Flying with cat - need recommendations

JackieF

TCS Member
Thread starter
Kitten
Joined
Jun 11, 2020
Messages
7
Reaction score
3
In 2-3 months, I will probably be moving across the country (within the US) with my 15-year-old cat. Logistically, it makes much more sense to fly instead of spending 3 days driving. He will presumably hate any method of transport. I have so many questions and concerns! He has multiple health issues, including renal failure, chronic pancreatitis, and being heartworm-positive (he’s never had any symptoms of heartworm, so far). That said, he mostly has good days, has a good appetite, and is not requiring IV or subQ fluids.

There are no direct flights between the cities — the best we can do is a single transfer. In the past, I’ve made the trip with only a 1-hour layover and the whole trip then takes about 7-8 hours from door to door. But that leaves barely enough time to use a bathroom and run to the next gate. Would it be better to aim for a longer layover to accommodate a snack/water and litter box break, plus allow extra time for lugging a cat and his equipment? Or should I find a cat-friendly hotel and do the trip in two days?

Obviously, my strong preference is to keep my cat with me in the cabin for the flight. Airline websites indicate that pets can fly in the cabin if they and their carriers fit under the seat, while still leaving them room to get up and move around. My cat is a smallish Maine Coon type, about 14 pounds. He could definitely fit under the seat, and change position too, but he couldn’t fully stand. Still, I don’t think most cats could fully stand, and yet they are allowed. Anyone care to comment? What kind of carrier is best? Are there any other accessories to consider? How shall I handle the litter box? What else am I forgetting about?
 

lutece

TCS Member
Top Cat
Joined
Mar 8, 2018
Messages
3,281
Reaction score
4,241
Most adult cats can't stand up in a carrier under an airplane seat. That's not a problem, as they generally curl up and sleep. I use a soft sided carrier that squishes down a little to fit under the seat. You will want to get a carrier in advance, so that he can get used to it, and so that the carrier will smell like home.

I generally prefer a shorter layover when flying (but not too short because you don't want to miss your connecting flight). My cats are used to traveling, but they still don't usually want to use the litter box in a strange place in the middle of a trip... I find it easier to just keep them in the carrier the whole time. Unless the trip is really long, I wait to give them food and water until the end of the trip, to reduce the chance that they will have a sudden need to use the box in the middle of the trip. It's unusual that an adult cat will have an accident, but it's still a good idea to line the carrier with a puppy pee pad (you can put a favorite blanket on top of the pee pad), and bring a couple of extra pee pads just in case.

Since you say that your cat has renal failure, he might need to pee more often. If you wanted to plan a "litter box break" in the middle of the trip, you certainly could try that. You could either plan to look for a family / handicapped bathroom (with its own door, not just a stall), or you could bring a pop up enclosure with you (for example, I have used the "Pet Fit For Life Large Collapsible/Portable Cat Cage/Condo" available on Amazon). Pop up enclosures like this often come with a pop up litter box (the one I mentioned does). I carry lightweight clumping cat litter with me, packed in two layers of gallon ziplock bags. Even if you don't plan a "litter box break" mid trip, I do think it is a good idea to travel with a pop up litter box and small amount of litter, in case your travel is ever interrupted for some reason.
 

lutece

TCS Member
Top Cat
Joined
Mar 8, 2018
Messages
3,281
Reaction score
4,241
Also, if you haven't flown with a cat in cabin before, be aware that you will need to take the cat out of the carrier when you go through security. The cat carrier goes through the x-ray machine with other carry-on bags, and you carry the cat through the metal detector. My cats do not normally wear collars, but I usually put a basic harness on them before flying, so that I have something to hold onto in case they get wiggly going through the metal detector.

You can also ask for private screening in an enclosed room, if you are concerned about having to hold and carry your cat in the open security area.

Most of the time, the security people also want to open my carry-on bag and inspect the cat food and litter. They often do a quick chemical test on the cat litter, I assume to make sure it isn't explosives... so just be aware that it may take a few extra minutes going through security.
 
  • Thread Starter Thread Starter
  • #4

JackieF

TCS Member
Thread starter
Kitten
Joined
Jun 11, 2020
Messages
7
Reaction score
3
Really great suggestions, Lutece! I appreciate hearing from someone with experience — thank you!
 

kittenmittens84

TCS Member
Alpha Cat
Joined
Sep 30, 2019
Messages
393
Reaction score
398
I’ve flown with my cat and used a sherpa carrier both times - the soft sided carrier is key for under the seat imo since there’s often a weird bar or something protruding down there so the carrier needs to be slightly flexible. It was also helpful to have something like a scarf or blanket to drape over the carrier when he got stressed.

For an afternoon flight I fed him a small breakfast super early in the morning and then not again until we were off the plane, so that there was less of a risk of accidents. In my carry on I had some litter in a ziploc bag, unscented wet wipes, and two collapsible cardboard box lids (think the kind that go on file boxes) that work well as disposable litter boxes. I also lined the carrier with some puppy pads just in case. Both in the car at the airport and in the bathroom (family bathroom, the single ones with a locking door) during my layover I made a little on the go litter box and let him use it but he wasn’t interested either time. I put his harness and leash on in the car and then put him in the carrier so that it would be less stressful to go through security.

Before the first flight I called my vet to ask about traveling with my cat, and he prescribed a low dose of trazodone and recommended we do a test run first to make sure he responded well. It worked beautifully, I gave him the meds 90 minutes before leaving for the airport and he was calm and sleepy but not completely out of it. The flight attendants and TSA agents all loved him!
 
Top