You can fly with your cat on a plane (in the cabin) and make it a good experience both for you and your cat. There's quite a lot that goes into planning it: From preparing your cat to be comfortable, choosing the right airline, filing the right veterinarian paperwork, and dealing with the litterbox.
I've traveled from the US to Europe, to the Caribbean, and back with my cat Mia. The longest trip was a little over 13hours because going from Barcelona back to New York we had to stop in Boston due to inclement weather. Luckily, I had everything I needed to overnight with Mia so making the trip a few hours longer was not an issue. I like looking at my trips chronologically, to understand what needs to happen and when.
Planning a trip with your cat - 3 Months before the trip starts
1. Microchip and Update Your Cats Vaccinations
The first thing that all airlines are going to ask you is to Microchip your cat. This is important not only because it’s the best way to track your cat's vaccinations or recover your cat in the event it escaped and got lost. Microchipping your cat will also help you if someone claimed your cat is theirs. The microchip can be used as proof of ownership.
Important note: Microchipping must be done before the rabies vaccination.
This is one mistake I made with my cat so you don't have to. I didn’t microchip Mia as soon as I could but I did give her all the vaccinations. When they installed the microchip, they could not load the information (I don't know why, but they don't do that) so I had to vaccinate Mia a 2nd time for rabies to travel with her.
The only vaccine I've ever got requested when traveling by plane is rabies, but this doesn't mean you don't have to vaccinate your cat on everything else, particularly if you are traveling with them and taking them outdoors.
Important note: Some countries require 3 months from the vaccine to travel, others just 21 days. Do it ahead of time.
When traveling to Europe, additionally to the microchip and rabies, there’s a Health Certificate you need to get. Check the specific requirements for the country you are visiting on the Aphis website. You’ll need to go to the dropdown menu and select your country.
Some countries will request a Veterinarian Health Report (done 7 days before traveling) signed by a USDA-approved veterinarian. The cost of the Health Report can range from $150 to $300 and some veterinarians will charge you up to $250 more for submitting it for you. If you submit it yourself and there are concerns by the regulatory entity (Aphis) you might end up not traveling. It is key to find a Veterinarian center that can do this for you so you are not running last minute trying to find one.
2. Kennel Train Your Cat, the Pet Carrier is Your Friend
3 months before traveling it's also a good idea to start kennel training your cat. If you don't have a kennel, this one it's the one that I use. To train your cat, leave the carrier outside, in areas where you hand it out, so that your cat can get familiarized with it before the trip. Put treats and toys inside the carrier and reward your cat when they get inside on their own. It's also a good idea to feed them inside and close the carrier while they are eating, so they get used to being enclosed.
If your cat gets very stressed outside the home, might be as well a good idea to visit the vet and get some relaxing medicines for the big day. You want to try them before flying so make sure you do this with enough time to change the pills and try again if the first ones don't work
If you would rather watch the video version of this post, see below:
Preparing the Trip - 2 Months Before Flying With Your Cat
I would personally (call me risk adverse) not buy the flight ticket until all of the points above are sorted out. But that's me.
Research for an airline that flies where you want to go plus allows pets in cabin. I do not recommend to fly with your cat if they can’t go in the cabin with you. But this is a conversation for another day. Some of the most pet friendly airlines are: American Airlines, Air Canada, Air France, Iberia, Lufthansa… but I’m sure that there are others.
|Airline||Cost per pet||Weight Limit|
|United Airlines||$125 each way||25 lbs (11.3 Kg)|
|Delta||$95 each way||-|
|American Airlines||$125 each way||20 lbs (9.1 Kg)|
|JetBlue||$125 each way||20 lbs (9.1 Kg)|
|SouthWest Airlines||$95 each way||25 lbs (11.3 Kg)|
|Spirit Airlines||$110 each way||40 lbs (18.1Kg)|
Most pet carriers cannot exceed 17"L x 12.5"W x 8.5"H and the weight stated in the chart above corresponds to the combined weight of the cat and the carrier. Some airlines will allow two cats of the same breed per carrier. Most of them will only allow one cat per carrier, and they must be able to turn around comfortably when it’s closed.
Allow extra check-in time (at least 2 hours and no more than 4 hours before your flight)
In the case that your pet is an emotional support animal, you might as well want to consdier researching what are the specific requirements that the airline might have, some of them require custom forms that might take a while to get.
At this point in time, it’s also good to check in advance that there's a pet friendly way to go from the Airport to your destination as well as the place you are planning to stay accepts pets.
You are About to Travel With Your Cat, Get Ready! - 1 Month before the trip
Make sure you have a USDA Approved Veterinarian
If you still don't have a USDA approved veterinarian, start researching where in your area there’s one that will help you fill the Veterinary Export Health Certification System (VEHCS). It’s going to avoid you headaches if you find a professional that can file it on your behalf.
Buy Everything You and Your Cat Will Need for the Trip
The second most important thing you have to do around a month in advance is to ensure you have everything you'll need for your trip. I'll add on the description below the ones that I use and that I like (with links) . Some of the basics are:
- Kennel (already mentioned it before, but make sure you have one and that your cat is comfortable in it)
- Toilet training pads (in the case that your cat has an accident, they are absorvent and will minimize the mess)
- A Cat Harness (I have a full post comparing the best harnesses)
- A disposable foil tray or a portable litterbox and some litter (super handy to try to get our cat to attend the nature call before getting on the plane)
- Baby wipes (always handy)
In this website you can find all the products we use and love on our trips and at home: https://www.amazon.com/shop/outdoorbengal
Almost there! Your trip with Your Cat is only one Week Away!
Have a USDA Accredited Veterinarian issue (complete and sign) the EU Health Certificate. You can download the form using the link I shared with you before.
Remember that this document is only valid for 10 days after the USDA Accredited Veterinarian issues it and after that, the country you are going to might require that you have APHIS endorse it.
And this is very important, you want to make sure that you issue it right before your flight. The best way to do this step is to contact a veterinarian center that does this kind of paperwork, it's going to save you a tone of headakes…
The Night Before you Travel with Your Cat by Plane
Get everything ready! Put everything inside the carrier. Reduce a little the food intake to minimize the need to use the litterbox. Prepare some Canned or Dry food for the day (I would avoid regular feeding to reduce the need for using the litter box but they might get loud if they are very hungry, so it's good to be ready, specially for after landing) Have a bowl ready for water even if you can’t bring your own. You can always buy some at the airport.
Cats are not great drinkers and planes tend to dehidrate. If you can switch the meals the day before from kibble to wet food, that will give your cat a liquid boost.
You are Doing it! You are Traveling With Your Cat!
Go early. Some airlines are slow at managing pets and you might face some additional complications. You don't want to be stressing out. I go at least an hour earlier than what you normally would.
Buy some water in the airport.
If your cat is comfortable on a leash, take them for a walk and get them tired, it will help them sleep during the flight afterwards. Try to get your cat to use the litterbox before the flight. What I do is I go to the restroom and put the litter in the disposable aluminium foil and try to get them do their thing. You can try several times before the plane opens their doors.
During taxi, takeoff, and landing, your pet must remain inside the carrier under the seat in front of you. During the rest of the flight, you may hold the carrier on your lap (or, if you purchased an additional seat for your pet, you may place the carrier on that seat or on your lap, this does not apply to all airlines).
If you want to get your cat to take a breather, you can go to the plane bathroom with them and let them leave the carrier behind that door.
Hopefully this will shed some light on the complex topic of traveling with your cat. Feel free to ask me any questions in the comments below.
Be nice with the crew! Your behavior represents all cat owners and we want to keep on traveling with our cats as well! :)
Stay Wild, Stay Safe, See you Outdoors!
Albert & Mia