Flying with a Cat: Expert Tips for Stress-Free Travel With Your Pet

Patrick MacFarland Patrick MacFarland · Updated May 1, 2023
A cat carrier for flying with a green and white design.

Flying can be an arduous process that many love, but just as many hate. Flying means freedom, but at the same time you give up certain rights when you pass through security. It’s all part of living in the 21st century. When you’re flying with a cat, the process can become even more stressful. But it doesn’t have to be!

When you have to fly to another destination, whether for a big move or visiting family for an extended period, you’ll need to think about what to do with your feline friend. So what options do you have?

We’re going to explore everything that has to do with flying with a cat because the bottom line is that flying with your cat shouldn’t be stressful or riddled with anxiety. We’ll guide you through what you need to ship your cat, from beginning to end.

Research Airline Policies on Pet Travel Well in Advance of Your Trip

An important first step is to research each airline’s policies on pet travel. Each airline has specific details on what kind of pets are allowed on their aircraft. Since most cats are small, they can go in the main cabin, which means if you are traveling domestically, you won’t have a problem transporting your cat with you. When it comes to international flights, most airlines do allow pets in the cargo hold of airplanes but interestingly enough, many airlines do not allow animals in the main cabin (if traveling internationally).

Here are the specific pages of each airline and their pet requirements:

Please note that snub-nosed cats, like British shorthairs, Himalayans or Persians for example, are not allowed on aircraft because of the health risks flying poses on those particular cats.

Booking a Flight with Your Cat: What You Need to Know

Booking a flight with a pet has its steps and timeline. You should be prepared to plan things out accordingly. There are several tips you should follow to make things go smoothly.

Book Your Flight as Early as Possible

Step one is booking your flight as early as possible. Airlines usually allow one or two pets to travel in the main cabin. Cats are small animals, so it’s easy for them to be in the main cabin as opposed to the cargo hold. Because of this, you should call the airline to book your flight with your cat well in advance in order to secure that coveted main cabin pet spot. Once you’ve done that, you’re golden and can prepare for the flight with your cat.

Choose a Direct Flight

A suggestion that’s smart is to take a direct flight if traveling domestically. The security screening process, as well as the in and out of aircrafts can put more stress on your cat. It’s best to have one direct flight that will take you from Point A to Point B without any changes. When it comes to international flights, because they can be much longer, it’s best to have one layover so that your cat can have their potty breaks and other resting breaks that are necessary.

Get A Health Certificate

You should get a health certificate with a veterinarian that’s accredited by the USDA. Veterinarians will provide you with a CVI (Certificate of Veterinary Inspection). The health certificate must be completed with the veterinarian 10 days before travel in order for them to be up-to-date. You will be asked at the gate for this health certificate and the immunization paperwork. All cats need the required vaccinations to be allowed to travel to another state or country.

Here’s a list of vaccines your pet should be immunized with no more than 21 days before travel:

Vaccinations for Cats

The list of required vaccinations for cats:

  • panleukopenia (feline distemper)
  • Feline calicivirus
  • Feline herpesvirus type I (rhinotracheitis)
  • Rabies

Recommended vaccinations for cats:

  • Feline leukemia virus
  • Bordetella
  • Chlamydophila felis
  • Feline I immunodeficiency virus

You can find a list of states’ Department of Agriculture pages on the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture website. You can also find a list of requirements for animal transportation from each state on the USDA’s page for interstate pet travel. If traveling internationally, you should check your destination country for any other requirements they may have.

The Air Carrier Access Act and Official Orders

The Air Carrier Access Act was a law passed in 1986 that outlined that people with disabilities should receive non-discriminatory treatment when traveling by air. If they need a service animal, they have the right to have one with them on the aircraft. Under federal law, airlines are not required to admit emotional support animals. Although many airlines admitted emotional support animals in the past, many have done away with that policy. It’s best to check the airline you are traveling with to see if they admit emotional support animals on their aircraft.

Preparing Your Cat for the Flight

Before your flight, it’s always a good idea to prepare your cat for the flight. They should get used to being in the carrier and being in a confined space for extended periods of time.

Choose a Suitable Cat Carrier That Meets Airline Regulations

Airlines have requirements when it comes to pet carriers. There are two types of carriers for cats — a soft-sided carrier and a hard-sided carrier.

Soft-sided carriers

Because cats are small, soft sided carriers are perfect for them because they can go in the main cabin. Because your cat has to be in its carrier underneath the seat in front of you, a soft-sided kennel is just the one. A hard sided kennel and is not user-friendly and will only jam in the seat, causing problems for you and your feline friend.

Hard-sided carriers

However, if you want to include all other equipment essentials for your cat like a litter box and food and water bowls in the carrier, then you’ll need a hard-sided carrier and for them to go in the cargo hold.

Airline requirements for hard-sided carriers in the cargo hold:

  • Make sure your cat can stand up, turn around in the crate and does not touch the top.
  • The crate must have secure locking with pins extending past the extrusions above and below the door and must be secure with hardware fasteners.
  • The crate must be ventilated on all sides, and you should place a litter box inside.
  • The crate must have your cat’s name and your contact information visible.
  • Water and food bowls must be attached to the door, and they must be accessible from outside of the crate.

Give Your Cat Enough Time to Adjust

Flying with any animal is hard, but when it comes to flying with a cat, it can be harder. Cats are curious creatures and they like to have the freedom to roam around. When confined to a carrier, they may get anxious, so it’s best to prepare them for the flight well in advance. You should start putting them in the carrier weeks before departure until they get comfortable being in the carrier for long periods of time.

Take a Comfort Break Before the Flight

When you take a flight, your cat will most likely be sitting for a long period of time. This means, they won’t be able to exercise, take a break or go potty for the duration of the flight. Right before the flight, it’s always smart for your cat to take a comfort break so they can release any energy they may have and be as comfortable as possible during the flight. It’s also important that your beloved kitty go potty right before the flight.

Provide Food, Water and an Accessible Litter Box

It’s always best to provide food, water and a litter box for your cat during the flight. There are carriers that come with all of that, which can be resourceful and convenient for you. Sometimes, however, the carriers with those added additions will be too big to fit underneath the seat in front of you. This means you’ll have to transport your cat in the cargo hold.

If you deem necessary, you can also have a tiny litter box instead of the soft-sided carrier and provide your cat with food and water as needed throughout the flight from another bag you carry.

Consider Your Cat’s Temperament and Consult with Your Veterinarian About Sedation Options if Necessary

Sometimes, a cat’s temperament may not be conducive to long flights. In this case, you may want to use a sedative. Consult with a veterinarian about sedation options and if they recommend them. However, most airlines do not allow animals on their flights to be sedated. The alternative to using sedatives is using pheromones. Pheromones can be used to calm cats and make them feel more secure and relaxed during travel.

There are also calming sprays that will ensure your cherished cat is in a zen like mode during the trip. These sprays are much better and won’t have adverse effects on your kitty. Other steps you can take in ensuring your cat is stress-free and less anxious is making sure they are well-fed, hydrated, and has access to a litter box. It’s also a good idea to provide the cat with a familiar toy or blanket to help reduce their stress.

FAQs on Flying With a Cat

Sometimes you may have important questions or concerns about flying with a cat. We’ll answer some of these questions below, so you can be more at ease during the flight and enjoy those delicious airplane meals and cool movies.

What should I pack for my cat during the flight?

It’s important to pack the essentials — like food, water, a litter box, and some toys that your cat likes. Flights can produce some anxiety so if you want, you can buy a calming spray or some catnip toys in order for your cat to be more calm and comfortable during the flight. Apart from that, a first aid kit is a good thing to have in handy, as well as a collar and leash so that your cat doesn’t escape during the security screening process at the airport.

How can I ensure my cat’s safety during the flight?

The safety of your cherished cat should be a priority during the flight. What does that entail? It means that you should have food and water bowls handy so that your cat can eat and drink when they want. You should have a litter box so they can potty. You should also ensure your cat is comfortable and calm at all times. If not, using a calming spray is a good option. You should use calming techniques, too. If your cat gets hurt during flight, don’t hesitate to use a first aid kit or pet them so they relax.

Alternative Solutions

If you’re concerned about your cat in the cargo hold or in general throughout the flight and are looking for other alternatives, consider using a two-way marketplace like CitizenShipper. It’s trustworthy, safe and affordable. All you have to do is plug in your cat’s transport info and you’ll get quotes immediately. And because drivers bid for your business, you can save 60%-70% compared to a traditional pet transportation company.

We truly work hard to ensure your peace of mind throughout the entire process. CitizenShipper provides added benefits for you so you’re even calmer — up to $1,000 Pet Protection, Booking Assurance Guarantee, a messaging system where you can communicate directly with the driver and 24/7 TeleVet access through our partner FirstVet.

As the #1 pet transportation marketplace in the USA, CitizenShipper will save you money, time and hassle. Don’t hesitate and post your pet’s transport to get free quotes now!