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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.

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

Poofy in Central Park

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: Best Tips

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 on how to bring your cat (or dog) to Europe

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 over 25 flights, 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.

Note: Not many, but some airports will ask you to take his harness off – even if you have TSA Pre-Check. It’s ridiculous, especially when we fly with the cat, baby and toddler, but that’s something you need to keep in mind.

Best Cat Carriers for Plane Travel

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 the 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 Pet Carrier for Travel

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:

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.

Four Seasons provides amenities like bed, food, litter box and so on…
cat in central park
travel with a cat

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

Liliana

Monday 12th of September 2022

Do you have experience with two cats traveling on long flight? I have two seniors and need to take them with me. The airline requires only one carriage bag. I’m wondering also if you know about a bag that can be used and divided in two as I don’t think my cats will stand together for long flight. Any advice is appreciated

Anna Karsten

Tuesday 13th of September 2022

There's this one https://amzn.to/3DjdW2j but you would need to reposition the padding to make it horizontal as the bag has to be under the seat.

Tara

Tuesday 9th of August 2022

Anna- do you have a harness you prefer and one that doesn’t set off security. I am travelling next week with my kitten (11 weeks). He’s a chill kitten and sleeps in the car etc but the harness I bought him seems a little bulky for him and he looks so uncomfortable. Plus the leash has a metal clip. I would prefer to be able to keep him leashed just in case while we go through the X-ray machine.

Anna Karsten

Tuesday 9th of August 2022

I listed all my favorites here: https://annainthehouse.com/cat-leash-training/

J

Tuesday 26th of July 2022

Hi Anna!

So happy to have found this. any tips on how to keep the kitty calm during the flight?

My kitten isn’t as anxious on short flights but isn’t fond of being in the closed carrier or on the floor. She’s happy to be on my lap or out of her carrier on a leash ( but that’s not exactly allowed on the flight).

She’s getting better though. I’ve taken her a few times for short flights (1.5 hrs) but recently had to take her on a 6hr flight (decided to give her the vet prescribed meds) but would love to train her and let her get used to travelling.

Anna Karsten

Thursday 28th of July 2022

In my opinion, the meds actually get them nervous with all the waiting and the cat is confused - I would be too if someone was giving me these meds and I had no clue what's going on thanks to them. We never give Poofy anything, he gets annoyed at some point but then we give him a snack and he's fine.

Louise Oostdijk

Friday 24th of June 2022

Hi there! I really enjoyed reading your blog! My cat, minty (@mintythekitten1 on Instagram) also travels very nicely, but she’s never been on a plane. I’m think of taking her to Italy, but only if it’s not too much for her. We live in the Netherlands, so I could also take her by car. I’m just always a bit scared she’ll get out of her harness and run off. And she won’t come when I call her. At least, not if she’s not in the mood. Do you have any tips for that? Or is poofy always on a leash? What kind of harness do you use?

Greets, Minty and Louise

Anna Karsten

Saturday 25th of June 2022

Hi! Here's a post I wrote on cat leash training with links to our harnesses: https://annainthehouse.com/cat-leash-training/ If the harness it good she won't be able to get out of it, but you need to train her before the trip to make it easier.

Courtney

Friday 18th of March 2022

But how do you travel with a baby AND a cat!? LOL!

Anna Karsten

Friday 18th of March 2022

Toddler and baby these days haha. I'll answer with a link to a story: https://www.instagram.com/p/Ca-gY4JuWUK/

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