Posted on: July 24th, 2015 by Dr. Dale Rubenstein

Flying with your cat can’t be done, can it? Well, with the right cat and careful planning, although it may not be easy, you can take to the skies with your cat!

Previously, we gave general tips for traveling with cats, focusing on trips in the car. But what if you are traveling to California? Or moving to Hawaii? While researching this article, we are reminded just how complicated flying with your cat can be. So we decided to divide this into two parts as we did with car travel. This time we’ll discuss domestic air travel tips.

First, two main points. If you’re just visiting, for trips less than 2 months consider leaving your cat at home. It may take Kitty 1-2 months to fully adjust to new living accommodations (not to mention the trauma of air travel), so it may be more stressful to take her with you than for her to stay home with a pet-sitter or at a boarding facility.

Second, start preparing early. Check with hotels or apartments to make sure cats are accepted. Check with your airline for specific requirements and allow enough time to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian for any microchip placement, vaccinations and health certificates you need. There may be limited availability to bring cats on board, so book the flight as early as possible.

Oh, and Hawaii has it’s own rules. So these suggestions for “domestic” flights don’t include going to your tropical paradise. Unless it’s Florida. We’ll cover Hawaii next time with the international travel.

OK, now for some general tips:

Making arrangements for traveling with cats

  • Your cat must be at least eight weeks old and have been weaned for at least 5 days to travel.
  • Some airlines restrict travel for brachycephalic (snub-nosed) breeds, such as Himalayan, Persians, and Burmese.
  • Most airlines require health certificates within 10 days prior to travel. This requirement applies both ways, so if your trip is longer than 10 days from the time you see the vet until the time you return, you will need to find a veterinarian at your destination to do another exam before traveling home.
  • Cats can usually be transported with you in the passenger cabin as carry-on baggage. This means you must follow all the carry-on rules (size of carrier, must fit under seat, be stowed during take-off and landing). Check the FAA website for more details.
  • If your cat is not traveling with you, he will have to travel as cargo. Try to avoid this if possible, but if you must ship your cat, do not plan travel in hot summer months or cold winter months. The cargo hold may be temperature controlled during the flight, but not while waiting on the tarmac. The federal Animal Welfare Act prohibits travel if pet will be exposed to temperatures less than 45 degrees in most circumstances, but heat can be just as dangerous. Again, check with your airline or the FAA website for more details about cargo travel.
  • Book a non-stop flight if at all possible. This will make your life much easier, but it is especially important if your cat must travel in cargo without you. Also try to avoid busy weekends and holidays.
  • If Kitty must change planes, try to book all legs of flight with same airline. Otherwise, be sure to check ALL airlines’ requirements. Even if booked on a “partner” airline, the pet policies may be different.

Before you go

  • If your cat has any health problems, discuss giving subcutaneous fluids the day before traveling with your veterinarian. And you may consider bringing along some water from home (or bottled water), since different water will taste different and may cause your cat not to drink enough.
  • Sedatives need to be discussed with your veterinarian. If you fear that Kitty will cry on the plane for hours, you may want to use. Be sure to try the medication well in advance of your flight so you can determine the best dose prior to traveling.
  • Feed lightly prior to travel, and don’t leave food and water in the carrier. It is likely to spill.
  • Write your name, address, and cell phone number on the carrier, and if possible have your cat wear a collar with a tag showing the same information.
  • If your cat will allow it, have her wear a figure-8 harness for safety.
  • Tape a checklist to the carrier that includes feeding and watering instructions for a 24 hour period. You must offer food and water within 4 hours of traveling when shipping via cargo. Pets can not fly more than 12 hours without being offered additional food and water. Bring additional food even if you don’t anticipate a long flight.
  • A good website with additional travel information is

At the airport – Security Screening

  • Allow plenty of time to go through security and get to your gate!
  • Keep accessories (coat, purse, laptop, personal items, etc) to a minimum to keep your hands free for handling the carrier or your cat.
  • When going through TSA security at the airport, you will likely have to take your cat out of the carrier so it can be inspected. It is best to ask for a private screening room where you can let your cat out safely while you and the carrier are examined manually. If traveling with a companion, you may be able to take turns going through the scanner, but you still want a screening room for the carrier (or you could wind up chasing Kitty through the airport!). If the TSA attendant will not comply, ask for a supervisor.

Whew! Seems like a lot to prepare for, and it is. But the last thing you want to do is arrive at the airport with a nervous cat and find out you are missing a required certificate, or have your cat escape during a busy travel rush. Do your homework, allow lots of time, and stay calm. That will go a long way towards having you and Kitty survive the ordeal of air travel.

However, if you think domestic travel is a hassle, next time we’ll discuss international travel. That can really take some planning!