The short answer is yes, you can bring your cat on an airplane. The better question is, should you? Every cat is different of course, and you know your precious feline better than anyone. Air travel can be supremely tough on animals, especially cats who may already be high-strung.
Flying is highly stressful and even terrifying in some cases because cats have no control over what is happening to them. Sadly, even airlines that promise the moon in how they will care for your pet while flying, often fall short of those promises, causing untold suffering to pets and their owners alike.
Plus, most cats absolutely despise stepping a paw into a cat carrier. If you are planning on taking your cat on a flight in the future, it’s a great idea to start those plans well in advance of your departure date, so that you can get your cat good and prepared for the upheaval and uncertainty that comes with travel and make their (and your) experience as pleasant and stress-free as possible.
Travel Options for Cats
There are two ways for cats to travel via airplane. They can either travel in the cabin with you, or as cargo in a temp-controlled, pressurized environment. If you fly your cat as cargo, you either check them in like bags on the same aircraft you are flying on, or you can ship them as cargo if you are not accompanying them.
Unless it’s completely unavoidable, it’s highly recommended to fly your cat with you in the cabin. Some airlines will not even allow cats to fly as cargo, and it’s discouraged by the U.S. Humane Society.
For airlines that allow pets, as long as your cat’s carrier can fit under the seat in front of you, you can take them in the cabin with you. That works out to bringing a cat along that weighs about 20 pounds or less. Any larger than that, and they probably won’t fit beneath the seat because they will need a larger pet carrier. Always check with your airline though and make sure flying your cat is even permitted.
Sometimes there are caps on how many pets are allowed. Also, you probably can’t buy an extra seat just for your cat, the airline won’t allow it. Your cat is basically considered carry-on luggage. That means you also won’t be able to haul an extra bag with you; all actual luggage will have to be checked in with baggage.
It’s a good idea to check with the airline and find out the airline’s precise seat dimensions. The size of their seats will determine the max size your pet carrier can be. You might also consider using one of the soft-sided travel carriers. They are easier to fit beneath the small space of airline seats and have a little give to them if the dimensions aren’t quite right.
Some pet owners decide to fly their cat using a pet shipping service. That could be an option to investigate if you’re having trouble finding a flight that allows pets in the cabin. It’s always important to thoroughly research your chosen airline’s rules on flying with a cat because every airline will be different and each will have their own special policies on how much it will cost to allow your cat to fly, whether or not there are any breed restrictions, and of course, your available options… cargo or cabin, or no pets at all. You obviously don’t want to accidentally purchase a flight on an airline that doesn’t even allow pets, so this one step can save you a ton of hassle and money.
Tips to Prepare Your Cat for Flying Ahead of Time
Get them used to being in their carrier! This can’t be stressed enough. The carrier is necessary, and you need to make sure it complies with the airline’s requirements, so it’s important to find those requirements out. In most cases, soft carriers are the way to go because they are easier to fit into tight spaces. Look for one with both side and top openings and place a favorite blanket inside for your cat to lay on.
Once you have the carrier you need, you can then begin teaching your kitty how great the carrier is, so they will get comfortable with it and not be terrified every time they are in it. You can try feeding them in it or giving them treats inside of it, so they make positive associations and think of their carrier as a welcome, happy place.
Let them play with their toys inside of it and practice coaxing your cat in and out of their carrier so that the process becomes easy and stress-free well before the big travel date. You can also take your cat on short car rides in their carrier, but avoid taking them any places they don’t like, otherwise you’ll replace any positive associations with a negative one.
Your airline may require a health certificate either before you fly or when you land. If so, you’ll need to see your vet 10 days before your scheduled flight in order to get it. You will also need proof your cat is vaccinated and if they are on any required meds, you’ll need to provide proof of that too from your vet.
Keep in mind that there are more risks to flying cats with illness, health issues, and injuries. It’s also not as safe to fly elderly cats or cats that are very young. There are also certain breeds that may not be allowed to fly at all due to possible respiratory distress. These breeds include Persian cats, Himalayan cats, and Burmese cats. All are brachycephalic with snub-noses which can be a problem in high altitudes.
You should make sure you have a harness that fits your cat well (snug but not tight) and a leash, because your cat will likely end up having to come out of their carrier at some point, whether it’s during the screening process before you board or during flight lay-overs where you have to wait for your next flight. You definitely don’t want your cat escaping their carrier and running willy-nilly through the airport.
You will most likely have to engage in quite a bit of practicing using the harness and leash with your cat well before your scheduled travel plans, or your cat will not be a happy camper come flight day. Cat’s aren’t thrilled with a harness and leash at first, but with regular use and practice, they will become accustomed to it. This will make flying with your cat infinitely easier as well as much safer.
Some people recommend feeding your cat as normal and keeping their normal routine before flying, but it actually may be a better idea not to feed your cat before a flight, just to help mitigate any potential nausea and vomiting.
It’s recommended to get your cat a collar with an ID tag, even if your cat has a micro-chip. You can find some ID tags that sport QR codes or you can simply give your cat an old-fashioned ID tag with all of your pertinent contact information on it.
Even if your cat doesn’t usually wear any kind of collar or ID tag, it’s smart to make them wear one before flying. Even with all of the best-laid plans and precautions, accidents can happen. Your cat can escape their carrier, they could slip out of their harness, and before you know it, they are lost. Make it easy for your cat to be found by making your cat wear a collar.
Other Considerations When Flying Your Cat
Pee pads are a great item to carry with you, both for layovers and to line the inside of your cat’s carrier just in case the flight is long, and your cat really needs to go. Carry a few along with you, plus some paper towels, plastic baggies, and latex gloves, just in case you have to do any clean up.
Make sure you have a collapsible water bowl to give your cat water and a few ice chips during layovers, so they don’t get dehydrated, especially if your travel plans are long. You can also give your cat a treat or two here and there if they seem like they are feeling okay and aren’t too shook up or acting like they may be sick. Toys are a great distraction as well and give your cat something to focus on while being confined.
If you have to travel your cat by cargo, try to travel during mild weather. Even though the cargo area may be temp-controlled, the tarmac won’t be, and your cat could either overheat and suffer heatstroke, or get too cold.
While flying may be a faster or more convenient way to travel, it’s not always the best way for your cat to travel. Consider driving or taking a train or bus, if it’s at all possible. Even though you can bring a cat on an airplane, it doesn’t mean it’s the best mode of travel for your feline friend.
Should You Sedate Your Cat Before Flying
You could talk to your vet about options to keep your cat calm and possibly sedated for your trip, especially if your cat is particularly high-strung and you know they don’t travel well. This could also be a good option if your cat has other issues, like health conditions or breed considerations that are exacerbated by stress.
However, giving your cat medications before a flight can increase his risks of problems during the flight and cause a drop in their blood pressure, so don’t give your cat any kind of medications without your vet’s approval.
It’s also a good idea to test run any medications you plan on giving your cat during the flight well before your travel plans, just in case your cat has any adverse reactions to the drug. You may need to try a different drug instead.
If medications are an issue for your cat, you could try alternate methods to help keep your cat calm and stress-free during the flight. When in doubt, distraction is great. Distract your cat with their favorite toy or hand-feed them a treat or two while in their carrier. You could also try dipping your finger in some water and giving them a lick as a distraction or reaching in for a little scratch or two just so they know you’re there.
Another trick you can try is pheromone calming collars to help reduce your cat’s stress and anxiety, or try pheromone sprays and wipes you can use inside their carrier before go-time.
Some pet owners choose to get a specially made swaddling blanket for their cat to keep them contained and calm. Just like swaddling a baby, swaddling your cat can be soothing. Another good idea is to toss an old t-shirt or something of yours that you wear inside your kitty’s carrier. Your scent is reassuring for your cat, so it could help to keep them relaxed.
The hope is that once your flight begins and things settle down in the cabin, your cat’s flight will be uneventful. The drone of engines can even be hypnotic and possibly coax your cat into taking a little nap.
Ultimately, flying is tough on cats and there’s no way around that other than not flying. When you simply can’t avoid it, one last thing to keep in mind is that cats are highly sensitive creatures. They can sense your own anxiety and it can unintentionally feed theirs.
Try to stay relaxed and calm, for your sake as well as theirs. Speak to them in quiet, soothing tones and keep your thoughts focused on peaceful things. Reassure your kitty often throughout your flight and before you know it, you’ll be back on the tarmac in no time.
- Baker, Michael. “The Best Way to Calm a Cat While Traveling on an Airline.” USA Today, 8 Feb. 2017, https://traveltips.usatoday.com/way-calm-cat-traveling-airline-105562.html.
- “Pet Travel Blog.” Pet Cargo Airline Restrictions – PetTravel.com, www.pettravel.com/blog/index.php/pet-travel-keeping-your-pet-calm-during-airline-in-cabin-travel/.
- Staff, Vetted. “How To Travel With a Super-Anxious Cat.” Vetted PetCare Blog, Vetted PetCare, 12 Oct. 2018, https://vettedpetcare.com/vetted-blog/travel-super-anxious-cat/.
- “Tips on How to Fly With a Cat on a Plane.” VitalChek Blog, 9 Sept. 2018, https://blog.vitalchek.com/vital-records/tips-on-how-to-fly-with-a-cat-on-a-plane/.
- “Travel Safely with Your Pet by Car, Airplane, Ship or Train.” The Humane Society of the United States, www.humanesociety.org/resources/travel-safely-your-pet-car-airplane-ship-or-train.
- Wilde, Layla Morgan. “Flying With Cats: Air Travel Tips.” Petfinder, 18 Oct. 2017, www.petfinder.com/blog/2013/05/flying-without-fur-flying/.