The ultimate guide for road trips and flying with your cat

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The ultimate guide for road trips and flying with your cat - An orange cat sits in an open suitcase filled with clothes

Traveling with cats can be stressful and requires extra planning. If you are planning on traveling with your cat by car or plane, read to learn:

  • What steps do I need to take to plan my trip with my cat?
  • Can I help my cat prepare for a long plane or car ride?
  • How do I ensure the safety of my cat while traveling?
  • Is it ok to travel with cats?

Taking extra time to plan your vacation or long-distance move with your cat will prevent unneeded stress. Obtaining the right paperwork can be a lengthy process, and cats often need time to properly get used to their carrier and a moving vehicle. Paying close attention to your cat’s individual needs and working with a vet can help keep them safe and as happy as possible when traveling.

How do I plan a trip with my cat?

Cats can be difficult to travel with, so planning well ahead of time is essential. For international travel, preparations may need to be made months in advance to obtain the proper paperwork and prepare your cat for travel.

Get a health certificate and other needed paperwork

Most countries require an international health certificate for pets crossing their borders. Keep in mind these rules also include your return trip to your home country. Health certificates are also often required for domestic travel. These health certificates cannot be given by any vet; you need to find a USDA-accredited veterinarian to obtain the proper paperwork for travel. The process of clearance for an international health certificate can take more than six months for some destinations.

Similar to international travel rules, many airlines and hotels require proof of vaccinations and a health certificate from a veterinarian. These certificates can be different from an international certificate and simply state that the pet is healthy enough to travel. Check with your airline and hotel for their specific requirements.

Determining the requirements can be complex and confusing, and it can be easy to fall for scams selling unnecessary or illegitimate documents. The USDA-APHIS website has all the information you need, and a USDA-accredited veterinarian can take care of all of the details for you.

Check the pet policy

Before booking your flight, make sure the airline allows pets and see what their specific policies are. Not all airlines or hotels allow cats, and many have restrictions. Restrictions can include:

  • Health certificate or medical record requirements
  • Breed restrictions
  • Restrictions on multiple pets
  • Travel crate or cat carrier size or type
  • Added fees
  • Pet travel in either the cargo area or the cabin

Due to their size, cats are usually allowed in the cabin as a carry-on. Airlines also have specific cat carrier size restrictions so they can fit under the seat in front of you at your feet. Always double-check the carrier requirements with your airline before booking your ticket. Some airlines require you to reserve pet space ahead of time due to limitations on how many animals they can have in the cabin at once. The sooner you book, the more likely you are to find a flight that can accommodate you and your furry friend.

Call ahead and double-check your hotel’s pet policy as well. Even if the chain allows pets overall, individual locations may have specific rules and regulations about feline guests. You may be required to crate your cat in the room or pay extra fees.

Pack the essentials

Cats require their own essentials when traveling. Whether in a car or on a plane, be sure your cat has:

  • Enough of their regular food and medication for the trip’s duration
  • Collapsible bowls for food and water
  • Sturdy carrier or crate that follows airline and hotel requirements
  • Comfort items such as a favorite blanket and bed
  • An area to hide
  • Travel litter box, litter, and litter scoop
  • Up-to-date ID tag and medical records
  • Pet first aid kit

When traveling on a plane, remember to consolidate bags. Your cat will probably be considered your personal item, so you will be limited to one carry-on bag unless you are traveling with another person or checking luggage. Cats often prefer to hide when traveling and will appreciate a familiar blanket or another item to hide under in the car or while flying in their carrier.

How can I get my cat ready for travel?

Cats often need to be prepped for travel, especially if they have not spent much time in a car or on an airplane before. Set aside time well in advance to slowly help your cat adjust.

Talk to a veterinarian

Not only is a veterinarian needed to obtain any necessary health documents for your trip, but they also can check to make sure your cat is healthy enough to travel. Travel can cause stress in cats, and it may not always be safe for cats with certain health conditions or anxiety disorders.

Vaccine and parasite control needs to be up-to-date for any type of travel. You can also ask a veterinarian about anxiety or motion sickness medication before your trip. Do not put off discussing medications until the day before the trip, or you might be disappointed.

Get your cat acclimated

Training your cat to get used to their carrier and the car can help reduce stress and anxiety. Use tasty treats and positive reinforcement to create a positive association with travel. Leash training can also allow your cat to take breaks safely outside of their carrier.

Take short test drives while continuing to give treats and praise. Slowly extend the length of time of these trips. Once your feline friend is comfortable with the car, try going through a car wash. The noise and movement of a car wash simulate a plane ride and can help your cat acclimate to the unfamiliar noise and motion they may be subjected to during air travel. Test drives also help pet parents determine what their cat’s preferences are during travel. Some cats prefer to hide, while others want to see what’s going on around them. Cats can also get car sick or want toys, treats, and a comfortable bed while they ride.

How can I keep my cat safe and comfortable while traveling?

There are many ways cat owners can help keep their cats calm, safe, and comfortable when traveling. “Each cat is different, and learning your cat’s reactions and preferences early helps you prepare,” explains Vetster veterinarian Jo Myers. “Some cats stress out no matter what. In these cases, offer a safe place to hide and get the trip over with as quickly as possible.” Some cats may refuse to eat, drink, or use the bathroom during the trip and even for a few days after. If you are concerned about your cat’s reaction to travel, connect with a veterinarian for advice.

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Give plenty of breaks if your cat enjoys them

Some cats prefer to get the trip over with as soon as possible. Others want a break or two for food, water, and attention. Leash-trained cats can stretch their legs in a safe place outside of the car and their crate. Many cats refuse to eat and drink when traveling—this manifestation of stress is ok as long as their normal behavior returns a few days after the day of travel.

Keep them comforted

Comfort items such as a cozy blanket or favorite toy can help reduce a cat’s stress when traveling. Many cats prefer to hide in a cozy space, while others want their favorite treats and toys to distract them and fend off boredom. Applying a pheromone spray to the bedding in your cat’s carrier right before putting them in it may help them stay calm. Take time to learn your cat’s preferences so you can provide for their individual needs.

Ensure their safety

Never travel with a cat loose in a moving car. This is extremely dangerous both for the cat as well as the driver and passengers in the vehicle. Tie down your cat’s carrier securely. Your cat may be uncharacteristically panicky when being removed from the carrier in unfamiliar territory or after a stressful trip, so take extra caution to prevent escapes. If your cat enjoys breaks from the car or carrier, walk them on leash in a safe area away from cars. Make sure your cat is leash-trained before you try walking them on leash in an unfamiliar area. A cat can also be let loose in a parked car for short periods of time to get needed love from their owners. Avoid leaving a cat unattended in a car whether they are crated or not. In airports, keep your cat securely in a carrier at all times.

Should my cat travel with me?

Cats are easily stressed when moved away from their territory and normal routine. Depending on your feline friend’s personality, it may be best to hire an in-home pet sitter rather than bringing your cat with you. Never travel with an ill or intolerant cat when it is unnecessary. In fact, most airlines will refuse to let a sick or unruly cat board the aircraft. If a cat needs to travel, take the necessary precautions and work with a veterinarian to make the trip as easy as possible. If you are planning on traveling with your cat and don’t know what steps to take, an online vet can help you get started.

FAQ - The ultimate guide for road trips and flying with your cat

How do you travel long distances with a cat?

If you are planning to travel a long way with your cat, it’s best to get them acclimated to their carrier and the car slowly with plenty of praise and treats. Keeping them contained in a fastened-down sturdy carrier or crate with a safe space to hide will help keep them safe.

How long can cats travel without a litter box?

Cats often do not want to eat, drink, or go to the bathroom while traveling. If traveling for multiple days, provide a portable litter box to allow them to use the bathroom when not in motion. A cat should not go more than a couple of days without eating or going to the bathroom.

How stressful is traveling for cats?

The amount of stress a cat feels when traveling varies from cat to cat. Cats that have become used to the car and their carrier will have an easier time than cats who have never traveled before. Most cats will feel some level of stress when traveling.

What are the rules for flying with cats?

Each airline has its own rules about flying with pets. It’s the pet owner’s responsibility to obtain the proper medical records, pet carrier, and reservation for their pet’s spot on the plane. Not every airline allows cats on board.