How To Take Flight With A Cat

Author: Emily Burt, Nursing Team

February 17, 2011

Last week we discussed how to plan for car travel with cats, but what if you have to fly with your little one? There is a lot of research and preparation that goes into air travel with pets, and a whole new set of risks to consider.

Be aware of the risks associated with air travel. Before you even start planning a trip or moving with your cat, it is important to know the hazards that can come with flying. Most of these can be drastically reduced by flying your cat in the cabin with you, which we always recommend. If you are traveling separately from your pet, consider a pet-specific airline, such as Pet Airways, or a courier service.

Many airlines will not fly a sedated animal under any circumstances, as the combination of repressed respiration with a pressurized environment can pose a severe health risk. Brachiocephalic breeds, such as Persians, should not be flown in cargo due to respiratory hazards. All cats, but especially hairless breeds, should be protected from extreme temperatures. Some airlines offer temperature-controlled cargo environments, but any delay between the end of temperature control and the cat's removal from the plane can pose a severe hypothermia risk. Many airlines will not fly an animal in cargo from October to May due to cold temperatures, and in some places, heat can be just as much of an issue. Be sure to contact your airline for all requirements before booking travel.

All air travel requires a health certificate. For domestic flights, it is best to check with the airline with regards to when this needs to be issued. Most require the exam to be within 10 days of the flight. For international travel, there are widely varied requirements. It can take as long as a year, even on a strict timeline, to import a cat into some countries, so it is important that you educate yourself regarding the requirements. For the most current information, contact the consulate of the country to which you are traveling or the United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

Confirm that your carrier meets airline regulations. While it may be nice to use a larger carrier for car
travel, with air travel this is rarely an option. Airlines have very strict size regulations with regard to carriers. For pets traveling in the cabin, the carrier must be able to fit under the seat in front of you and will count as your carry-on. Many companies make airline-approved carriers, such as Sherpa, Bergan, and Pet Mate. For pets in cargo, a hard-sided carrier is usually preferable. Freezing a bowl of water ahead of time can provide fresh water during the flight without spilling. And be sure to include bedding that smells like home to help your pet be more comfortable.

Taking your cat on a plane can pose a lot of risks, but this form of travel is sometimes unavoidable. The best thing that you can do is to ensure that you are well versed in what the airlines require and how to keep your cat comfortable for the duration of the flight.