Tips for Preparing Your Cat for International Travel
Planning an international trip or move with your cat? Anticipating international travel is exciting, but it can also be a busy and stressful time. Planning ahead and preparing your cat is essential to decrease their anxiety and make sure you have everything you need. Keep reading for important pet travel tips that will save you time and minimize your cat’s stress.
Check with Your Airline
Check with the airline well in advance to find out if your cat can travel under the seat in front of you on the flight. Make your flight reservations for you and your pet as early as possible since airlines often restrict the number of pets allowed to fly in the cabin. If possible, book non-stop flights with as few transfers and shorter layovers as possible to minimize the stress for you and your cat.
The airline can direct you regarding specific guidelines for pet carrier dimensions and size. They will also provide instructions for required health records including vaccinations, health certificates, and more.
For connecting flights, be sure to check with all airlines. Requirements for traveling with your cat may vary. You may have to make separate reservations on the connecting flights, especially if using different airlines.
Important Equipment Needed for Travel with Your Cat
Practice with a harness and leash well in advance of your trip. Do this at home using Feliway (calming pheromones) and treats as positive reinforcement, especially if your cat has never worn a harness or walked on a leash. Begin by placing an adjustable harness on your cat, making sure it’s snug but comfortable. Once your cat accepts the harness, attach the leash and allow your cat (with supervision) to walk around the house with the leash trailing behind so that they get familiar with it.
Consider a soft-sided pet carrier so that it will more easily fit under the seat space. Place the pet carrier in your living space as far in advance as possible of your travel date so that your cat becomes familiar with it. Entice your cat to sleep or feel safe in the carrier by placing treats, food, a familiar bed or blanket, and spray with Feliway pheromone.
International Health Certificate Requirements
Travel to a foreign country often requires providing an international health certificate signed by a government-approved veterinarian or other government official. Specific requirements for travel with a cat vary by country, within North America, and to other continents. It is the pet owner’s responsibility to find out what the legal requirements are to travel from the US to a different country. It is the pet owner’s responsibility that they provide all the necessary documents and requirements for the airline and the destination country. NOTE that this includes any requirements for layovers in other countries.
Consequences of not following a country’s requirements can result in confiscation of your cat, quarantine of your cat for an extended time, costly fines, or even euthanasia.
Double-check, triple-check, and confirm that you have all the necessary documents and appointments scheduled as soon as you know that you will be traveling outside the US with your cat. The process takes time and is challenging with lots of official forms to fill out.
Contact the consulate’s office or search the government website for the destination (and layover) country to find out the specific legal requirements necessary to bring your cat. Certain countries also have animal quarantine requirements, which means your cat will need to be confined in a special area for a predetermined amount of time before being allowed into the country of destination.
Be sure to check the requirements for your return trip as well as they may be different, often requiring updated veterinary information, new forms, and documents.
A great starting point is to check out recommendations from the USDA APHIS Pet Travel website!
Schedule an Appointment with Your Veterinarian
International travel regulations have strict vaccination requirements including Rabies vaccination. This includes necessary vaccinations, deworming, microchip, or other identification such as a permanent tattoo, blood tests, and an exam from a licensed vet declaring your cat is healthy and free of contagious diseases or parasites. Plan ahead, as it can take time to get test results as well as necessary documents from your vet!
Check with the embassy or consulate of the country you’re traveling to with your cat, to get the necessary and accurate information and forms well before your date of travel. There are forms that you will need to download or print, fill-out and bring with you to your appointment with your vet.
When scheduling an appointment with your vet, be sure to specify that it is for an International Health Certificate. International Health Certificates are only valid for a specific number of days. Therefore, you’ll need to schedule the health certificate appointment close to the time of travel so that it will be valid until you reach your destination.
Does my cat need medications for anxiety and nausea?
Discuss with your vet if anti-anxiety and/or nausea medication is needed for your cat. If your cat has prescription medication, you may want to give a dose prescribed by your vet ahead of your trip as a “trial dose” to make sure the medication has the desired effect. All pets react differently, and some may be more sedated, or some may become excited. It helps to determine the reaction before the day of travel to minimize stress on your cat and you. Talk to your vet about any unexpected reactions before changing the dose as directed on the prescription label.
Day of Travel
Talk to your vet about feeding your cat and keeping them dehydrated during the trip.
Be sure to have a familiar blanket or bed in the kennel your cat will travel in. If prescribed, give your cat their initial nausea and anxiety medication at least 30 minutes before you leave your home. Our pets often know when we’re leaving, especially when we get our suitcases out, so chances are, your cat already knows something is happening on the day of travel. Place your cat in their kennel and cover the kennel with a blanket or towel.
Use Feliway pheromone wipes and spray in the pet carrier before placing them inside. This has been demonstrated to help decrease anxiety in cats.
Moving Through the Security Checkpoint at the Airport
Your cat’s pet carrier must pass through the carry-on luggage x-ray screening machine at the airport without your cat inside, meaning you’ll have to take them out and carry them in your arms through the human screening device. Your cat should be wearing their snug harness with the leash attached. This can be frightening for your cat so they must have a harness with a leash. Otherwise, they can very quickly jump out of your arms attempting to escape.
- Prepare yourself first, placing necessary items in the bin(s) to go through the x-ray machine.
- Remove your cat from the carrier with a firm grip on the leash and hold them close in your arms. Send the pet carrier through the x-ray machine.
- Once you pass through the screening with your cat, locate the pet carrier and securely place them inside, then gather the rest of your carry-on items.
The Federal Aviation Administration requires that pets traveling in the airline cabin remain inside their pet carriers throughout the flight.
Arrival at Your Destination
Keep your cat safe in their carrier or inside a closed bathroom. Use the “Do not Disturb” sign and let hotel housekeeping personnel know to wait for your return before entering the room.
- Upon arrival at your destination, make sure your cat cannot find an escape, perhaps allowing them out of their pet carrier in the bathroom.
- Offer small amounts of food, tasty treats, and water as well as a litter pan.
- Keep the pet carrier open for a safe place for them to sleep and feel secure.
- If your cat gets lost, contact the local animal control.
Quick Reference Pet Travel Checklist
- Important documents including International Health Certificate and vaccination records
- Harness and leash
- Labeled prescription medications in the original container
- Feliway wipes and/or spray
- Cozy bed or blanket and extra in case of accidents
- Potty pads, wipes, disposable gloves, Ziploc bags
- Food and treats enough for the length of your trip plus 1 day (in case you get delayed on the way)
- Extra cat litter and disposable litter trays (can use aluminum baking trays which are light and often come in packs of 3 or 5)
- Travel water bottle (can be filled at a water fountain)
- Foldable/collapsible bowls for water and food
- Comforting toys in the pet carrier and extra in case of soiling
Plan ahead, fill out required documents, and consult with your vet for a seamless trip with your cat. Now, sit back, relax, and enjoy your flight!
Have more questions about traveling with your cat?
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