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Flying with a Cat

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I have noticed a lot of people are seeking advise on traveling, and specifically on flying, with their cat. Since I have flown wih my cat from Dallas/ForthWorth to Amsterdam, I would like to make my experiences available to anyone seeking information.

In the cabin or in the luggage compartment?

If you take the cat with you in the cabin, he will be put underneath the seat in front of you. This way, you will be close and able to talk to him during the flight. Also, you usually don't have to check in as far in advance as when checking him. I have never been able to confirm the horror stories about forgotten heating in the luggage compartment, but there is a chance, especially during lay-overs, that the animal will be sitting out on the tarmac for some time, which might be a problem with cold or hot weather. I took Zeerox with me in the cabin and would not check a cat if there is any other posibility.

What airline do I choose?

Not all airlines allow cats in the cabin. All airlines have limits to the number of cats on board (not just from one owner, but also in total) so make reservations early. Some airlines have limits to the size and weight of the animal. Prices vary too (and change too often for me to keep track of), so shop around.

Size and type of carrier.

To take the cat in the cabin, the carrier has to fit underneath the seat, so it will be pretty small. Still, I think the advantages of keeping the animal with me at all time outweigh the disadvantages of the smaller carrier size.
I used a tough, plastic carrier I purchased from the airline itself. Some people like a soft-sided one so the cat has more room when not actually underneath the seat (like on the way to and from the airport and while waiting for the plane), but I preferred the safety of a sturdy one. You can find more information about carriers at About.com, as well as links to buy them online. Be sure to check the exact size requirements with your airline!
Remember that some airlines do not only limit the size of the carrier, but also the weight of the cat itself.

To sedate or not.

My vet advised me not to sedate Zeerox, nor to give him anything against air sickness. I would not try to sedate a reasonable relaxed kitty just 'as a precaution'. Some cats even get more hyper from valium. A couple of things to do not to upset the cat are to give him some practice with travel and the carrier, to speak to him calmly, and very importantly, not to get upset yourself. A cat might not see anything scary out there, but if you are tense and upset, he will pick up on that. If your cat is a very nervous type, I would ask advise from a good vet. Alternatively, I've heard good things about 'Rescue Remedy' but I have not had the need to use it on Zeerox or any of my animals.

Food and water.

I didn't take Zeerox off food and water before the trip. I offered him some food underway, which he refused, and also had some of his favorite treats with me for take-off and landing, which he did eat. I have not been able to confirm if cats suffer from the same pressure on their eardrums as we do during take-off and landing, but it helps humans to swallow and it sure does not hurt anything. For water I had a drip bottle, the kind that are used for rodents. I did not fill it all the way, so that if somehow there would be a spill, not too much water would be in the carrier.
During the lay-over I took Zeerox into the restroom and let him out on the leash. He is leash trained, and I had the figure-8 collar on him while in the carrier, so I just needed to snap the leash on.
At home, he likes to drink out of the sink, although he did more looking around than actually drink on the trip. I would not advise this for nervous cats or cats that are not used to the leash, since they can slip out of almost anything if they panic and pull back, but if your cat is leash-trained, it is an easy way to give him an opportunity to be out for a few minutes, take a drink, and perhaps use the box.

Litterbox.

Many cats will hold it up in the carrier (Zeerox did), but others will pee immediately when put in there. It's a good idea to have something lining the carrier, both to catch waste & spills as well as for comfort, of course.
I used an old towel, folded up, in the carrier for Zeerox to sit on, and carried a spare one in case I had needed to change it. On other occasions (car trips) I've used an old sweater that I hadn't washed after wearing it; it can be comforting for a pet to have something that smells like you in there. I'm sure you've seen your cat(s) laying on your dirty laundry at home, or even on your socks & shoes!
A visitor to this site mailed me another suggestion. She suggested taking a piece of those incontinence sheets that are normally used to line the bed of incontinent people. Use a piece twice the size of the carrier, fold it in half with the plastic on the inside so the cat is sitting on the absorbent layer. You can tape it down so it doesn't move. It'll absorb any liquid waste or spills. She also suggested adding a ball of finely shredded newspaper, so the cat can bury any solid waste, and it'll absorb liquids as well. Zeerox' carrier was pretty small for extra's like that, and he'd have a hard time burying anything, but I suppose if you opt for a larger one (as you can when your cat travels in the hold, or on car trips) it would be a good idea.
I also brought an old newspaper and a small amount of litter, which I spread out in a corner of the restroom, but Zeerox was too busy looking around to actually use it. Again, I had him leashed; don't ever let a cat walk around loose in a public place! Even a very docile animal can spook and run off!
As soon as I arrived at our destination, I made sure I put out a real litterbox, and that one was used immediately. My vet warned my more to watch his waste than his food and water intake, as it _can_ cause constipation of both solids and liquids when a cat holds it up during a long trip. It is advisable to watch that both solid and liquid waste are being passed soon after arriving at the new location. If there were more cats traveling, or the cats come into a household with other cats, be sure they _all_ go and watch their behaviour. If they do seem constipated, contact a vet.

Resting and a new home.

Apart from the litterbox thing, it is a good idea to give a cat in a new place a chance to settle in and get some rest before introducing him to a whole new place. A quiet room would probably be best for a few hours, to make sure he gets to eat, drink, use the box, and perhaps rest a bit before investigating a whole new house and perhaps even meeting other cats.

International cat transport.

When flying internationally, all countries have their own rules and regulations for allowing cats to be admitted into the country. Almost all countries require rabies shots, usually given at least a month in advance, and with official papers writen by a vet, which should include the name of the vaccin, the date it was given, and the batch number. With current vaccinations and the right papers, not all countries require quarantaine. I was lucky enough to be flying to the Netherlands, where I could take Zeerox straight home. Other countries will require quarantaine no matter what papers or vaccinations the cat has. Your vet has a current list of these requirements availble and should be able to help you with any specific questions. England is a special case with very strict laws. They have changed their laws recently for animals from many Western European countries, but be sure to check up on current regulations before you leave!
I do not provide any more detailed information about any country's quarantaine & vaccination rules and regulations here on this site for a good reason. I am not a vet, customs' official or airline employee and I have no special information source that keeps me up to date on any possible changes. I do not want to risk providing outdated information. You must get this information from your vet, from your airline, or from the customs' office from the country you are travelling to. Be sure to get recent information, and don't assume the information you got when you or a friend travelled to the same country several years ago is still correct. If you intend to return, don't forget to check regulations for re-entry, too!
For _layovers_, be sure the country where you have a layover allows such. I could, for example, not have a layover in London where I would have to fly in to one airport and fly out the other, because that would have meant I had to take Zeerox out of the airport, past immigrations, and through the country. Although most countries do allow the cat on the airport itself, problems might arise in cases such as the two London airports, or in case of an over-night layover -you might be stuck in the airport if you miss the last connecting flight, not being allowed to take the cat off the airport to a hotel!

I think this pretty much sums it up. I am open for suggestions, additions, and I would like to hear your experiences so I can add to this document. Please mail me with your feedback.

Good flight!

*Sadly, Zeerox, my wonderful, brave traveling cat died this morning, Jan 2, 2009 at the age of 17 years and 10 months, after years of slowly progressing chronic kidney failure. I hope his story can continue to help people who are traveling with their cats. -Myranya.


Since Dec 4, 1999

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