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Flying with cats

A reader recently wrote in asking for advice about traveling with her cat on an airplane explaining that the flight was necessary because she is moving from San Diego to Colorado. She has never traveled with her cat and is concerned about how the cat will react to being on a plane.

Preparation is the key to making sure you and your cat have a safe and uneventful trip. Follow these tips for flying with cats and you should have an uneventful and smooth flight.

Call the airline

Most airlines will allow you to fly with cats in the cabin with you for an additional fee. The number of animals allowed on a flight is usually limited, so you will want to make the reservation for yourself and your cat well in advance.

You will need to call the airline you are planning on flying with to make the arrangements. When you do call them, ask the following questions:

  • Will you allow me to bring my cat on board with me in the cabin?
  • Do you require a specific type or brand of pet carrier? Or will any carrier that fits under the seat in front of me be okay?
  • What are the dimensions of acceptable carriers?
  • Do you have any special pet health and immunization requirements?
  • What is the fee for my cat to fly with me?

The cat carrier

Once you have the information from the airline, purchase the appropriate cat carrier as far ahead as your scheduled flight as possible. A soft carrier with both top and side openings would be the most comfortable for your cat and convenient for you.

Once you get it home, put the carrier out where your cat has access to it so that they can explore it and get used to it. Place a cat bed, towel or blanket in it for physical comfort and so that there will be familiar smells in the carrier when the time comes to travel.

You may want to encourage your cat to go inside the carrier by feeding them inside the carrier or placing a favorite toy inside. If you want your cat to get used to traveling in the carrier, take it on a few car rides while in the carrier. But do not take them to the vet, the groomer or any other destination your cat does not like or they will associate the carrier with unpleasant experiences.

Before your flight, label the carrier with your cat's name, your name, contact information and the flight information. Also line the bottom of the carrier with an absorbent material (puppy or kitten pee pads work great for this) in case your cat needs to urinate or water is spilled during the trip. Place the familiar smelling cat bed, towel or blanket on top of the pad for your cat’s comfort.

Cat harness

You should have your cat in a harness for the trip attaching a leash when necessary. Always use a harness and not just a collar – a cat can easily slip out of a collar, but not out of a proper harness made for cats. There are a number of brands and styles available – get one that is designed to go around your cat’s neck and around its body for optimal control of your cat.

If your cat has never been in a harness before, you are going to want to get them used to it prior to the trip. Every cat reacts differently to having a harness on for the first time. Some accept it readily, some flop down, some simply freeze while others try to wrangle their way out of it.

Let your cat spend more and more time getting used to wearing a harness. Then let them spend time walking around the house with the harness on until they are quite comfortable wearing it.

Health certificate

If the airline requires a current health certificate, you will need to visit your cat's veterinarian a few days before you leave to get a current health certificate and an updated vaccination certificate for your cat.

Keeping kitty calm

Although some veterinarians will suggest giving your cat a tranquilizer prior to flying, most experts agree that this is not a good idea. The combination of tranquilizers, high altitude and limited oxygen can be a challenge to your cat’s body and can result in result in ill health and in extreme cases death.

Instead rely on natural stress relief formulas. Potions like Rescue Remedy or Spirit Essences administered prior to and during the flight will help calm your cat.

If you choose to use a supplement like Zyklene, give your cat the suggested dose two or three days prior to the flight and on the day of the flight to help keep them calm.

Still others recommend spraying the inside of the carrier with a pheromone (natural cat scent) like Feliway on the day of the flight to help keep your cat calm during the trip.

Going through security

You will be asked to take your cat out of the carrier when going through security. They will have you hold the cat as you pass through x-ray and the carrier will be placed on the conveyor to be x-rayed.

In order to insure the safety of your cat, have a cat harness on it with a leash attached. Loop the end of the leash around your wrist and make sure you have a firm grip on it in case the cat tries to jump out of your arms. Don’t put a choke hold on your cat, but do hold them firmly, scruffing their neck if necessary.

If you are not comfortable taking your cat out of the carrier and walking through security holding them, you can request a special secondary screening in an area off to the side that won't require you to take your cat out of the carrier. Please note that some people have reported some resistance to this request by personnel, but you do have the right to make this request.

During the flight

You should have a water dish that you can place into the carrier during the flight. Depending on the length of the flight, you may want to bring some cat food, although most cats hunker down and do not want to eat or drink during the trip.

You are prohibited from taking your cat out of the carrier during the flight. Instead, reach in through the top of the carrier and pet your cat and talk soothingly to them to help them stay calm. While you have the top partly open for petting, make sure your cat cannot escape.

You may also want to carry a portable litter box or an extra pee pad in case your cat needs to go to the bathroom at the end of the flight. Some airports have pet designated areas for this purpose. In a pinch, you can find a quiet place off to the side and let your cat use the litter box – again making sure you have a firm grip on the leash attached to the harness.

If you prepare your cat and yourself the right way, you both should have an enjoyable flight. Wishing you safe travels!

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