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How to Travel with a Cat (incl. Flying with a Cat)

How to Travel with a Cat (incl. Flying with a Cat)

How do you travel with a cat on a plane? How do you take a cat on a road trip? How do you teach your cat to walk on a leash? My cat does all these activities on a regular basis and he behaves. 

If your cat is still a kitten, you’re in luck of making him a true adventure cat. Kittens can adapt easier to new situations than adult cats. However, don’t worry, an adult cat can be easily trained as well, even if your furball is grumpy.

My Poofy loved to travel and is actually getting mad at us when we leave him at home. Strangers are still stunned by the view of a cat walking on the leash, but I’m telling you that it’s all normal. My cat is basically like a dog in this sense, he even scratches the door if we don’t walk him every day.

road trip with pets


How to Train Your Cat to Walk on the Leash?

First things first, leash training is important when it comes to traveling with your furry friend. When we think of dogs, we think of walking them on a leash. When it comes to cats on the other hand, not so much. I can’t tell you how many times I got stopped by strangers saying ‘omg, it’s a cat on a leash!’.

Others kept asking questions how did I train my cat to do this since their cats don’t move when they put a harness on them. Leash training your cat is a process but it’s totally achievable, regardless of what kind of cat do you have.

Read More on How to Teach Your Cat to Walk on a Leash

My cat is actually a Ragdoll, a breed that’s known for being an indoor cat. When I first took him outside the cat was falling off trees not able to keep a balance, birds were basically hopping around him because he was so hopeless.

cat backpack
Cat Backpack – our back-up for when Poofy is tired. (This one is also recommended and airline approved as a carrier).

walking a cat on a leash
best cat harness

Flying with a Cat

First of all, let’s clear up the air here, as there are a lot of misconceptions about flying with pets. You CAN bring a cat (or small dog) on a plane in the cabin for an extra fee on many airlines. Your pet does not need to be an emotional support animal to fly in a cabin.

Several of the biggest airlines in the U.S. charge $125 each way for an in-cabin cat, $200 for an international flight. On European flights, the fee is usually between $50-70.

Check which airlines allow pets in the cabin. I highly advise against shipping cats as cargo (unless you’re going to UAE, Iceland or UK and there’s no other option), as they’re small enough and fit under the seat. If a pet in its carrier can fit under the seat in front of you, it typically can travel in the cabin. The size of the carrier varies depending on the aircraft though.

If you’re flying domestic, you don’t need any documents. If you’re flying internationally, it’s a completely different story as there are more requirements and a topic described in a separate blog post

flying with a cat

Call your airlines before purchasing your ticket to make sure that they have space for your kitty on the plane. There are limits on how many total pets are allowed on each flight and as you can imagine, buying an extra seat for your cat isn’t allowed.

A cat in its carrier technically counts as your allowed carry-on bag, but I’ve never had an airline telling me that I can’t bring my regular carry on as well.

My Tip: Book yourself a window seat if you can, so then your cat can have some peace and quiet if he decides to sleep in his carrier. If you have an aisle seat, he will be constantly near the aisle with people walking through and flight attendants serving drinks. It might cause some unnecessary stress.

Flying with a cat and a baby.

What to do if you get a seat next to someone allergic to cats?

The correct answer is you do NOTHING. It actually happened to me many times and once we were also sat next to a little fluffy dog. A person whose allergic should call a flight attendant and they’ll find them another seat, further away from your cat.

If they’re unhappy with the situation they can deplane and be rescheduled without an extra charge. These are the rules (not my rules, official airline rules).

That said, upon further research if you have a severe allergy to cats and dogs always be prepared with anti-allergy pills. Even if there are no pets on your flight it doesn’t mean that they weren’t any pets or service animals on it before that and allergens are circulating in the air. Planes are rarely deeply cleaned and definitely not fully after every flight.

Poofy has been on 17 flights and , so he’s a veteran. Here are my best tips:

IMPORTANT: Always dress your cat in a harness and have a leash ready to go, even if your cat isn’t fully leash trained yet, or you have no intentions of getting him out of the carrier.

You will need to take your cat out of the carrier for security check and carry him through the X-ray screening, while your belonging and his carrier are being X-rayed (please do not leave your cat in his carrier and x-ray him like luggage!!).

This is the most stressful moment for any kitty because there are a lot of people around, beeping noises and things are happening around. Cats can sneak out, so it’s best to keep your furry friend safe on the leash then. Poofy just hangs around my feet on the leash when I pack my stuff. And everyone says ‘aww’ when they see him.

Best Cat Carriers

I went through a lot of cat carriers, as some fell apart and some turned out to be too big, despite being promoted as ‘airline approved’. The best one turned out to be the Sherpa Carrier, as it fits under the seat, it’s not too wide, and more importantly – it’s Poofy approved. They’re available in different colors and different sizes. Poofy uses Medium because he’s a giant cat. Most cats would fit in a small one though.

IMPORTANT: When you call the airline to pre-book your ‘pet ticket’ you’ll be asked to give dimensions of your carrier. Give the dimensions of the small carrier, even if you use medium when flying on smaller planes. No one actually measures them at the airport, but the lady on the phone won’t book your cat if the dimensions are exceeding ‘recommended’ ones.


best cat carrier


Flying with Cats: Checklist

On top of a carrier, you might want to pack a few things. Depending on the cat, your cat might want to sit in his carrier or be a lap cat. Poofy is usually a lap cat when it comes to flying. He peeks through the window in the beginning but then falls asleep.

I’ve never seen Poofy expressing even the slightest interest with any toys when we travel – too many things are going on, so you can leave those for later.

Have some snacks ready and a foldable water bowl. Most cats tend not to drink and eat much when they travel, but at least try to offer some.

What about pooping? We equipped ourselves with a foldable litterbox and some litter in a ziplock bag, but so far the only time we actually used it was during a road trip at hotels. Poofy has never pooped or peed at the airport, on the plane or in the car. He waits until we get to a hotel, or back home to do his business.

I read somewhere that cats can last up to 24 hours without going, and I’ve seen Poofy lasting 12 hours already. He just refuses to go. Again, it’s better to be prepared. Take your cat to the restroom, prepare his litterbox and see if he goes.


road trip with a cat
Poofy in an Uber getting to the airport.

Road Trip with a Cat

If your cat suffers from motion sickness he will be quiet and drool. Most cats can overcome motion sickness, but it’s best to calm your kitty before putting him in a car for the first time. I didn’t do it with my previous cat and she hated cars forever. We gave Poofy calming snacks a few times, but these days he doesn’t need them anymore.

We road tripped and moved across the country with Poofy many times and he doesn’t mind it. He loved to walk around the car and explore the car, look through the window, hangs out on a windshield and eventually falls asleep down by the passenger’s feet.

We usually stop often and walk him so he has a chance to spread his legs, but he never really poops or pees when traveling.

road trip with a cat
Basically his seat for almost an entire ride…

Staying with a Cat at a Hotel

Staying at a hotel with your cat can be more fun than you think. Cats love staying at hotels. They have new spots to explore and places to hide.

If you leave the room without your cat, leave the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on your door. You don’t want to risk having housekeeping open the door and have your cat escape. Some pet-friendly hotels even have a ‘Pet in Room’ door hanger available.

Place the litter box in the bathroom, as the litter can be hard to get out of the carpet. Then feed your kitty and give him some time to explore.

cat at UFO museum
Poofy meeting Aliens at UFO Museum in Roswell, New Mexico.

Which Hotels Allow Cats?

Finding a cat-friendly hotel can be a challenge. It’s definitely easier in Europe where most hotels accept pets, but in the US you need to double-check. Many hotels that state their pet-friendly status or say ‘we welcome furry friends’ turn out to accept only dogs and not cats, so remember to call the property before booking your room.

The hotel will most likely charge you a deposit or fee for each pet. But, you also might be a charged a surprisingly huge cleaning fee for your cat, so ask about all the fees involved beforehand.

Here are some US chains that always accept small pets:

  • La Quinta
  • Travelodge
  • Motel 6
  • Red Roof Inn
  • Extended Stay
  • Best Western ($20 per night, max $100 per stay)
  • Ace Hotel ($25 per night for the first pet)
  • Loews (most will charge $25 per pet)
  • Fairmont
  • Four Seasons

In NYC I can recommend Hudson New York. Pet stay for free and it’s super close to Central Park where you can walk your cat or dog.

cat in central park
travel with a cat

Do you have any questions about traveling with a cat? Ask me in the comments below!

Mary

Friday 26th of November 2021

Hello my Purrsy has traveled back and for the to Mexico with us for 10 years now .. but always seem to have this anxiety issue once the plane went o take off .. and as soon as she knew that she unzipped the carrier by herself and got on my lap she took a deep breath and would go between my husbands lap and mine.. now with the new rules they won't let her out of the carrier and my fear is she will not be able to handle this ... but it is really cold and depressing for all of us to stay home ..please any suggestions will be helpful thank you and very much appreciate this article!!.. she is the light of my world !! thank you Mary

Catherine B

Friday 2nd of July 2021

Thank you so much for your article. I think this information will be very useful even though it is two years later. I am moving from Japan to the US with my one year old cat, Nutmeg, next month on ANA and United Airlines. The total travel time will exceed 24 hours, so I am really nervous for poor Nutmeg. Nutmeg is about 11" tall weighing about 8 pounds. I have the same Sherpa medium carrier, and she loves it, playing and sleeping in it at home. But, even in her carrier, she really doesn't like riding in the car, did you have to do any special training with Poofy for car rides? Did you just start taking him on lots of drives while he was young? Did he meow a lot the first few times before he got used to it? I have started taking her for very short car rides to walking spots in an attempt to normalize car rides for her.

Nutmeg likes going on walks around my house and around quiet roads in my neighborhood but she is very skittish whenever cars, mopeds, or people pass nearby (she lets kids approach her, but apparently old ladies and delivery men are scary). I try to pick her up when I hear a car or a bike, but she tends to go into full panic mode and wriggle out of my arms. My harness has a metal clip attached to it, and I am worried that I will be asked to remove the harness and she will escape my grasp at security. I saw above that someone asked about metal, so I hope it isn't a problem, but do you have any recommendations for harnesses? My harness doesn't have a detachable leash.

During your longest flights, did you let Poofy try to go to the bathroom?

Anna Karsten

Friday 2nd of July 2021

Don't worry, this article keeps getting updates :)

I'll be real: some cats meow a lot, some don't. Poofy is mostly quiet, but my previous cat hates car rides no matter what and she would scream for 10h straight (not even joking). We've never been asked to remove the harness for security to be honest. The more you do it though the less scary it will be for the kitty.

Poofy never goes to the bathroom when flying, road trips, or anything. He waits until it's all done. Officially, if your pet flies in the cabin you're not allowed to let him out in the bathroom.

P.S. ANA only takes animals in cargo on international routes (not sure if you're taking ANA domestically in Japan or internationally), and you need a plastic cage for that. The cage must be made of strong plastic or metal material and have a solid top. It must be durable enough to withstand air transport.

David Paquette

Saturday 3rd of April 2021

Enjoying and learning from you. We will be relocating with cat (very nervous and a handful) from west coast to east coast. Any recommendations on how we handle the time on an airplane? Would you recommend a direct flight, a flight with a "break" and change of planes, or even going half way and staying over at a layover location, and finishing next day? Needless to say we are hesitant :-)

Anna Karsten

Monday 5th of April 2021

I'd say pick whatever works for you, the cat will be fine. However, personally I'd probably pick a direct flight to get it over with because at the airport you'll need to carry the cat around and my own cat hates that part but once on a plane he just goes to sleep :)

Angelie Stgo

Wednesday 3rd of March 2021

Hello! Greetings from the Caribbean, found your post and it's really nice to see that other people travel with their kitties. I'll be traveling in two weeks with my two cats. One will go on cargo and the other one with me. Unless I can make them fit in one carrier and staying calm (which I doubt)..But I bought a bigger (backpack) carrier and I'm waiting for it to see if I can do so.

Anna Karsten

Wednesday 3rd of March 2021

Crossing my fingers for you that you can fit them both :)

James Krug

Saturday 23rd of January 2021

As an owner of two cats, I found your article to be very informative. Although I have yet to travel with our cats, I am thinking to move soon and of course will have to have them travel with us. Our little guys ( one female and one male, both Siamese ) are house cats and don't go outside. They are very vocal when we take them to the vet. I think an airline would be too much for them emotionally. Travel in my car would be better and I think they could adjust to that better. We agree with you on the accessories to bring along to make them comfortable. Thanks again for your travel tips with cats. It will definitely help!

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