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Traveling with Cats

Written by Sally Smith


The new job, the one you have been anxiously waiting for has finally come through! There's one drawback though, it's on the other side of the country and Fluffy hates to travel in a car. In order to get her in the car, you first have to get her in the carrier. Fluffy associates the carrier with the unpleasant experiences of going to the vet's office, being dropped at the groomers, or worst of all, being sent to a kennel while you enjoy a much-needed vacation. How do you break through that fear, take her stress level down and make the two of you more comfortable in the meantime?


There are only two ways to move pets, by car or by plane. For interstate travel, or travel to a neighboring country like Canada, your cat should first be examined by a veterinarian and have a health certificate issued prior to traveling. At border crossings you may be asked if you have one. If you are unable to produce one, they will hold you up a bit, while you answer all the questions as to why you were not prepared.


Traveling cross-country by vehicle requires quite a bit of time versus air travel. Some additional requirements for longer trips need to be considered:


Let Fluffy get acclimated and friendly with the cat carrier. Leave it open with bedding in it, in the room she is most comfortable in. Once the initial apprehension dissipates, kitty curiosity can take over. If it looks inviting, is safe (meaning the door is propped open) and has treats inside, Fluffy should investigate it in her own time. If she does not, put her inside for a few minutes, then let her out. Short interludes where nothing happens will help alleviate the fear of the carrier. Don't force her inside. If she shows any reluctance, stand the carrier on end with the door open and scruff Fluffy gently and lower her inside. Close the door quickly behind her; gently lower the carrier to a normal position keeping her inside for just a few moments, then release her.


In order to prevent escape, or accidents on the road, cats should always be transported in a carrier. To keep her calmer, if you are only going a short distance, you can alleviate some of the stress (if it is not a really hot day) and cover the carrier with a dark cloth. But for longer trips here are some easy tips to follow:


  • Planned rest stops: Stopping not only gives the driver a break, but also offers you the opportunity to check on your cat, and offer her the use of a litter box and a drink. Before you open up the carrier, be sure all doors and windows in the car are closed. Let Fluffy out of the carrier, with the litter box on the seat or floor near the carrier, but don't be surprised if she won't use it. Let her walk around a little bit before returning her to the carrier, but don't let her get underneath your seat where she will be hard to reach.
  • Time Your Trips: Plan to travel no longer than 7 or 8 hours (most cats can wait to relieve themselves for that period of time) and the box can be then offered in the safety of a hotel room. If you cat is prone to motion sickness, don't offer her any food while she is in motion.
  • Find Pet Friendly Accommodations: Schedule your trip around hotels that accept pets. Call ahead of time to find out if the hotel or motel is pet friendly. Several books and Internet sites serve as guides for pet-loving accommodations.
  • Have An Escape Plan: Keep identification tags on your pet. In the event of an escape, the person finding the cat will know whom to contact. Consider leaving a temporary tag with your cell phone number on it, just in case. Also microchip your pet. Microchips provide universal protection.
  • Offer A Comfort Zone: If your cat dislikes auto travel of any length, or tends to become car sick, speak with your veterinarian about using Dramamine or a similar product to control the nausea. A product like Benadryl can make the cat sleepy without the dangers of tranquilization; however, do not use these products without your vet's recommendation.
  • Short & Sweet: Prior to the trip, take short trips with your kitty in the carrier around the block or to a local store. Plan to return home before the anxiety or motion sickness starts.

Travel By Air

Don't be surprised if you encounter difficulty booking your cat's travel. The Federal Aviation Administration has made security changes since the terrorist attacks that affect how pets are shipped. Professional pet transporters have the necessary licenses to move pets with the airlines, but only a few airlines will currently still deal directly with the public. Depending on the airline, one or two cats may be allowed in the cabin as a carry-on, or can be booked as excess baggage with you on the same flight in the cargo area of the plane.


Many people worry about the safety of their pets during air travel. According to airline estimates, nearly two million pets a year are shipped. Each year there will be one or two well-publicized accidents to cause concern, but actual airline statistics report less than 30 animal injuries or deaths per year. Most accidents happen due to poor planning, improper crates, tranquilization or human error. Sometimes things are truly an accident with no one is to blame (unless the pet itself is to blame!).


Whether you have help from a professional or do it yourself, certain requirements for air travel need to be met.


  • Follow the Rules: An airline-approved shipping crate is required. For travel in the cabin, a soft-sided carrier may be used. But for travel as cargo or in the baggage area, the crate must be plastic with a metal door. It should be big enough for the cat to sit up, turn around and lie down in. The less expensive carriers are not the safest. The higher-priced crates are made of sturdier fiberglass, rather than plastic, and have stronger doors that will not fly open. Each crate must be labeled with live animal stickers, consignee information, feeding instructions, and have two dishes attached to the door. These are federal regulations that must be met.
  • Provide Timely Proof: Every cat needs a health certificate and proof of rabies vaccine. The Animal Welfare Act says the health certificate must be dated no more than 10 days prior to the trip. If it expires a new one will be required.
  • Say No to Drugs: The American Veterinary Medical Association and the Independent Pet and Animal Transportation Association do not recommend tranquilizing your cat for flying. It is now widely recognized that tranquilizers are the number one cause of illness and deaths in pets shipped by air. Several airlines will now also refuse to accept a tranquilized pet. Better to have a pet soil the crate, but arrive safe and sound. Travel by air is stressful no doubt; but healthy pets survive a few hours of travel quite nicely. Pad the bottom of the carrier with plastic diapers (padding turned up) to help absorb any accidents that might occur.
  • Understand Delays: Excessive heat and cold can prohibit pet shipments. Each airline can put an embargo in place to prevent moving a pet when it is less than 45 degrees, or more than 85 degrees at either end, or at any stop along the way, if they will be exposed to these temperatures for more than 45 minutes. Professional pet transporters and airlines must abide by these federal regulations. Therefore, even if you have your cat booked to go with you as excess baggage, temperatures may prohibit it traveling on that day. This is for the health and safety of your pet.

Planning and common sense can alleviate most of the problems encountered when traveling with your cat. Fluffy may never love traveling, but you can help make it easier. For more complex moves the use a professional pet transporter for air travel is not the least expensive alternative, but may be the best choice, when moving the cat yourself becomes overwhelming. Professional pet shippers are licensed by the USDA for interstate travel and have a TSA approved security program. They will handle all the documents for arrangements with the airline and to meet the FAA/TSA requirements.


If you must travel to the destination before you can send for your pet, oftentimes pet transporters can assist you with obtaining health certificates, veterinary requirements or boarding. They will be able to provide shipping crates as well as pick-up and delivery services from home to the airport. A network of transport specialists may also even allow for a transporter to meet Fluffy upon arrival and deliver her to your new home. Most, but not all, transporters can assist with international relocations. Each country has its own requirements for pets entering the country. In some instances only a health certificate is required along with the proof of a rabies vaccine. In other countries it may be a long involved process requiring months of planning and or quarantine once Fluffy arrives. These transporters are always knowledgeable about these rules and restrictions, after all, that is how they make their living.


However you decide to travel with Fluffy, do your homework first and acclimate her to the changes she soon will be facing. You will find the move will go smoother and the stress level for both of you will be greatly reduced.



Sally Smith is the Founder and the President of Companion Pet Enterprises, pet transportation company and a company dedicated to advising and helping others in how to move their pets both domestically and internationally. Smith is diversified in skills throughout the pet industry. Working as a vet tech, animal groomer and designing a pet care facility that offered all services in one fell swoop- including pet transportation. She became the Director there for over 12 years. Her diversified background has allowed her to hold several positions among them serving on the boards for the New Jersey Veterinary Technicians and Assistants, the Independent Pet and Animal Transportation Assoc. and the American Boarding Kennels Association. Her current clients consist of Microsoft, Johnson & Johnson, and Continental among others. She shares her experiences willingly and wrote this article in an effort to help all involved- the cat, the cat owner and the transportation companies.




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