Before taking your cat on a plane, you'll need to take the necessary steps to be fully prepared. Many necessities for air travel can be addressed long before you leave the ground and you should get these preparations under way seven to eight months before you travel. Contact your vet well in advance, as the country you are going to may need specific vaccinations or health certificates.
Here are some tips to make sure your cat is as comfortable as possible during the journey:
- Before anything else contact the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to find out the requirements for travel to your destination. See http://www.defra.gov.uk/wildlife-pets/pets/travel/
- The Pet Travel Scheme (PETS) helps you travel with your pet in Europe. For further information on PETS read our article on Pet Passports.
- At the time of booking, make sure the airline knows you want to bring along a pet and ask for their advice. The IATA website also provides information.
- It is not advised (and may not be permitted) to travel with any cat under 3 months of age, an elderly cat, a pregnant cat or a cat in ill health.
- Try and get your cat onto as direct a flight as possible to avoid them having to be moved between planes.
- Think about the timing of the flight to avoid very hot or very cold times of the day for arrival.
- Your cat basket will need to meet regulations for the flight, and consider food and water bowls that attach to the front of the basket, are less likely to spill and are easier to top up from outside.
- Have you familiarised yourself with airline regulations? For instance animals must travel in the cargo area in a secure, airline-approved crate. It is unlikely they will be allowed to travel in the cabin with you. Not all flights are licensed to carry animals so you may need to travel on a different flight to your cat.
- Double-check airline policies, which may vary from company to company. Cover yourself by documenting all conversations.
- For the flight, put a small luggage tag on your cat's collar displaying the temporary residence information for your destination including emergency contact numbers.
- Make sure that the information on your cat's ticket corresponds exactly with the information on yours. Inspect every tag attached to your cat's container and ensure it is marked with both your cat's information and your flight information. Include a food and water pack with the container.
- Attach a feeding schedule for a 24-hour period and any other important information to the travel carrier in case your pet doesn't make it to the final destination for some reason or other.
- Arrive at the airport in good time, having made sure that your cat has eaten earlier that day, preferably used the litter tray and, as far as possible, is comfortable.
- Visit your vet well in advance (minimum of 7-8 months before travel) as there may be specific vaccination requirements or certificates for the country you are visiting. Some also require a health certificate 24-48 hours prior to travel.
- Acclimatise your cat to the carrier well in advance by putting it into their home environment with a nice bed and treats.
- Withhold food for a minimum of 2-4 hours before the journey to avoid travel sickness.
- If you have more than one cat it is advisable to consider a basket each. Even familiar cats may become agitated with each other during a long journey.
- If you are concerned your cat will be stressed by the journey, chat with your vet. Sedation may be possible, but such drugs can affect the way a cat copes with temperature changes and may actually increase agitation. If sedation is being considered, test the protocol before the travel day to ensure no adverse effect.
For further advice about pet travel, contact:
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
PETS Helpline: 0870 241 1710