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How to travel with a cat on a plane without pulling your hair out!

Caring for your cat is a glorious experience. However, the thought of travelling with them is another thing. If you are simply going to visit a local friend, that is not so bad, but going across country to see a friend or family? Well that is a whole different ball game.

This article is here to help you prepare for taking your cat on a plane with you, without getting stressed and being prepared.

Can Your Cat Travel in The Actual Cabin with You?

One of the first things to consider is if it possible to get you cat in the airplane cabin with you. According to Pet Travel, there are four types of travel options on a plane:

  • Checked Baggage (In Cabin)
  • Checked Bagged (Cargo)
  • Manifest Cargo (Cargo Hold)

Checked Baggage (In Cabin)

This is the common cabin area. Your cat will need to be accompanied by you or another adult. In addition to this your cat will need to be contained in an acceptable carrier for the duration of the flight.

According to Air France, your cat must have all the required vaccinations. Any cats that enter the EU must have an electronic chip to identify themselves. In addition to that it must have an EU passport that has been issued by an authorised veterinarian.

Checked Baggage (Cargo)

According to Pet Travel, any animal longer than 11 inches tall or 15 pounds in weight will not be allowed to travel in the cabin with you on the flight. Therefore, you will have to consider putting your cat in cargo hold of the plane.

It is important to get the correct carrying equipment for your cat. This needs to be a pet crate. Insuring that it is well ventilated, waterproof bottom. It needs to be big enough for your cat to move around freely.

Another thing to consider is that your cat needs to be well hydrated. Therefore, you need to make sure that you have a good water supply in the crate.

Manifest Cargo (Cargo Hold)

There is a big difference between checked/excess baggage and “Manifest” cargo. The key difference is responsibility. According to Manoir Kanisha, the airline will never take responsibility for your cat if it is stored in the checked baggage. However, if it is in the Manifest Cargo they will.

If your cat is stored in the checked baggage area, all you get is a ticket for your checked in carrier not for the contents of that carrier. In that case you are solely responsible for your cat’s journey and safe arrival.

What About Your Cat Carrier?

Not only is it important to get the right carrier. It is just as important to get your cat used to the carrier so that your journey is a smooth as possible. For that reason, it is advised to purchase your cat carrier well in advance of your journey to get your cat acclimatised.

Some of the best ways to get your cat used to the carrier is by offering rewards. This means when your cat is in the carrier at home, before traveling, provide some treats.

This will help to make your cat associate positive experiences with the carrier. And not to associate as a negative experience.

What is the best type of cat carrier for your journey?

To increase the comfort for your cat, it is advised to have a soft sided carrier. This will make your cat feel comfortable. Also, if you attempt to store your carrier under your seat there will be more room for manoeuvre to insure a snug fit.

Should I Schedule a visit to the Vets before I go?

The answer is yes. In fact, according to VSA Hospitals, most airlines insist on an up to date health certificate. This is to verify that your cat has the latest up to date vaccinations and has been health checked by your vet.

For example, according to gov.co.uk, your cat must have an animal health certificate to enter the UK if it doesn’t have a valid pet passport or if it will enter or return from a listed or unlisted country such as Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina and Vanuatu.

Is it a good idea to ask for a cat sedative?

The preferred answer is no. If you can avoid it try not to. There are some cases where your cat is hyper active or likely to get really stressed during a flight or car travel.

If your cat is one of those that is very hyperactive and will not relax during travel, according to Pet MD, cat sedatives are an option. If you do decide to do this it is advised to consult your vet first and address this well in advance of traveling.

What Are the Best Alternative Cat Sedatives for Travel?

If you do not like the idea of sedating your cat there are other alternatives to consider.

  • Anxiety Jackets
  • Anxiety Spray

Anxiety Jackets for Cats

One of the popular alternatives is anxiety jackets.

According to Pet Remedy USA, the idea is that your cat will feel safe and secure with a snug fitting garment that swaddles their body. They became popular for nervous cats that did not like thunderstorms.

One of the more popular options on the market is the Thundershirt. In reality some cats like it, others do not. So, you will have to see how your cat responds to it and make a judgement call.

One thing to consider when you are travelling, if your cat is going to put in a crate, they cannot have an anxiety vest on. This is a safety measure to prevent any chance of strangulation during the journey.

Anxiety Sprays for Cats

Another alternative to anxiety jackets is a spray. One example of these sprays is Pet Remedy USA, they offer a product to do just this.

They claim that their product works with the brains ‘neurotransmitters’, which are apparently the brains natural messengers.

It is stated to contain natural herbs like vetiver and valerian. The idea is this spray will naturally calm your pet. Either it is smart to consult your vet before applying it to your pet.

How Do I Check in At the Airport with My Cat?

If your cat is traveling onto the aeroplane with you, you will need to take it through security. This will be very similar to the on-board luggage you bring with you such as a laptop, etc.

However, there are a few differences. The cat carrier will need to be checked. And for that reason, it will go through the X-Ray machine. However, you will not put your cat in the machine. You will need to carry your cat through yourself.

Preparation before the flight – Car rides

According to wikihwow, using your car is a good way to help prepare your cat for travel. The idea is to get your cat used to being in its carrier and keeping still while the vehicle is in motion.

To help this to be a smooth journey, you are advised to provide a reward at the end of the journey and travel to a comfortable location such as a round trip back to your home with a treat provided once you get there.

Just make sure that you keep your cat strapped into place during the journey. This will keep them safe, but also get them used to the expectation when you travel on your flight.

Insure that you repeat this a number of times a few weeks before you travel to make sure your cat gets used to the traveling.

Prepare for load noises

Another issue that cat owners tend to have is the noise at an airport and traveling to the airport. As you can imagine, the airport is filled with noisy travellers and surroundings. This causes stress for your cat.

The best way to deal with this is to prepare for this inevitable noise by doing some trial runs to the airport to get your cat used to its surroundings.

This will allow you to remove the initial shell shock presented to your cat when they turn up at the airport for the first time. In theory, once they have done this a few times, they will get used to the noise. At a minimum, remove the initial shock of not seeing it before.

It is advised to do this a few times before traveling to get the most benefit from this.


Preparation on the day of the flight

USA Today offer some interesting tips, in particular when you are planning to actually leave to catch your flight. They suggest it is important to keep your usual routine in place up until you leave. One of the most important tasks being, getting your cat to use the litter tray before leaving.

You are advised to bring your carrying harness and leash. This will help when you have to physically carry your cat through security.

Placing a toy in the cat’s travel carrier is desirable. This will help them to stay entertained during the flight and travel to the airport. Obviously, this won’t keep them engaged for the entire journey by any means, but it will still help.

Another tip is to bring some portable cat litter in case you get delayed on your journey and you get an opportunity to provide a toilet break.

Cutting Cat Nails

During the flight, if you cat becomes stressed. There is a chance that it may harm itself or the carrier. One of the most common problems is scratching with long claws. As you may already know a cat’s claws are very sharp and used for a number of tasks.

Although their claws are not designed to damage itself, during a stressful situation, they can become weapons.

To eliminate the chances of your cat harming itself or its carrier, it is advised to cut its nails. According to Wiki How, your cat’s nails can typically need trimming every 10 – 14 days. For that reason, it is a good idea to trim their nails as close to your flight as possible. This will eliminate the chances of your cat’s nails growing back again just before you travel.

If you are unconfident trimming its nails, a good idea is to visit your local vet to arrange a professional trimming to help your cat.

Make Cat Labels

Regardless if your cat is traveling with you in the cabin, or if it will be in the cargo area, you should create some labels. According to Wiki How, it is better to add labels that display your home address and destination.

A label should be placed on your cat, outside of the its carrier as well as on the outside of the carrier. This way if the outside of the carrier is damaged for whatever reason you have another chance of your cat being successfully identified.

Dealing with Your Cat During the Flight

If you are travelling with your cat in the actual cabin with you, you have two options, above your head in the storage location. Alternatively, just in front of your feet in the under-seat storage.

The under-seat storage is your best bet. This will be calming for your cat because they can see you and you can offer some comfort to them on the flight.

Whilst it is not possible to actually take the cat out during the flight, you can show the cat you are there and whisper to your cat some assurance.

You will find that the most challenging part of the flight will be take-off and landing. Reason being, the change of air pressure and flight levels. So, if they can see you it will help to keep them comfortable.

According to USA Today, it is a good idea to offer your cat a small drink of water with ice just before landing.  

The Benefits of Traveling With an additional Human Friend

Although it is not always possible, if you have the option, traveling with a friend in addition to your cat will make life a lot easier.

According to Human eSociety, this will help when you need to use the restroom or move away from your seat. Having a trusted friend by your side that appreciates your cat will make you feel comfortable.

Lindsey Browlingdon

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