Cat Care Lifestyle

Traveling With Your Cat

July 11, 2018

Hey Readers!

Summer is here and travel season is upon us. Let’s be honest, traveling can be stressful and traveling with your pet can be really stressful. You worry about how your kitty will handle the transit, what you need to pack, what the restroom situation is. Throw the recent onslaught of airline problems with pets into the mix and I too would have reservations about traveling with my cat! Before you book your tickets, you need to review what the requirements are for traveling with your pet. This is the site I use to make sure that you have all the necessary documents you need for travel: USDA Regulations for Bringing a Pet to Another State or to a Foreign Country

A VERY IMPORTANT note: It’s the responsibility of the veterinarian to make sure you have all the necessary paperwork, appropriate diagnostic tests, vaccinations, and treatments that you need for travel. However, it is your responsibility to schedule an appointment to come in for the proper documents. Please schedule these appointments in advance (preferably as soon as you know when you are traveling). When you procrastinate and don’t prepare, you run the risk of not being able to fly with your pet and this cannot be rectified by your veterinarian. 

So here’s what you need to know before you travel by air:

1. FLIGHTS: Book early!  I said it once but I’ll say it again—preparation is key! I’d also recommend direct flights when traveling with pets. It may cost a little more, but trust me when I say that it’ll make the trip a lot smoother and less stressful. Please contact the airline directly to ensure that your cat can fly with you in cabin. 

2. HEALTH CERTIFICATE:  Does the airline require a health certificate prior to boarding? This is something you should look into as soon as you book your travel tickets. If they need one, you will have to schedule a visit to your veterinarian within 10 days of your trip to get a valid certificate and make sure your cat is healthy enough to travel. If this is a domestic trip, your cat will oftentimes be required to be up to date on their vaccinations, particularly for rabies. Please keep in mind that any state or country you travel to that is deemed “Rabies-free” (i.e. Hawaii, Australia, Japan, etc.) will have very strict requirements prior to travel so extensive preparation months in advance will be required. 

The USDA considers a health certificate to be valid for 30 days, but many airlines and states have their own ideas about how long a health certificate should be valid for and 10 days (from the time of arrival) is typical for domestic and international travel. If in doubt, get a health certificate. You don’t want to be stuck at the airport with your cat not being able to fly with you. 

3. PET TRAVEL:  Make sure your airline carrier is up to par. The recommended maximum dimensions for soft-sided pet carriers are 18 inches long x 11 inches wide x 11 inches high (46 cm x 28 cm x 28 cm). Soft-sided pet carriers may exceed these dimensions slightly, as they are collapsible and able to conform to under-seat space without blocking the aisle.  My favorite and the one I own is the Argo Aero-Pet large carrier. The dimensions are a little larger – 20 x 10 x 9.25 inches, but it still fits under the seat in front of you. I like it because it’s roomy and allows the cat to see outside without anyone being able to look inside. 

4. SEDATIVES:  If your cat is anxious while traveling, it may be worth it to have a conversation with your veterinarian about sedatives prior to travel to reduce their anxiety. Think about how they travel in the car. Typically, the way they travel in the car will be the way they will be during your travel day. Lando is great at traveling, he’s quiet and still. Kingsley, on the other hand, is extremely vocal which I discovered to my horror on my flight back to LA from vet school in Minnesota. He probably could have used a mild sedative. (Maybe not so mild, haha.)

Just be aware that there will be a brief moment that you will have to take your cat out of the carrier to go through the metal detectors, so hold on to them tightly. I would advise that you test the sedative on them before you fly with them with a little car ride to make sure it has the desired effect. The last thing you want is to have a sedative that doesn’t work or has the adverse effect. It happens. Remember, preparation is key! I would advise against sedatives if, for some reason, your cat needs to be placed into cargo, because you won’t be able to monitor them while they are away from you. Again, aim for flying pets with you in cabin. 

5. MICROCHIPPING/PET TAGS:  If you plan to travel with your pet, you will need a microchip for certain countries. I’m a huge fan of them regardless as it’s a way to identify your pet should anything happen and your kitty gets lost. I would also highly recommend a collar with their name and your contact phone number just in case anything happens.  

6. FEEDING: If the travel day is short, I’ll feed them as I normally do but if the trip is long, I’ll feed them multiple times throughout the course of their trip.  I would also recommend keeping some snacks that they love to give as needed to help make the trip a little bit less stressful. For me, I usually offer water the morning of the travel so that they have some hydration.  It also might be worthwhile to carry a collapsible cup for water that you can offer while you’re waiting in the airport. 

According to the Animal Welfare Act, there are specific temperature guidelines to which airlines must adhere. Ambient temperatures in holding areas for cats and dogs must not fall below 45⁰F for more than 45 minutes when being moved to or from a holding area. Animals transported in a carry-on are not protected under the Animal Welfare Act, so it is up to the person carrying them to see that they do not become too cold or overheated. At the present time, Delta Airlines and United Airlines no longer accept animals as checked luggage. They must fly as cargo or in the cabin.

Hope this helps! Have a wonderful and safe travel season!!!

Thanks for reading, 

Dr. Theresa Loo

  • Reply
    Jennifer Gaillard
    July 12, 2018 at 5:30 pm

    I’ve heard about children’s Benadryl as a mild sedative for travel. Would you recommend this?

    • Reply
      Joyce Fung
      August 5, 2018 at 7:55 am

      My vet recommended Gravol

  • Reply
    Catherine Ang
    September 15, 2018 at 1:41 pm

    Theresa, this is such a great read. I don’t even own a cat or dogs but I enjoyed reading your blog. I do have two turtles and three fishes.

    I see everything is going well for you. Glad my fellow Bravo alumni is doing well in life. Hopefully they have a reunion for us since it’s been 20 years.

    Talk to you soon,
    Catherine A.

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