Cats may think that they want to hit the road with you, particularly when you’re packing.
But unlike, say, dogs, cats are not happy travelers. Felines like soft surfaces, warm laps, routine feeding times. They don’t like inconsistency, loud noises or (most) other people.Which is why you don’t see cat owners toting their pets to the beach, or the mall, or out to dinner. They won’t like it. And we’re a little afraid that they’ll take revenge by killing us in our sleep (kidding….I think).
In our recent move cross-country, my husband and I knew that we’d somehow have to get the cats from Philly to Seattle. Neither of us could take the time to drive, though, so we had to figure out a flight plan. Here’s a few of the steps we took to keep our tabbies Jigs and Zane – and ourselves – sane.
1. Decide on cabin vs. cargo. Most people ship their animals in the plane cargo. And there’s a large number of people who feel that’s where pets belong, including a group of Canadian doctors who wrote an opinion earlier this year saying that the allergy risk from animals was too great for them to fly in the cabin with passengers.
But I’ve never felt comfortable with the temperatures in the uninsulated hold, particularly for a long cross-country flight (airlines usually restrict pet travel if temperatures in cities along the route are over 85 degrees or under 20 degrees). So we brought our cats in the main cabin with us. It cost $100 per pet one way on US Air, although some airlines charge up to $150. You also have to book in advance, as most airlines limit the number of pets that can be in the cabin on a single flight. Because we have two cats, I had to go back to Philly to pick up one of them, as nearly all airlines have a one-animal-per-person requirement when it comes to the cabin.
2. Allow your cats to get used to their carriers and stick in a few toys. My husband picked up the carriers a few weeks before the trip and left them out and open so the cats could get used to them. The ploy worked: Jigs adopted the open carrier as her personal bat cave. We also threw in some of their favorite toys (although who knows if that really helped).
3. Choose the correct carrier. Airlines have specific requirements for pet carriers; we were told that we couldn’t have a carrier higher than 17 inches. That was big enough for our cats, which are each under 10 pounds, but it would have been a tight squeeze for my last cat, a 20 pounder.
We’ve had trouble with our cats busting out of carriers in the past, but the Bergan Comfort Soft-Sided Pet Carriers that we bought were both durable and practical (although at $35 each, they weren’t the cheapest). I liked the padded shoulder strap that made the bag easy to carry, as well as a zipped “comfort opening” that allowed us to stick our hands in the bag and pet the cats without giving them an escape route. Although they weren’t too happy to be cooped up, the cats did seem to like the removable fleece bottoms (remarkably, they didn’t soil them during the long trip) and the ventilated openings gave them plenty of opportunity to look out.
4. Make sure shots are up to date. We were told to get a Veterinary Health Certificate for the cats so we brought them for shots a few weeks before the trip. And it’s a good thing we did, as it turned out that Jigs had some serious tooth problems that we wanted to take care of before leaving. The airline never checked our pet health certificates, but we carried them with us, just in case. (You’ll definitely need special Health Certificates for international travel; check with customs to make sure of the vaccinations, check-ups and documentation that you’ll need).
5. Think about how you’ll handle security. If you bring your cat in the cabin, you’ll have to take it out of its carrier to go through security. This was no small task for us, as we had laptops, cameras and other valuables with us in our carry ons (and TSA was in no mood to help – one agent in Philly told me he hated cats and eyed Jigs like she was a weapon when I took her out, even though I told him that she was declawed and had lost most of her canine teeth to gum disease. Nice). We took it slow, allowing faster passengers to go in front of us. I also had Don go first with our more mellow cat, Zane, and made sure they were situated before I walked through with the squirmier Jigs.
6. What about drugs? I had wanted to give the cats sleeping pills, but that’s before I knew that most vets are against them because tranquilized animals can have problems with body temperature, blood pressure and balance. Instead, they gave us a prescription for a small amount of Xanax that we gave the cats an hour before boarding.
Like most felines, our cats hate taking pills. So Don bought some “pill pocket” treats for the flight. You simply stuff the pill into the moist treat and trick the cats into eating it. I wasn’t sure that this would work – we’ve tried burying pills in food, to no avail – but the Greenies must have tastier that usual because both cats scarfed down the hidden medicine.
As to whether or not the Xanasx really relaxed them, I’m not sure. Our mellow cat Zane stayed quiet almost the entire trip. Jigs meowed constantly for almost two hours toward the end of the flight, although she wasn’t loud enough for most people around us to hear. .
7. Tell the flight attendant that you have a pet with you and ask your seatmates if they’re allergic. As we waited for a flight, a woman approached me with a tissue held to her nose. “I just have to ask you what row you’re in,” she said, sniffling. “I’m horribly allergic.”
Luckily her seat wasn’t close to ours. But as I entered, I told the flight attendant that we had cats and what row that we were in. I also asked the woman in the window seat near my aisle if she had a trouble for cat allergies. She didn’t, but thanked me for asking. It’s the nice thing to do.
8. Remember that ultimately, cats are adaptable. As soon as we brought the cats into their new home, we showed them their new litter boxes and gave them food and water. While they remained hyper for a few hours, they settled down into their normal routines in less than a day. It was almost as if the cross-country odyssey never happened.
To them, at least. I had stressed out over the whole adventure for a number of days, so I was happy that it all went well. But let’s just say that you won’t see our cats collecting passport stamps, as I’m not eager to repeat the experience anytime soon.
Got a tip to add about flying with pets? Share it below!
Like this article? Friend us on Facebook for more travel tips from around the world!