Traveling as Cargo

Almost all of the stories and suggestions on this site are based on our personal experience of traveling with our cat, RC. We travel when and where we want at our own discretion, therefore we never transport RC via cargo. Unfortunately, others don't always have that same flexibilty. We've been asked again and again for ideas about transporting pets below deck, so we've tried to come up with ways to keep your kitty, or pup, safe.

Someone posted a story about a family who moved 4-5 cats from Canada to California. They lost 1 of their cats who was traveling in a small carrier when the carrier was nearly crushed in transit and the cat escaped. Another of their cat's carrier (another small container) had the door popped open from something too heavy having been put on top of it -- fortunately, that kitty was too terrified to leave his carrier. The only cat that traveled in cargo whose carrier wasn't damaged was the one in a large dog carrier.

This family's experience led to the idea of using 2 carriers to transport 1 small pet. The first carrier is a normal size (i.e., big enough that the cat can lay down comfortably, but small enough that if the carrier is tossed roughly, he won't be slammed across the cage). The 2nd carrier is the size for a large dog. Put your furry one in the small carrier, after lining it, and then put the small carrier into the large one. Strap the small carrier down so it won't slide when moved.

Here are the advantages to this arrangement:

  1. The larger carrier is less likely to be stacked which is a frequent challenge with small cat sized carriers in cargo.
  2. If the cargo is packed tightly -- the norm so the cargo doesn't shift during transport -- then your cat will still have air flowing around the inner carrier.
  3. Your cat can't get a paw or tail trapped by other cargo.
  4. The baggage handlers are much less likely to "toss" the carrier as it's size will require more careful handling.

Of course, there are disadvantages:

  1. The cost of transport will be much higher because you pay by weight, and you have to buy 2 carriers.
  2. If the travel time is extensive, then it will be more difficult for the airline staff to get into the inner carrier to feed/water your cat. Personally, unless the trip is over 16-18 hours, I wouldn't be too concerned. Cats are capable of doing without water and food for much longer periods than humans. RC often won't eat or drink for that period of time when we're traveling, even though we offer him both, frequently.

Of course, you should always include food and a water dish with instructions for the crew. Also, consider putting an ice cube in the carrier or add a gerbil style water feeder (although the ones we tried always leaked, but it would be better than nothing) to insure that your kitty has access to water if it's a long trip.

A few people have tried our suggestion of using inner and outer carriers, and reported success! One person said the airline refused to allow her to use the 2 carriers and she had to disassemble the carriers before the airline would accept the smaller one for transport.

Please, please, please, don't sedate your pet. This is going to be a stressful experience ... for everyone in the family probably ... but cats can't regulate their body temperature when they're sedated. Also, more pet deaths in the air are caused by sedatives than any other cause. After you arrive at your destination, try to devote extra time with your pet to help him understand this was an unusual event and everything's now back to normal. One fellow traveler reported that it took her cat about a month to fully recover from a bad cargo trip, but with extra TLC (tender, loving care), he was his old self.

Be sure to read the suggestions about flying with a cat All the advice won't apply, but lining his carrier, withholding food, etc., should apply.


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