Most airlines are happy to take a limited number of pets on their flights, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that your cat is as accepting of the whole procedure. Although some cats will quietly and gladly sit in a carrier for the duration of the flight, without getting stressed, some may experience heightened levels of anxiety.
Below are seven tips to help ensure you and your cat have as smooth and stress-free a flight as possible, but the key is to be as prepared as possible, in advance of the flight, and don’t assume that your cat will be happy in a carrier for 6 hours.
The 7 Tips for Calming Your Cat on a Plane
1. Use a Good Cat Carrier
Check with the airline you are using whether they have a required size for pet carriers. Whether your cat is traveling in the cabin or cargo, there are likely to be certain restrictions regarding the size of the carrier. Make the most of the space that is permitted and get a comfortable carrier that gives your cat room to move around. Ideally, your feline friend should be able to stand up and stretch out during the journey because this will help to prevent aches and pain, thereby avoiding potential causes of anxiety.
Some experts advise that you have a separate carrier for travel. If you use the same cat box for going to the vets as you do for traveling, your cat will associate the carrier with the stressful experience of going to the vets.
2. Get Them Used to the Carrier
Buy the carrier well in advance. This allows you time to introduce your cat to the carrier and get them used to being in the confined space. It also gives you time to practice carrying it, and it means that you will have less to stress about on the day of travel. Put the carrier in a safe place in your home and pop your cat’s blanket in there. Reward the cat whenever it gets in the carrier.
Try taking the cat in the car on short trips, getting progressively longer. The feeling of being driven is similar to that of flying and it will desensitize your feline friend to the feeling of movement, the hum of the engine, and being confined to their carrier.
3. Try Calming Pheromones
When cats rub against furniture, your legs, and other items, they release a pheromone. When they smell or sense this pheromone, they associate it with home and a safe place. While you might not be able to encourage your cat to do this in its carrier, you can use synthetic pheromones.
As well as selling misters and diffusers, Feliway offers a pheromone spray. Spray the cat carrier when on a trial run and spray it before your cat gets in on the day of the flight. It should help alleviate any anxiety and will make your cat feel like the carrier is a safe place to be.
4. Use a Blanket or Leash at Security
Security checks are a required necessity at airports, and your cat carrier won’t avoid the scrutiny of security guards. You will have to take your cat out to be checked and so that the carrier can also be checked. This may mean taking the cat out in the airport itself, which is a large open space with a lot of noise and activity: a potentially stressful experience for a cat that can cause them to bolt for cover.
Swaddle your cat in a blanket with their own smell or benefit from the Feliway spray. Alternatively, have a harness and leash that you can put on so if your cat does try to make a break for it, they won’t be able to get away. Putting them back in the carrier shouldn’t prove an issue because they will think of it as a safe place.
5. Consider the Cargo Option
Airlines usually offer the option of having your cat fly in the cabin with you, or they have limited space for pets in the cargo area. Most owners opt to have their cats nearby because they believe that seeing them will reduce stress levels. However, space is limited, and you won’t be able to sit with the carrier on your knee for the journey.
In the cargo hold, your cat will be afforded a larger carrier and can even be given access to a litter tray, greatly reducing the chance of anxiety and worry. Don’t dismiss the idea straight away.
6. Be Prepared
Always book your cat on the flight as soon as you book yourself. This will afford you the choice of whether the cat travels in the cabin or in the cargo hold. It also allows you time to check carrier requirements, buy the items you need, and get your cat used to the carrier.
Preparation is key because the main reason that cats get anxious on flights is that it is a whole new experience to them. With enough time, you can get them used to some of the processes and mimic other steps, so it won’t feel like they are doing anything unusual.
7. Don’t Forget Your Cab Ride
The plane journey is usually only part of the journey itself. Whether you are getting a shuttle, taxi, or Uber when you land, you need to choose one that will take cats. Not all will allow cats in their vehicles, and they may not have room for a large cargo hold carrier. Book your ride well in advance and check with the driver that you can take your cat.
Can I Sedate My Cat for a Flight?
Sedating your cat for a long flight might seem like the easy option, but it is not advised. The American Veterinary Medical Association warns that sedation can increase the risk of heart complaints and respiratory problems. Therefore, vets do not administer sedatives for this reason, except in very rare circumstances.
What If My Cat Is Loud on a Plane?
If you believe your cat will make a lot of noise during a flight, perhaps because they have been loud on car journeys in the past, consider putting them in cargo for the flight. But as long as you have booked your cat on the flight, well in advance, remember that you and they have the right to be there. Some passengers may get upset if they hear meowing throughout a several-hour flight, but your cat’s comfort should be your priority.
How Stressful Is It for a Cat to Fly?
It is inherently safe for cats to fly, and many hundreds of thousands of animals fly every year. However, some cats do experience heightened stress and anxiety when confined to a carrier for long periods, especially, and when flying, generally. It is best to start with a short flight, after several trial runs on car journeys, to determine whether it is likely to stress your cat out.
How Long Can Cats Hold Their Pee?
One of your main concerns about flying with your cat is likely to be their toileting habits, especially if they fly in the cabin with you, where there isn’t room for a litter tray. Cats can hold their pee for up to 24 hours, or potentially even longer, when they need to, and this shouldn’t cause any upset or illness. This is true even if they have had a meal and are fully hydrated before flying. It would be far more dangerous to intentionally withhold water, thereby dehydrating your cat, than to expect them to wait 5 or 6 hours before being allowed to go to the toilet.
Some cats fly without any problems whatsoever, while others struggle being confined in such a small space for long periods. The noise and movement of a plane may also cause some distress. Prepare well in advance, get your cat used to some of the conditions they will have to face, and make sure they are as comfortable as possible to ensure as stress-free a flight as possible and don’t forget that putting them in the cargo hold is a viable and perfectly humane alternative to having them fly in the cabin with you.
Featured Image Credit: Photo Spirit, Shutterstock