the hold when making the decision.
  • Find out the requirements of the country your flying to and create a checklist of everything you need as soon as possible.
  • Make an appointment with the vet for advice and to kick start any vaccinations or tests.
  • Book tickets on the most suitable airline and find out what the requirements are for taking your cat with you.
  • If you have to fly cargo, then phone up before you book.
  • Buy a suitable carrier that fits the airline’s regulations
  • Get your cat used to the carrier

And have a safe trip!

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