Questions? Just ask 'cause I'm always happy to help

FAQ about Traveling with a Cat

General questions

Air travel

International travel

Car travel


What should I take with me when I travel with my cat?


How do I get my cat comfortable with his carrier?

First, be sure that you purchased the right size for your cat. If it's too small, he might, understandably, be unwilling to venture inside.

Next, set the carrier on the floor in a quiet place in your house with the door open. If you have a soft-sided case that also opens from the top, you might want to initially open this, too. Eventually, you'll want to close everything but the side entrance so it has more of a cave like feel which is likely to be attractive to your cat.

Put something soft inside that smells familiar (a shirt that you've worn for a few hours or a favorite blanket or pillow). Leave the carrier accessbile so your cat can explore it at his leisure. Initially, don't close him up inside the carrier until he gains confidence being around the carrier.

At least on occassion, move his food dish, but not his water dish, into the carrier. And, if you feed him treats, leave one or two in the back of the carrier so he has to enter the carrier to retrieve them.

You might also take a light weight blanket, towel, or piece of cloth and drape it over the sides of the carrier so your cat feels like he has a safe den. You may be surprised that after a few days, your cat starts sleeping in the carrier on occassion. If you ever find your cat entered the carrier by himself, never close him in -- he's likely to feel trapped and distrust the carrier.

After you feel your cat has gotten over any initial reactions of distrust of the carrier, move the carrier to an easily accessible place away from wherever you had left it. Place him inside the carrier (maybe with a treat) and close all the doors. Only leave him inside for 5-10 minutes with you plainly in sight so he knows he's not being abandoned or trapped.

Personally, RC never made it through this last stage very well. Even today, if I set his carrier down for more than few minutes, he gets very anxious. He likes it best, at least he usually doesn't complain, when the carrier is over my shoulder, on my lap, or under the airline seat. I assume the first 2 situations are reassuring because he can feel/smell me through the soft-sided carrier. When he's under an airline seat, I make sure the door faces me so I'm always in view. I also tend to stretch my feet out so he can pick up my scent.

Be especially careful not to leave the carrier with your cat on a bed or table. The carrier should be sturdy enough that your cat can't roll it off a stable surface, but RC managed one time. Fortunately, the carrier was on a low bed and he didn't fall far, nor did he get hurt. But, it did leave him less than pleased and I've tried to be much more careful where I set his case down.

We now always leave RC's carrier accessible to him in a dark closet or room with the door open. It's one of his favorite sleeping places and we're careful never to close the door when he's inside and the carrier is in its special spot. We move the carrier when RC isn't looking whenever it's time for a trip. Since we made this change, RC now stays in his carrier most of the time when we're driving. We leave the door open, but he's usually inside -- a much safer arrangement for all.


Should I get an extra large carrier so my cat can move around?

No, you should get a carrier which is large enough to let your cat stretch out, but not much bigger. Cats are usually so flexible that they can turn around in almost any space so that's not a real concern. I wouldn't even be too concerned whether he can stand at his full height, although if you can manage that it's probably best. RC has room in his carrier to stand up, but I've never seen him do so in all our travels.

Your greater concern should be that if the carrier is jostled abruptly (whether it's under the airline seat or in the cargo bay), that your cat won't be tossed from one end of a large carrier to the other -- at speed.

RC is 16 inches long from his shoulder to the base of his tail. His carrier is 18 inches long. He has plenty of room to stretch out, but if the carrier slides, he can brace himself so he's not unexpectedly thrown against the far side.

There is one possible exception to this recommendation. If you are transporting your cat by cargo, then perhaps using an extra large carrier in combination with a smaller carrier is ideal.


How do I get my cat to accept putting on his harness?

Find something that your cat likes to do, and always make him put his harness on before he gets to do it. For example, if your cat likes a particular treat, then make him put his harness on first and then give him the treat as soon as the harness is on. Positive reinforcement only works if it's instananeous.

RC taught us this trick. When we travel to cities, we only let RC out with his harness and leash (he's not leash trained, but it slows him down a bit :). Before we started requiring this, he'd always run when he'd see the harness. Now, he heads toward whoever has the harness, tail held high. As soon as the harness is on, he runs to the door and waits expectantly. We try to have the door open within seconds so he's rewarded immediately.

Also, remember to hold the harness so nothing knocks your cat in the head. RC's harness has his Rabies tag on the back. It's light weight and I'd often forget about it as I put the harness over his head. He'd try to back away from the harness, but it took a long time for me to realize that he hated being clonked in the head by the tag. Now we hold the tag and the side connector (which can easily twist around so it hits him in the head, too) out of the way as RC slips his head through. No more cringing cat!


My cat hates a ride to the vet, how am I going to take him on an airline?

Remember that although your cat may make a lot of fuss going to the vet's in the family car, that doesn't mean he'll be so noisy when traveling in an airplane. A major difference between a private car and an airplane is the number of people. Cats instinctively know that one great technique to protect themselves is to remain quiet so "enemies" can't find them. In a noisy plane with lots of strangers, your cat is likely to use this method and save the wailing session for when you get in the car after you arrive. :)

If your carrier has windows that can be covered with a soft cloth (see Modified Sherpa Bag), then it may make it easier for him to feel safe in his "cave" and encourage him to keep the yowling concerts down.


What airlines accept pets?

We keep a list of airlines and their policies about traveling with pets. Be sure to make your reservation as early as possible as most airlines restrict the number of furry travelers per flight.

The airlines frequently change their web sites and although we try to keep the information up-to-date, you may find a bad link to a specific airline's policy. If that happens, search their site for "pet" or "animal" and you'll probably find the details you want.


Should I use tranquilizers on my cat?

Most experts agree that it's difficult to predict the effects of tranquilizers when a cat is flying in an airplane. According to an article in the 15 September 1995 issue of the Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association, "Oversedation is the most frequent cause of animal deaths during airline transport and accounts for almost half of all deaths."

We have never used tranquilizers on RC, regardless of the mode of transport. When we first started traveling with RC in a car, he wasn't too keen on the idea and often meowed and cried. I'd prefer to listen to him than to leave him helpless. If he was knocked out, he couldn't alert us to his needs.

I understand there are new tranquilizers that don't knock out your cat totally. If you really feel like you need to use sedatives, you might ask your vet about these. Also, consider holding off on using them until you're sure you'll need them on board. RC hates airports (and often is vocal about his displeasure), but he is as good as gold once we board. You might want to read our comments about the differences between behaviour in cars and planes.


Should I feed my cat before the flight?

If you're shipping your cat in the cargo hold, most airlines require you to withhold food for 4 hours before the flight. If it's an extended flight, then you'll need to include a container of food with instructions for feeding. If your cat isn't an experienced traveler, he won't be too concerned with food anyway.

Remember that cats can go for extended periods of time without food, but not water. We've never shipped RC as cargo, but we did try using a gerbil's drip bottle for water one time. By the time we reached our destination (about 2 hours), we had one drenched and unhappy cat. We tried a couple of other designs with similar results. Karen, a visitor to this site, suggested that you put ice in the water feeder. That way your kitty will have access to water in small quantities without becoming sodden himself. Sounds like a great suggestion.

If you're taking your cat on board or in the car (bus, train, or boat), then you should still withhold food for several hours before departure. We're not too precise about this, but remember if the transport gets bumpy, it's likely that you're going to have to clean up after an upset little one.

If it's an extended trip, we feed RC in his carrier and offer him water every few hours.


How do I carry a litter box on the plane?

You should bring a disposable litter box and enough litter (we usually carry 2-3 lbs for a 10 hour trip, 5-6 lbs for longer trips) in your carry on luggage. If your flight is long, or you detect that your cat seems to need "to go", then take your furry one, disposable litter box, and litter to the restroom and set things up. If this is your cat's first flight, don't expect him to relax enough to use the box. If you've Prepared for "Accidents", you'll be able to handle the situation.

Personally, I don't really like the commercial disposable litter boxes (the sides are too low for RC's preference). We first came up with another solution because we couldn't find any commercial boxes. Even when we're departing from the USA, we're more likely to Build a Disposable Litter Box when we travel than use the ones on the market.


Do I have to take my cat out of his carrier when I pass through airport security?

In the USA, yes. In other countries, especially Latin America, you can probably just show them that you have a cat and they'll let you carry him through the metal detector.

See Flying High Across the Borders for tips on handling taking your cat through the security check point.

If you do get to leave your cat in the carrier, hold the carrier in your hand in front of you so it passes through the metal detectors by itself, as much as possible. The detector only allows a certain amount of metal. You don't want the carrier to be added to whatever jewelry, etc. that you have on your person. It's frustrating to figure out what else you can take off (barrettes, watches, belt buckles) so the alarm will stop beeping!


What is the best type of carrier for air travel?

A soft-sided carrier works best if you're taking your furry guy in the cabin with you. This eliminates the concern that the carrier isn't the right size for the aircraft you're traveling on. See Soft vs. Hard Carrier for our experiences with different types of carriers.

Of course, if you're shipping your cat as cargo, you'll need a sturdy plastic carrier that is approved by the airline. If your cat is traveling within the US borders, then the carrier must have air holes on 3 sides. If you're shipping your little guy internationally, then you'll need air holes on 4 sides of the carrier.

Regardless what type carrier you use or whether you bring it aboard or not, you might want to look at Preparing for "Accidents" to keep your cat as dry as possible.


What paperwork do I need to take my cat between states in the US?

If you're flying with your feline companion, then you'll need a "US Interstate and International Certificate of Health Examination for Small Animals" that is issued less than 10 days before your departure by your vet. You should also carry documentation that your cat had his/her Rabies shot more than 30 days ago and less than last 12 months.

Just to be on the safe side, we also carry documentation showing that our cat got his annual shots for FVRCP, and Feline Leukemia. The more paperwork you throw at anyone who asks, the less hassle you seem to get. :)


What paperwork do I need to take my cat to another country?

Regardless where we've traveled with our cat, we've always needed a recent health certificate and a document that shows he has had a Rabies shot more than 30 days ago and less than last 12 months. Many other countries don't recognize the newer 5 year certificates so have your cat revaccinated if a 5 year vaccine was used more than 12 months ago.

There are some countries that require verification that the Rabies shot was administered at least 30 days ago and not more than 6 months ago. Check with the destination country's consulate for details.

If you are traveling from the USA to any other country, you'll need an "US Interstate and International Certificate of Health Examination for Small Animals". You may even need 2 certificates because most airlines require one be issued less than 10 days before departure and some countries require health certificates be certified by the USDA and their Consulates which will probably take more than 10 days.

Your vet should be able to supply the international health certificate. Contact the US Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service department (there should be an office in your state's capital) to find out the requirements for the destination country. You may need to get a special seal (cost $16.50 as of early 2000) for this Certificate of Health from the USDA, but the Inspection office should have details. Here is an 800 number that might be able to provide details or give you the local office number: 1-800-545-USDA.

Our cat also gets annual shots for FVRCP, and Feline Leukemia (not required, just our preference). I always bring the vet's paperwork showing these shots were administered within the last year. It seems the world over that most bureaucrats think the more paperwork you have, the better.

If you're traveling from outside the USA, be sure to check with the local authorities to see if there is a requirement to get an export license. We've only run into this requirement when we flew out of Costa Rica and Thailand, but I always check to be sure.

If you're traveling to the USA, I strongly recommend that you have a current health certificate and documentation showing your cat got his Rabies shot in the last 12 months. I've never seen "current" defined by the US authorities, but we get RC's certificate within less than 10 days of heading to the States and it's worked every time. The health certificate isn't technically a requirement, but the authorities can be inconsistent in what they expect so it's better to have one than not.


Will my cat be quarantined if I travel to...?

There are few countries around the world that require quarantining domestic animals. I have a list of destinations and their requirements to import cats. If the destination's name has a jump point, then click on the jump point to get the official information from the government's office or other authority.

If your destination isn't included and you get the details from another source, please send me e-mail so I can update the list.

You can read one woman's experience when her cat was quarantined in Australia's facility for 30 days in 1999. There's a lot of prep work when your cat has to be quarantined, but it's worth it.


What paperwork does my cat need to enter/re-enter the USA?

According to the US Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service department, there is no quarantine when you bring a domestic cat into the States regardless if your cat has been to the USA before or not. The Customs division of the US Treasury confirms this information as long as the cat is free of evidence of diseases communicable to humans.

We strongly recommend that you have a current health certificate and documentation showing that your cat got his Rabies vaccinations in the last 12 months. I've never seen "current" defined by the US authorities, but we get RC's certificate within less than 10 days of heading to the States and it's worked every time.


Should I keep my cat in his carrier when we travel by car?

Of course, it's much safer for you, your cat, and other motorists, if you do. Whenever there is only the driver and RC, RC stays in his carrier which is seat belted in place.

In reality, we've allowed RC to roam free when there are 2 adults in the car on long trips. Whoever is not driving assumes responsibility that RC won't bother the driver. Fortunately, RC has decided the backseat is his domain and only ventures up front when the car is stopped for an extended period. We understand this is a risk and I'm not recommending it; I'm simply letting you know what we do.

We have decided for our own car, we're going to get an auto barrier that separates the front seat from the back. These are most commonly used for large dogs (they look like the barriers that you see in police cars), but we can see no reason why they won't work for cats, too. If we block the openings under the driver's and passenger's seats, it will prevent RC from being able to disturb the driver. He can still wander, use the litter box at his convenience, and watch out the back window at night, without endangering us or others. It will still put RC at risk if we're ever in an accident, but at least he won't be the cause of one.


How long can I drive each day?

I'm not sure there has ever been a typical travel day for us. Our travel times vary from 2-3 hours in a day, up to 15-16 hours. It seems 8-10 hours is the most comfortable for RC.

If we are on an extended drive (measured in weeks at a time), then we try to take a day off every 3-4 days. RC seems to need these days of rest. When we try to push on day after day, RC becomes too stressed.


Should I stop periodically to let my cat stretch his legs?

I wouldn't recommend that you take your cat out of the car, unless he's in his carrier. I've never seen a harness that can hold a cat and he's likely to find the unfamiliar territory too scary to relax and enjoy himself.

If your cat is traveling in his carrier and you feel that he is getting restless, you might stop in a quiet place, without zooming cars and noisy people. Close all doors and windows, turn on the a/c if it's summertime, and let your little guy wander around the car.

You should be sure that you've blocked the openings so he can't get under the seats -- otherwise, you're going to spend a good bit of time trying to encourage your little one out from this tight fit. Climbing into the back seat without opening the doors, getting on the floorboard on hands and knees, and trying to gently tug a determined cat ... well, you get the idea. It makes you wish you were a contortionist, and, as I'm sure you realize by now, I've had experience perfecting my technique. :)

Remember that cats spend most of their days sleeping so I'd only let your cat out of his carrier if he really wants out. There's a high probablity that he'll be glad when you arrive at the hotel and he'll just sleep until you do.


Should I keep food, water, and litter in his carrier?

I wouldn't recommend putting any of the 3 items in your cat's carrier while the car is in motion. First, your cat is unlikely to eat, drink, or use the litter box unless he's an experienced traveler. Water is likely to slosh around and leave you with a wet, unhappy kitty. We even tried attaching a water bottle, but we couldn't find one that didn't leak after the first hour of travel, again soaking RC. Cats evolved in the desert so they can go for several hours without water; just make sure they have plenty when you get to the hotel.

You'd have to get a very large carrier or have your cat sit/lay in the litter all of the time to accommodate a litter box inside your cat's carrier. The major disadvantage of a large carrier is that if the vehicle goes around a curve too quickly, your cat can't brace himself and can be tossed to the opposite side of the carrier at speed. You use a seat belt to prevent this from happening to yourself; get a carrier that's just big enough to let your cat lay down comfortably and he'll be able to brace himself from unexpected turns.

When you decide to take a break from driving, find a quiet place to park, away from other motorists. Close all the windows and doors, and see if your cat would like water, food, or access to the litter box. Don't worry when he turns up his nose at all 3. He can probably wait until you reach the hotel where he's more likely to take advantage of these conveniences with more enthusiasm. If you prepare for accidents, then both you and your furry one should make it through a long day of travel.


What else can I do to make a long drive more comfortable for my cat?

We don't tend to listen to the radio, CDs, or tapes when we're traveling. But, I noticed another woman, Beth, who travels with her cats suggest that you keep the radio, etc. tuned to the quieter sounds. If this is your cat's first long car trip, he's likely to find it stressful. The less noise he has to contend with the better.

Also, be sure to keep his carrier out of the direct sun. Even if the temperature of the inside of the car is comfortable, direct sunlight can really up your cat's body temperature.


How do I manage multiple cats in the car?

A fellow visitor, Beth, sent me an e-mail message detailing how she manages transporting up to 3 cats in the car by herself. She was kind enough to give me permission to publish her tips, so click here to learn from an expert.


What other web sites have information about traveling with a pet?

There are a lot of sites about traveling with dogs, but fewer that focus on cats. Here are a few sites that we've found have useful information. Let us know if you find any others.

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