Most of us travel by plane, train or automobile for vacation or holiday. If you consider your cats to be a part of the family, you might be tempted to bring them with you on your travels. However, traveling may be more difficult on your cat than you might imagine. Some cats are simply not suited for travel because of temperament, illness or physical impairment. The physical and emotional stress of travel can take a toll on even the healthiest pet.
If you do decide to bring your cat with you, a veterinary exam is important to ensure that your pet is in good health. Airlines and state heath officials generally require health certificates for all animals transported by air. In most cases, health certificates must be issued by a licensed veterinarian who has examined the animal within 10 days of transport. Check with your airline to make sure you have met all the requirements (health certificate, vaccinations, etc.). Different airlines have varying requirements.
Links to other helpful information can be found at the bottom of this page.
Use the right carrier. It is important for the carrier to be comfortable, since your cat should not leave it while you are onboard the flight or in your car. Carriers should have the following:
• enough room for your cat to stand up completely, turn around and lie in a natural position.
• strength enough to withstand the normal rigors of transportation, and be free of objects that could injure your cat.
• openings to allow for adequate ventilation
• grips and handles to lift carrier safely and avoid having to place fingers inside the kennel.
• “live animal” marked on the top and one side with directional arrows indicating proper position of the kennel
• a label attached to the carrier with address and telephone numbers for both your permanent residence and travel destination.
Condition your cat to her carrier. Allow your cat at least a month before travelling to get accustomed to the carrier. This will make her more likely to feel calm while inside. Leave it out at home. Place cat food or treats in it.
Outfit your cat with a sturdy collar and TWO identification tags; one with your permanent address and phone number and the other with an address and phone number where you can be reached during travel. You may want to consider using a harness during travel and have a leash available in case you need to take her out of the carrier at the airport or in the car. (DO NOT take your cat out of her carrier inside the airport unless asked to by airport personnel.) If your cat has not worn a collar or harness before, get her accustomed to wearing it several weeks prior to travel starting with a few minutes at a time.
Have your cat microchipped. Whenever you leave the house with your cat, there is a possibility that your cat could make a fast escape. Microchipping will make reuniting the two of you easier, should the unthinkable occur. For that same reason, carry a current photo of your cat.
Hold the food. To help prevent motion sickness, do not feed your cat for four to six hours prior to travel. Water should be available until the time of travel. Your veterinarian may also recommend an anti-nausea medication to be given prior to travel.
Consider sedatives or pheromone helpers. Although most cats do not need tranquilization for travel, yours may be an exception. Be sure to discuss this with your veterinarian. If a sedative or tranquilizer is deemed necessary, request enough medication for a trial run so you can observe the effects of the prescribed dosage on your cat prior to travel. For air travel in cargo, we recommend little or no sedation, as cats react differently to medication at high altitudes and may not be closely observed. Never give your cats a drug not prescribed by your veterinarian.
If sedatives are not the right solution to keeping your cat calm, a synthetic pheromone spray might help. They might not completely alleviate your cat’s fears, but they have the potential to minimize them. Be sure to check with your veterinarian.
If Traveling by Car
Cat carriers are vital to ensure your cat’s safety as well as your own. All traveling cats should wear a collar and ID tags at all times.
Never leave any pet unattended in a parked car. On warm days, the temperature in a car can rise to 106°F in a matter of minutes, even with the windows open slightly. Furthermore, an animal left alone in a car is an open invitation to thieves.
If Traveling by Plane
Some airlines allow passengers to carry their pets in the cabin of the plane if it is capable of fitting under the passenger’s seat. There is usually a limit to the number of cats allowed and a fee. Check airline policies before buying your tickets. Otherwise your pet will travel in the cargo compartment of the plane. Reconfirm this reservation for your pet 24-48 hours before departure.
Include kitty essentials in your carry-on. Most airlines allow two carry-ons, and your cat will count as one. In your second carry-on, combine your own in-flight essentials with items your cat may need. Other items may include:
• Training pads to absorb accidents in the carrier.
• Food packed in a sealable container in case of a flight delay and a dish for water.
• A collapsible, disposable litter box.
• Baby wipes
• Pertinent medical records, including microchip number
When packing the rest of your bags, don’t forget your cat’s food, bedding, litter, litter box, dishes, grooming supplies, any necessary medications and favorite toys.
If Traveling Internationally
The requirements for international travel differ for each country and each airline. These preparations can be difficult and complex. Some countries require a time of quarantine when entering the country; others require rabies titers or preventative treatments such as deworming. All require an international health certificate within a specific timeframe. Allow yourself plenty of time to fulfill mandatory requirements and complete paperwork. Most countries will refuse entry if the proper procedure has not been followed.
For more information visit the USDA website on pet travel www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/pet-travel
For a state-by-state guide to traveling with your pet: Moving With Pets, State-By-State Guide to Animal Import Laws
Click here for another good resource on traveling: AVMA Traveling With Your Pet
If you need to file a complaint regarding the care o transport, contact USDA-APHIS at 1-800-545-USDA.
Please call our office if you have any further questions.