how to travel with cat - cat walking in the port

How to Travel with a Cat: The Ultimate Guide

Do you relish the thought of traveling with your cat, whether it’s bringing them on a road trip, move, or vacation? There are a few fearless cats that don’t mind the travel. But for many cats, taking them from their familiar surroundings and traveling can be terror-inducing.

My cat hates to travel. And it can be an ordeal from start to finish. But, I’ve found that it is possible to travel with my cat without dozens of problems or stress on either of our parts. I’ve found that the key is to get everything ready before we go, in advance. As well as familiarizing my cat with the process.

Essentials to Pack for Airline Travel

There are several essentials you need to pack before you take your cat on a plane. Having these things on hand and together will reduce your stress levels. Additionally, packing early will ensure you don’t forget anything. The following items will help keep your cat happy and healthy in their adventure.

  • Cat carrier with an absorbent lining
  • Cat food
  • Water
  • Food and water dishes
  • Collar, leash, or a cat harness
  • ID tags
  • Vet records, including health certificates and proof of vaccinations
  • Favorite toys
  • Litter pan and cat litter (Optional – depends on travel)
  • Contact information for the regular vet
  • Favorite blanket
  • Information about local vet offices at your destination
  • Medications
  • List of attractions, accommodations, and restaurants that accept pets

Traveling With Your Cat By Plane – The Basics

how to travel with cat by plane - plane window in the sky

Air travel isn’t safe for cats according to the Humane Society. With this in mind, you should only take your cat on a plane if it’s the last resort.

If your cat has a flat face like a Persian, the dangers of air travel go up. Since they have very short nasal passages, they have a higher risk of suffering from oxygen deprivation or heatstroke.

Hairless breeds are more vulnerable to extreme temperature changes. And you should never have them sent to the cargo or luggage bay.

Make Arrangements in Advance

There are a few things you have to do in advance before you travel with your cat on a plane. First, check the airlines’ guidelines regarding bringing a cat on the aircraft. Every airline will have different requirements. If you don’t meet them, your cat won’t fly with you.

Call the airline yourself to make your reservation. Ask if the plane has space in the cabin for your cat to travel beside you before you book the flight.

Also, ask if the airlines restrict the number of animals they allow in the cabin. If it’s at all possible, try to get a direct flight with no layovers or transfers. Any interruption along the way will only add to your cat’s stress levels and increase the chances of something happening.

Ask the person you talk to about the amount of space under your seat. Take these measurements and compare them to your carrier to make sure it fits. Make a note of any paperwork you’ll need to bring with you. This paperwork usually includes veterinary records and health certificates.

A week or two before your flight, schedule a visit with your regular veterinarian. Double-check that your cat is current on their shots. And this is also a great time to get any records and certificates.

Set whatever carrier you want to have your cat contained in out beforehand. You want your cat to be able to access it, so they get used to it. I like to feed my cat in it for a few weeks before we leave. This helps her relax, get comfortable, and relate the crate to good experiences.

It’s also important that you practice putting your cat in and removing them from the crate. Make this a routine and quick process because you’ll have to take your cat out of the carrier when you pass through the security screening at the airport. If you forget this step, your cat could bolt when you open the door.

How to Travel with a Cat by Plane – Flying Day

cat is walking on the beach

You want to reduce the chances of your cat getting sick on the flight. So you shouldn’t feed them for at least six hours before the slated departure time.

However, you should give your cat small amounts of water to keep them hydrated. You can put a few ice cubes in the carrier’s tray. This has fewer chances of spilling and making the carrier uncomfortable for your furry friend.

You’ll have to pass your cat’s carrier though the security screening. If you make your reservations early, you might be able to request taking your cat through a special second security port. This special space will ensure you don’t have to remove your cat from the crate.

If you can’t secure one, be prepared to take your cat out and hold them while their box goes through the x-ray machine. A leash and harness can keep your cat safe and secure until you can put them back in and latch the door.

You can use soft or hard carriers for your cat. The hard-sided ones will have ventilation holes in the plastic sides. Soft-sided ones have mesh panels to allow air in. I like to fly with airlines that let my cat ride beside me in the cabin so I can keep an eye on them. This is why I prefer to use soft-sided crates with mesh paneling.

Your cat’s box has to fit under the seat in front of you. Your cat has to have enough room to stand up, lie down, and turn around in natural positions.

Additionally, your cat has to stay inside for the flight’s duration for everyone’s safety. It has to be escape-proof, leak-proof, and clean. You should line it with absorbent bedding that is safe for your cat and non-toxic.

Airline Guidelines for Flying with Cats

travel with cat by plane - wing of the plane

All the airlines will have their own sets of rules for flying with cats. Most airlines have strict guidelines that dictate how many animals can safely ride in the cabin. Also, most flights have one carrier per customer rule with specific weight restrictions.

A few policies will allow you to check your cat in as luggage, but most don’t. The cat should be at least eight weeks old and fully weaned in order to travel safely with you. We’ve found the policies for traveling with cats for some of the most popular airlines below.

Airline Policies for Traveling with Cats

  • American Airlines Cats must be at least eight weeks old. American Airlines doesn’t accept any brachycephalic cats. And you can have your cat travel with you as a carry-on.
  • Delta Airlines With Delta, you’ll pay either a $125 or $200 checked pet fee each way. You can fly in the United States, but you have to call ahead and make a special reservation for your cat.
  • Frontier Airlines You can’t check pets in as baggage on Frontier Airlines. You’ll pay a $99 fee, and your pet has to fit in a specific sized-container. Also, it’s your responsibility to check with any regulations you have to meet at your destination.
  • JetBlue You can only fly with one pet per customer for a one-way fee of $125. Your pet and carrier must weigh below 20 pounds, and your cat has to stay secure while on the plane and in the airport.
  • Southwest Airlines You have to reserve your space in advance for your pet. And your cat will only fly in cabin for a $95 fee each way. They’ll only allow for six pets per flight.
  • Spirit Airlines You need an updated rabies vaccination for your cat to fly with proof. And you get one container per flight with a maximum of two cats. The pet and carrier weight can’t exceed 40 pounds.

Note: These policies can change, but are current as of the writing of this article. Always contact the airline directly before you make your reservation and ask about flying with your cat.

Safety Tips for Flying with Your Cat

cat is lying on the beach

There are several things you can do to help keep your cat safe when they fly. They include but are not limited to:

  • Don’t give your cat tranquilizers unless their vet prescribes them.
  • Clip your cat’s claws before they fly to reduce the chances of them snagging on anything.
  • When you board, make sure the flight crew knows you have your cat so they can make special arrangements.
  • Try to fly at non-peak times. Avoid holidays.
  • Attach a travel label to your cat’s carrier. It should have your contact information and your destination.
  • Keep a current picture of your cat on you. If they get lost, the airline can use it to find them.
  • Once you get off the plane, open the crate and take a look at your cat. If you think something is wrong, take your cat to the vet.

Essentials to Pack for Car or RV Travel

how to travel with cat by car

The goal is to make your cat as comfortable as possible as you travel in the car. This way, they’ll be ready to take on both long and short trips. My cat loves to ride in the car for short distances. Through a trial and error process, I’ve found a few things that make car or RV travel easier for everyone involved.

  • Bottled water with a no-spill bowl
  • Dry cat food, favorite treats, and a small bowl
  • Cat carrier
  • Leash and harness
  • Cat first-aid kit
  • Collar with ID tags
  • Cat-safe cleaning supplies
  • Favorite cat toys
  • Medical records
  • Paper towels, plastic bags, and washcloths
  • Soft blankets
  • Photo of your cat in case they escape
  • Pre-travel vet checkup

Make Arrangements in Advance

Before you go anywhere with your cat, make advance arrangements. Start by preparing your car or RV for your cat a few days ahead of your trip. Cats are very sensitive to some fragrances. So make sure you haven’t sprayed an air freshener in your car lately. Remove anything that could scare your feline like decorations hanging from your rearview mirror.

Next, decide if your furry friend is going to ride in a mesh or hard-sided carrier. Make sure you have room for the crate in your car and double-check that you can secure it with the seatbelt. When you know it fits, introduce your cat to it. Set it out inside where your cat can explore it. Once they get comfortable going inside, take them for short car rides. These rides should only last a few minutes to start with. And you can gradually increase the time.

Monitor your cat while you’re on this drive. If they seem overly stressed or sick, consider scheduling a vet appointment. Your vet can prescribe medications for motion sickness or give you tips on how to help your cat relax.

Get everything ready and packed your cat needs the night before you leave.

It’s also a good idea to gather up all your necessary vet papers and put them somewhere you can reach if you need them. Try sticking them in the glove box or in your purse or carry-on bag. If you have room in the front seat, put them there.

traveling cat sitting in the carrier

You want to ensure your cat is safe and comfortable at the same time. When you get a carrier for your cat to stay in, make sure they can stand up, turn around, and stretch out comfortably. The bottom of the carrier should have some kind of padding. This can be a bed, soft blankets, or a pillow. You want something that won’t slide around. So your padding should cover the entire floor to reduce movement.

Secure it in place with a seatbelt. If you were to get in a car accident, this restraint system would keep your cat as safe as possible because it would prevent them from flying around.

How to Travel with a Cat by Car or RV – Travel Day

If you’re planning on traveling for a shorter trip that is under six hours, it’s okay for your cat to stay in the carrier the whole time. However, longer trips that stretch over six hours or into a few days will require letting your cat out periodically to stretch, use the litter box, and drink.

When you let your cat out, make sure you only do so when you park the car. If you let your cat wander around when the vehicle is moving, think of how hazardous this is to both you and your cat. Your cat could get startled and end up by the pedals and cause an accident. Or your cat could freak out and scratch someone.

Once you get your cat out, put their harness on before you open any doors or windows. You want them in a harness instead of a collar because a harness is harder to escape from. Also, it’s easier to catch a dragging leash than it is to try to grab your cat’s collar.

Your cat should have ID tags on the harness or collar. The tags should have your name, phone number, and address attached to it. A microchip is a good idea too. But it only works if someone finds your lost cat and takes them to a local shelter or vet as a stray.

If you plan on taking a long road trip and your cat will have to use the bathroom at some point, the easiest thing you can do is buy a disposable litter box or two that come with the litter already inside. You set this box on the floor and throw it in a trash receptacle when your cat uses it. There’s no mess and no fuss.

Pack plenty of water when you go, but only give your cat water when you park the car. Don’t leave the water bowl full in the carrier when you travel because it can and will spill and leave a mess. Your cat will get wet and be miserable for the rest of the ride. It’s a good idea to bring a gallon of water from home that your cat normally drinks. They can taste the difference, and this may result in some cats refusing to drink.

Don’t feed your cat for four to five hours before you leave to prevent throwing up. Your cat shouldn’t eat when the car is moving, either. There won’t be a problem with your cat having their food in the evening for a few days.

white cat one a leash traveling

If you’re traveling in hot weather, bring a few ice packs or frozen water bottles in a cooler. Should your air conditioning go out, you can use these to keep your cat cool and prevent overheating. Cats can’t sweat as humans do, and it can cause them to get dangerously overheated. You can line your cat’s carrier with the ice packs wrapped in a cloth to help with the heat. For winter travel, bring extra blankets.

You want to keep a packet of your cat’s health and vaccination records in easy reach. Especially if you’re traveling over state lines. By law, you’ll have to have a health certificate from a veterinarian for every pet you transport over the state lines. Even though it’s unlikely anyone will ask you to see it, it’s always better to have everything ready than being sorry.

Regulations for Crossing State Lines With Your Cat

We won’t go into every regulation for each state since they all differ, but we’ll give you a sample of some of the required paperwork you’ll need. The complete list for every state is here.

  • Arizona – Certificate of Veterinary Inspection that displays an updated rabies vaccination.
  • New York – A Health Certificate is a must. And the certificate has to note that the vet’s exam revealed no evidence that the cat has any communicable and infectious diseases. The cat has to have a rabies shot within 12 months of the move date if they don’t have their three-year rabies vaccine. If the cat is under three months old, they don’t have to have the rabies vaccination.
  • Ohio – Every cat must have a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection that indicates the cat has no diseases. Each cat has to have an updated rabies booster. Any cat you transport must have their own valid rabies vaccination certificate.
  • Wisconsin – This state requires a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection that includes the last rabies shot date and when the cat needs another one. A licensed veterinarian had to administer the rabies vaccination.

Note: These regulations are current at the time of writing this article. We advise you double-check to ensure you have up-to-date information when you travel

Safety Tips for Traveling With Your Cat in the Car

There are a few great things you can do when you travel with your cat in the car to keep them safe. We’ve outlined the biggest ones below.

cat is travelling in the bicycle basket
  • Double-check the ventilation on your cat’s carrier to ensure it has a good flow of air.
  • Create a cat-friendly travel bag with their food, water, bowls, medication, first-aid, disposable litter box, and documents.
  • Never leave your cat alone in an unattended vehicle. They can get too hot or too cold very quickly.
  • Cut your cat’s nails before you travel to ensure they don’t scratch on anything and tear.
  • Size your cat’s harness to make sure it’s snug without being too loose or too tight.
  • Secure your cat in the backseat of your car instead of in the front seat. The airbag deploying could hit the carrier and jostle your cat if you get in an accident.
  • Always ensure your cat has detailed ID tags on them at all points of the trip.

How to Travel with a Cat and Find Cat-Friendly Accommodations

No matter how you travel, finding cat-friendly accommodations can be a hassle. Especially if you don’t do it ahead of time. However, a growing number of bed and breakfasts, hotels, and other places accept domestic pets like cats.

It’s a good idea to do your research ahead of time because there are places that won’t accept any pets. Or will only accept dogs. Additionally, some hotels have different setups for pets. And they charge more per night with the pet fee.

The pet fee can vary widely from hotel to hotel. To make it more complicated, places in the same chain might have different policies regarding pets. So you want to call ahead and double-check that the hotel’s fees are ones you can work with when you travel.

Where to Stay During Your Travels

Even though the accommodations can vary a lot, several chains are very consistent in their regulations and pricing for cats and domestic animals.

cat is lying on the beach and yawning

La Quinta Inns

You can find this hotel chain in Canada and the United States. It accepts domestic pets, and they usually don’t charge you extra for them. You have to bring the litter box, and they cap it at two cats per room. You can only take your feline outside of your room if they’re on a leash or in their carrier. It’s not allowed to take your pet into the breakfast room, pool area, fitness center, or laundry room unless it’s a service animal.

Loews Hotels

Many hotels in this chain accept domestic animals, and you can have two cats in every room. The pet fee starts at $25 per day, but it varies from hotel to hotel. You can’t leave your feline alone in the room, and they have to be on a leash or in their carrier when you take them outside. This hotel offers the “Loews Loves Pets Program” that gives people traveling with dogs or cats treats and bowls. There are pet walking and pet sitting services available. And they can furnish you with litter boxes, scratching posts, and beds.

Motel 6

Motel 6 allows all domestic animals to stay for free, but you can only have two cats in a room at a time. This chain doesn’t have weight or breed restrictions. When you check-in, you have to declare all your service animals or pets. Also, Motel 6 doesn’t allow you to leave your cat alone in the room. And it must be in a carrier or on a leash when you take them outside the room.

Websites to Help You Find Cat-Friendly Accommodations

If none of these hotels sound familiar to you, you may have to expand your search. I know some of the more rural areas I travel to with my cat don’t have the big brand hotel chains. Instead, they have lesser-known ones. I make sure I book in advance and use the following websites to find cat-friendly places to stay.

This page centers around pet-friendly motels and hotels scattered throughout the United States. You can take advantage of the free pet check service on this website. It will page through whatever hotel you pick pet policy to ensure you get the most current one.

This website has a host of cat-friendly cabins, bed and breakfasts, cottages, motels, hotels, and inns. You can create a Passport Account on the site that details your preferences and needs. You’ll also be able to save routes and directions to this account. The site divides information up on the different hotels by state.

You’ll gain access to 30,000 pet-friendly accommodations ranging from vacation rentals and bed and breakfasts to hotels and motels. This site covers both the United States and Canada, and it has both large chains and smaller hotels. You can narrow down your search by state or territory.

Safety Tips for Staying in a Hotel with Your Cat

cat is sitting outdoors in the mountains
  • Never open your cat’s carrier until you have them safely in the room with the door shut in case they run.
  • Cat proof the room before you let your cat out. Block every entrance to places you can’t reach like under the bed. Check for any items on the floor and wires.
  • Usually, the best place for your cat to spend the night is in the bathroom. Put the litter box in the tub, and leave the crate in the corner. Your cat will feel more secure closed in. It’s also easier to clean if your cat spills something, and there are fewer items for your cat to get into.
  • If your cat damages anything, deal with it right away and alert the front desk.
  • Consider microchipping your cat before you travel. Double-check that your address and contact information is current. If it’s not, it won’t do anyone any good.

Bottom Line

We all know that traveling with your cat in any form can be a stressful time. But, if you’re like me, you love to travel and bring your cat.

I hope this guide can help you make the entire process easier and more enjoyable. With a little planning ahead, you can turn your pet into a seasoned traveler who is ready to go with you on all your adventures.

2 thoughts on “How to Travel with a Cat: The Ultimate Guide”

  1. Brian,
    Your information is very informative and helpful. Traveling with a cat in an RV is a real adventure. Some cats are very friendly and love to meet new people. Others are more introverted and frankly don’t like strangers. Thank you for all of your information.

    1. Hi Elaine, you are very welcome! And you are right. Some cats love to go outside to explore the universe while others are afraid of anything behind the door of the house.

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