By Karen Lawrence Abyssinian

So ... you've decided to travel and take your cat along. A vacation or a move might, unfortunately, lead to some anxiety about including that precious cat in your travel plans.

There are numerous ways to approach travel with a cat and a "we CAN do this!" attitude certainly helps. In actual fact, all that is required is "knowledge" and "planning" to make the trip uneventful for both your family and your cat.

However, if you have one of those cats that is petrified and runs for cover at the mere sight of a carrier, or routinely gets car sick during short trips to the vet, or manages to foam and froth at the mouth during any car trip, or meows loudly while constantly digging at the carrier door to get out ..... think again! All the planning in the world may not make this kitty a happy camper. For both his sake and yours, it would be best to consider alternatives such as having a relative stay over to "kitty sit" or a neighbor drop in daily to feed and clean, or hiring a bonded pet sitter.

If you do decide to take your cat along on vacation, you must realize that your travel will, of course, be limited to a car or a plane. While some local-area commuter systems do allow carrier-confined cats on board, most bus companies and trains will not. If you are planning a cruise, you will need to check with your cruise line about cats and while they may have kennel facilities on board, any animals on cruises would have to be kept confined to that kennel area. If your cat is to be kept in a small area with a number of dogs, you must consider how traumatized your cat could be and if it would just be easier to leave him/her at home with a cat sitter.

Label That Carrier!

Whether travelling by car or plane, it is of the utmost importance that your carrier be properly tagged and labelled.

Even if the carrier will be in the back seat of your car at all times, you must label it thoroughly in case of an accident. Be sure to include all of the following somewhere on your carrier:

  • Owner name and address, including phone number
  • Name of cat
  • Type and date of last vaccinations, especially rabies
  • Name and address of veterinarian
  • Who to contact if found and owner is not available

Sedate or Tranquilize?

The general consensus is, no, it is not necessary to sedate or tranquilize your cat and can be downright dangerous if the cat will be traveling by air.

According to the ASPCA in their article titled "Passenger Pets" (Spring 2000 Animal Watch):

" Drugs, such as acepromezine (the most commonly prescribed pet tranquilizer), reduce the animal's ability to respond to changes in the environment. The animal is less able to respond to cold by shivering; if it gets really hot, he is less alert and unable to respond by sweating or panting."

Further information on the subject of tranquilizers can be found at:

Travelling by Car

When travelling by car, your cat should be confined to a carrier at all times. It is wise to always secure the carrier with a seat belt. Loose carriers can be dangerous projectiles in an accident situation.

The majority of cats will curl up and sleep after a period of meowing just to let you know that they are there. If their favorite cat bed is in the carrier, they will most likely be much happier. If your cat does have a known aversion to travel in a car and you must take him along, you can choose to discuss the use of sedatives with your veterinarian.

Always carry bottled water with you and bring along your cat's favorite food, just in case you get stranded or need to stop along the way. You will also want to have a litter pan and litter in the car in case it is needed. Paper towels, a squirt bottle with disinfectant and a garbage bag could also come in handy for those messy cleanups. Also be sure to carry any medications your cat may require.

More tips for travelling with your pet can be found on these two sites:

Hotel Stay Necessary? Then, Set Up a Tent!

TentIf a hotel stay is required at any time during your trip, you must check with your hotel property/chain to be sure that pets are welcome in their rooms. For a listing of pet friendly hotels, TakeYourPet.com will allow you access to their files for a small fee. Travel Pets offers a free directory of U.S., Canadian and International hotels, along with a host of other travel information. Pet Friendly Hotels offers the ability to search for appropriate hotels.

It is always a good idea to have a place to confine your cat when you are not in the hotel room. You never know when housekeeping will open the door to add those missing towels or that extra pillow! They wouldn't expect a cat in the room, and may not even notice if s/he escapes out the open door. To avoid the nightmare of trying to find an escaped cat in a hotel (been there, done that thanks to a young child ... it wasn't fun!), you could purchase a small collapsible wire cage (normally used for small dogs). These cages are usually heavy and cumbersome to carry and set up, making them inconvenient to use, especially if you are on an extended trip. The ideal solution is a lightweight pet tent or collapsible shelter similar to ones used for two cats at cat shows. These products are always a good idea even if you are not confining your cat. They are excellent to hold a litter pan and the food/water dishes. Any spillage is contained, and it's fairly easy to just shake the litter out of the tent prior to leaving the hotel.

Hotel etiquette is always important when travelling with a pet. You must also be fully prepared with litter pan, litter, food, dishes, garbage disposal bags, etc. Good hotel etiquette tips can be found at http://www.takeyourpet.com/pages/etiq.htm

Taking a flight?

Soft Sided Carry On BagIf travelling by car is not an option, cats in carriers are allowed, with a reservation and prepurchased ticket, as carry-on baggage in the cabin of aircraft.

Carriers can be either soft sided or hard sided, but MUST fit underneath the seat. In-cabin carriers come in numerous sizes, styles and colors. See: Sturdi-Products

The rules and regulations for taking a cat as excess baggage are always subject to changed and if you are considering this option, you must contact the airline for current regulations. Direct flights are always recommended when travelling with pets. You must check with the airline if temperatures will be above 85 degrees F or below 20 degrees F at your point of origin and/or destination. If high temperatures have to be taken into consideration, try to find an overnight flight so it will be somewhat cooler.

If you are taking the cat as excess baggage rather than carry-on, the carrier must be a hard sided one. If you are worried about the carrier being loaded onto the plane, you can check with the flight attendant. They will be happy to confirm with the pilot that the carrier is indeed on board before the plane leaves the gate. One airline even has printed tags that are delivered to passengers in cabin to let them know that their pet is indeed on board!

Note that the airline will require, at the very least, a current health certificate. You will be asked when teh animal was last fed or given water. Attach a bag of food to the carrier, and be sure to write on it the brand of food the bag contains. Check with the individual airline of your choice for any other required paperwork and be sure to do it early enough to ensure that you have plenty of time for a veterinarian appointment, if needed.

Going Overseas?

If you and your cat are travelling to an overseas destination, you must first be aware of the import regulations of the countries you will be entering.

Some countries require quarantine for a period of time, while others merely require certain vaccinations and health certificates. You will need to check into the requirements for paperwork needed to get the cat into your country of destination. A listing of International entry requirements can be found at the USDA page for International Animal Export Regulations.

If you are relocating overseas and want to take your pets with you, then travel by air is probably your only option. While most airlines will allow up to two pets per cabin domestically (depending upon individual airline regulations), this may not be possible on an overseas flight. Again, check with your airline. Do remember, tho, if you are allowed to take the cat on board for an overseas flight, the carrier must be kept underneath a seat and it will be a terribly long and cramped trip for the animal. It could also prove embarrassing if your cat needs a litter pan and none is available. Under the seat space does not normally allow for a litter pan in the carrier with the cat, or for a cat to sit up to use one if one is inside the carrier.

It is most likely best to take your cat as excess baggage, in which case it would travel in the heated hold of the airline. Check with your airline regarding their policy.

A medium sized, hard sided carrier is best when cats must travel in a cargo hold. If you are taking more than one, you must check with the airline to see if they allow more than one animal per carrier. If you are allowed two per carrier, then choose the large carrier. It may still be wise to have a separate carrier for each cat.

The majority of cats will curl up in one end of the carrier as they feel more secure in a smaller space. Line the bottom of the carrier with incontinent pads so that any liquid is absorbed immediately. These handy pads usually also help to contain any odor, and it doesn't hurt to have an extra one or two in your carry-on luggage so that you can change them if necessary after you claim the cats at your destination.

Using duct tape, tape a small litter pan in the very back of the carrier. If you can't find a small enough litter pan, use a tin foil baking pan. Include only a small amount of litter - it will most likely get spilled or scratched out anyhow! Always put the cat's bed or blanket in front of the litter pan for the cat to curl up in. Still, you can bet that the cat will curl up IN the litter pan!

Carriers come with bowls that clip to the front door. Have two - one for water and one for food. You can put a small amount of food in one bowl, and pre-freeze some water in the other. Don't fill the bowl with water! By the time your cat wants a drink, the ice will be thawed sufficiently. Tape a ziplock bag of dry food to the top of your carrier. If the plane is stranded somewhere, staff will be sure that your cat is fed and watered.

Don't forget - the most important thing is to check with your airline about their policies ahead of time. You can check the following airline web sites, but also confirm this information with a call to the airline.

Watch Out for ...

Fleas. If your cat will be in a new environment, i.e. a hotel, it's a possibility that fleas are a left-over from previous pet occupants. Products such as Capstar, Advantage, etc.can be used to protect your cat, and rid the cat of fleas within a very short time frame. You may want to consult with your veterinarian about the use of preventative topical products that can protect your cat against fleas.

Airline Pet Information

Foreign Import/Export Regulations

Related Links

The following links are included here for informational and educational purposes only. Please be aware that the Cat Fanciers' Association has no control over the content of any of these sites and that web sites may change their content frequently. The linking to these sites should not be taken as an endorsement of either the content or ideas expressed at these sites.

Text: 2001, Karen Lawrence. Updated July, 2011


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