cat travel safety

Car & Plane Travel with cats

Traveling with your cat can be nerve wrecking for both people and their feline friends. Read below to learn how to manage your cat's automobile or plane trip for a successful journey!

Car Travel with Kittens

Dear Simba,
I am moving out of my parents' home
and into a new apartment, five hours away. I am allowed a cat in my new apartment and would dearly love to take my own kitty, Panther.

Panther was born and raised here at my childhood home. She is a spayed 10-year-old female. She is in good health except for occasional sneezing. She has always been outside and has never been restricted in her roaming, though most of the time she is within calling distance of the house.

Panther loves to cuddle up in my lap and be petted for hours on end. She has been an only cat for four years now when her brother and daughter ran off together. (What a CATastrophe!)
Panther has endured a limited number of car rides to the vet. She dislikes the process, once having urinated all through her carrier and another time scratching my hand. I worry about the long car ride nearly as much as her adjustment to a new apartment.

Should I take Panther with me, or leave her with my parents? If I do take her, what can I do to help her endure the car trip and adjust to the new home? Thank you so much for any advice! Stephanie P

Dear Stephanie P,
While Panther appears to be doing well at your parent's home,
car safe cat pet carrier
Car Seat Pet Carrier
I cannot help but wonder how well she will adapt to a new environment, whether it is indoors or outdoors. The fact that Panther is an indoor/outdoor kitty worries me. Having been an outdoor kitty for 10 years, Panther has developed a sense of confidence outdoors. This is probably ok now, but it may prove dangerous to her in an environment with which she is not familiar. Even if kitty stays indoors, I cannot help but wonder if your kitty will experience some difficulty adjusting to smaller quarters, especially so after having been more or less free for the past 10 years.

This is probably a difficult time for you and your parents, and it may not be such a bad idea to make the empty nest a bit less empty for your parents by leaving Panther at home.

However, should you decide to take her with you, the following may help you out:

Planning Car Travel with Cats

  • Place the carrier in one of Kitty's favorite sleeping spots.
  • Take a few short trips with Panther in the car and keep her safely in her carrier. This will get her used to car rides.
During the Car Trip

  • Travel during the day. As you know kitties tend to be more active at night, so a day trip will naturally reduce her tendency to move about or cry.
  • Keep her in a Carrier. and do not let her roam around the car as she could be thrown against the inside of the car during a quick stop, or even worse she could distract you and cause a serious traffic accident.
  • Place comfy blankets in the carrier and give her access to food and water. Cover the carrier with another blanket, as this will calm her and give her a sense of safety. Make sure the carrier is sturdy & roomy enough to allow Panther to stand up and turn around.
  • Stop 2-3 hours into the trip and give Panther a chance to stretch out using a Cat Harness or other restraining device. Be sure to Panther has a name collar equipped with an identification tag containing your name, telephone number and other information that can help save Panther
  • As for her going to the bathroom, this will be dependent on her state of relaxation and digestive schedule. Encourage Panther to use her litter box by pouring fresh litter into the box. It might not be a bad idea to feed Panther some dry baked chicken in the hours prior to your departure (dry baked chicken is known to stop diarrhea in pets).
  • Be sure you allow her a bathroom break when you arrive by packing some litter in a small disposable container and spreading it on newspaper
  • Never leave Panther in a locked car with the windows up, as she can suffocate quickly. If you do leave her in the car park in the shade, roll down the windows and take no more than five minutes.
  • Do not be shy about taking panther with you to the bathroom inside her carrying case.
I hope this all helps. Keep me posted. Simba

Traveling on an Airplane with Cats

Hi Simba,
plane safe cat carrier
In-Cabin Pet Carrier
In a few months I will be returning to the US from my temporary home in Europe and my cat will be flying with me. I was wondering what you thought about tranquilizing him and carrying him on the plane with me. It will be ~15 hours worth of travel and, while we've done it before without drugs, I had my husband to help out and he was just three months, too young for drugs. I talked with my vet here and she said the trauma of drugging him and taking him on board with me is less than putting him in hold underneath. What do you think? Also, if I do tranquilize, what should I expect from my cat on the trip? Will he sleep the entire way or will he want to be fed and need to use the bathroom? Amy

Dear Amy,
I agree with your vet. Traveling in the luggage compartment can be quite dangerous, this danger is augmented when cats are tranquilized. The FDA has evidence that suggests that sedatives are a major factor in deaths of pets traveling by air. What happens is that the impact of the tranquilizers is enhanced by the relative lack of pressurization in the plane's underbelly. Cats that appear to be properly dosed on the ground, may overdose once in the airplane's luggage compartment.

The passenger cabin is safer since the pressurization is better. I recommend that you not sedate your cat if at all possible. There are some herbal alternatives you could try to reduce anxiety.

  • Chamomile is very relaxing
  • Peppermint helps with anxiety induced nausea
  • Aconitum napellus (Acon) helps with deep fear, panic and terror.
If you do sedate, a common prescription is acetylpromazine (PromAce or Acepromazine). If you do give this, test it on your cat prior to the trip. Remember that the effect of the medicine will be greater once onboard.

As for his sleeping or his going to the bathroom during the flight, it is all dependent on his state of relaxation and his digestive schedule. It might not be a bad idea to feed your kitty some dry boiled chicken (a common cure for loose stool) to avoid any poop incidents on board. His urinating is contingent on how nervous he is. Cats have been known to avoid going to the bathroom when uncomfortable. Be sure you allow him a bathroom break when you arrive. To do this pack litter in a small disposable container and spread it on newspaper where you are able to once on the ground

Other steps:

  • take your cat to the vet 1 to 2 weeks prior to departure
  • ensure that his vaccinations are up to date
  • obtain the proper documentation for international travel
  • make your reservations early (airlines may restrict the number of Pets allowed inside the cabin).
  • make water available at all times, including inside the cabin-size pet crrier.
  • feed your cat before you leave home.
  • familiarize him with the travel carrier before you leave (soft carriers can fit in more places than the hard carriers required for placing pets in cargo). Let him play inside with the door both open and closed
So, be sure to get him a warm blanket. Place food in his food tray and water and small ice cubes in his water tray. Note that the US Customs Service requires that cats must be examined at the port of entry. Because of that I recommend that you time your flight such that the exam at the airport is done soon upon arrival. Have a safe trip and send me an update. Simba

Dear Simba,
I live in Paris and will be flying home to LA next month. My kitten will be 3-months-old at that point. Would he be safe to take him with me? Would the air circulation/pressure hurt him? I know that's an awful long flight for a cat, but I am worried more about him being so young. What would you suggest? - Thanks, Worried in Paris

Dear Worried in Paris,
Cats older than 8 weeks are allowed on most US airlines. Many airlines also allow small animals to travel with their humans inside the passenger cabin, if your kitten and his crate are small enough to fit under your seat in a cabin-size appropriate carrier. Because yours is a kitten, he will likely meet the weight criteria.

As for preparing for his travel, get him a nice blanket, food and small ice cubes in his water tray and he should be ok.

Airlines require that your cat have been checked out by a vet a few days before you travel. Also, the US Customs Service requires that cats must be examined at the port of entry. I recommend that you time your flight such that the exam at the airport can be done fairly soon upon arrival. Be sure that you have all of your kitten's health documents. Your Pal, Simba

Dear Simba,
I have a 5-month-old kitten and my girlfriend wants to bring her home for two weeks (to a house with another cat and two dogs). I think it would be better to board her for the two weeks as opposed to traveling with her and introduce her to a very new surrounding. What should I do? J.E.

Dear J.E.,
I think you are right in your instincts. Traveling is not easy on Cats & Kittens and new environments can be difficult for them. Because of that, boarding may not be a bad idea. Be sure to carefully select a kennel for your kitten. Look for a place that gives your kitty plenty of room to move about and has trees and the sort for her to climb. Most importantly, look for a place with nice and caring people and a good reputation. Simba

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