Traveling With Cats: A Stress-Free Way To Preparing Your Cat For Your Next Adventure!

Cats notoriously hate to travel.

However, at some point in your cat’s life, he or she may just have to.

You may be moving, relocating for work, or maybe even just taking a trip to the veterinarian or grooming shop.

cat in a car sitting at steering wheel ready to drive

Whatever the reason, there are things you can do to keep “Tiger” safe and make the travel as stress-free as possible.

By far:

2 most common modes of transport are:

? In the car (“over the road” or “ground transport” in professional terms)

I use the Sherpa Pet Carrier for my 4 cats.

These beastly cat carriers took them to vet visits and across the United States when we PCS’d from Beale AFB, California to Hanscom AFB, Massachusetts.

? By air (in a cabin, as excess baggage or as manifest cargo).

Amtrak does now accept some small pets on a limited basis on some of their routes. Many of the same rules apply as those for taking a cat as excess baggage on a plane – more on that later.

So let’s start with tips for…

Road/Ground Travel:

☑ Keep identification and records handy – Bring along a photo of your cat, his/her veterinary records, and label the cat carrier with a phone number and address (ideally both where you left from and where you are going to).

  • If Tiger wears a collar on a regular basis, have an identification tag attached.
  • If Tiger never wears a collar, do not put one on now.

He will only try to get it off and may hurt himself during travel. A microchip is an option.


Just be sure to register the chip to your name and number.

Technically, Tiger should have a veterinary exam and health certificate issued even to cross state lines, although the likelihood of anyone asking for it is minimal.

If you drive across country boundaries – say from the USA into Canada or Mexico– there are requirements to be met, so make sure you plan for the requirements of a foreign country.

☑ Do not leave a cat loose in the car – Use a pet carrier, a box with a tight-fitting lid (holes for air supply of course), or, for short term local travel, even a zippered pillowcase will work.

The whole idea is to prevent escape or injury to your cat and/or a human in the car. A cat squeezing under your feet as a driver is not a good idea.

Cats that sit in windows can be thrown about the car if a sudden stop is made.

☑ Make the travel escape-proof – When in a carrier of any sort, the likelihood of your cat bolting out of the vehicle is greatly reduced, as is the chance of him wriggling out of your arms while being carried from the car to the destination inside. If you’re planning to walk your cat once you reach your destination, read this post to find out why using a harness is safer than attaching a lead to a collar (and what the best cat harnesses are!)

traveling in a car is a beautiful devon rex cat sitting in the drivers front car seat

☑ Do not let your cat sit on your lap while driving – Not only can the cat be seriously hurt if an accident occurs, but then that chance of escape is higher too.

Pets have gotten hurt when airbags deploy, and the airbag may fail to help the operator of the vehicle as planned.

☑ For long travel, use a hard-sided large carrier – In the carrier, you can store dishes for water and food, as well as a litter box.

Carry fresh water with you, and put it in a cooler to keep it from heating up during the summer.

☑ Don’t leave cats unattended in a vehicle during hot weather – It only takes minutes for a car’s temperature to rise over 100 degrees F.

Parking in the shade is no guarantee that your car will remain in the shade as the hours pass.

☑ Remember rest periods – While cats don’t need a break to stop and be walked like a dog, a rest period may help decrease the anxiety of travel with no motion and vehicle noise.

☑ Speak to your vet about car sickness – If your cat gets car sick (vomits or excessive salivation) during ground travel, talk to your veterinarian about medication that may alleviate or reduce it.

Here is an example of a cat car sickness:


Even though cats can vomit at will, who wants to be sick for hours on end?

☑ Bring a cleanup bag, just in case – Have a cleanup bag with paper towels, disinfectant and fresh bedding in case you need it.

☑ Pet-Friendly hotels – For extended travel cross country, find pet-friendly hotels along the way so Tiger can get out of the cat carrier at night.

In addition to car/ground travel, there’s also…

Air Travel With A Cat:

Air travel can be domestic, within the USA or international to anywhere else in the world.

The main difference is the steps you need to prepare and the requirements your cat must meet.

While many pet associations frown upon pet travel and highly discourage it, the truth is sometimes it is necessary. The few cases of injury, illness or death that make the news are a fraction of 1% of the pets flying around.

It’s estimated that someplace between 2 and 3 million pets fly around the world in any given year. That’s a lot of pets in the sky.

All of the domestic airlines, like United, Delta, American or Hawaiian Air, will let the pet owner book a flight. Internationally, many airlines require an IPATA professional (more about IPATA members below) or freight forwarder to make the arrangements.

Cat in the airline cargo pet carrier

These are companies specializing in pet transportation and have the accounts with the airlines and knowledge to make a move go well.

Air travel can happen three ways:

  1. In-cabin travel, where you take Tiger with you inside the plane and put him under your seat.
  2. As excess baggage, where you check in at the counter with your pet, but Tiger will fly underneath in the plane.
  3. Manifest cargo, where Tiger travels on his own ticket, so to speak, and it doesn’t matter if you are on the plane or not.

To break these options down in more detail…

  • In Cabin – This is the least expensive way to transport your cat by air, and usually done for a fairly cheap rate with the airline. This is a courtesy extended by some airlines since you, the passenger, have already paid for a ticket. Not all airlines allow a pet in cabin, and they may have a limit for the number of pets per person or per cabin.

    You need to make this arrangement when your human ticket is booked.

    Most airlines have a weight limit of between 10-15 pounds for an in-cabin pet.

    And let’s face it, the seats are barely big enough for a passenger, let alone squeezing a pet underneath some of the seats. Per IATA (International Air and Transport Association) regulations, a pet is supposed to be able to sit and stand inside a soft carrier without hitting their head, which is the same requirement that pets traveling in cargo must meet.

Costs for in-cabin travel with a cat or small dog will vary by the airline in the $100-200 range.


  • Excess Baggage – Excess baggage is used when a pet is too big to meet in-cabin requirements. The pet still travels on the passenger ticket and still checks in at the ticket counter with the owner.

    But instead of boarding the plane with the owner at the gate, the cat is handed off at the ticket counter and transferred to the cargo area of the aircraft by airline personnel for the flight.

    This is a mid-price service–more than in the cabin, but less than a cargo shipment. More and more airlines do not accept pets as excess baggage. Mostly this is due to Department of Transportation rules about reporting pet incidences of illness, injury or death.

    Pets traveling as excess baggage are not trackable by the airline since they are moved by bag tag rather than an air waybill number, and not booked through the pet desk department of a given airline.

    Aside from that and a reduced price, they travel in the cargo area of the plane the same as a pet shipped as manifest cargo.

Excess baggage fees depend on the airline but generally fall in the $200-500 range.

  • Manifest Cargo – This is where a cat travels on its own “ticket,” called an air waybill. It has a tracking number, and the cat flies whether a person is on board or not. Many owners do opt to be on the same flight even with an air waybill.

    You should know that if you are traveling with a pet on board, you can ask one of the flight attendants to verify with the captain your cat is loaded onto the plane.

    The captain is always notified of how many pets are traveling and where they are placed in the belly of the plane. This is to ensure the captain controls the temperature during flight.

Many airlines have an office set up just for pet booking, commonly referred to as the pet desk.

These people are trained to know the requirements of the destination, the crate sizes and what crates fit on what planes, and even if the plane may carry a pet or not (not all aircraft will, and crate size can be a big factor for dogs, but not so much for cats).

People relocating for work often have to go ahead first to get housing set up and send for a pet later.

Breeders send kittens to new owners alone.

This is all manifest cargo.

Each airline will have their own guidelines regarding temperatures of acceptance, breeds of cats accepted

(Note: brachycephalic cats like Persians or Himalayans may not be accepted or may have restrictions for travel), and crate requirements.

Manifest cargo fees are dependent on the airline fee structure and will be cheaper domestically compared to international travel.

Rates vary by the size of the kennel, weight of the pet, and the destination.

Not including any agent fees that may assist with the move, the actual airline freight costs may run $300 domestically and $750 internationally for a cat, and as much as $2500 for a large dog.


But wait!

There’s more things to keep in mind with air travel…

The Shipping Kennel

Your cat must have the appropriate kennel for travel, and it must be large enough.

Cats usually do not crate train well like a dog, but you may want to leave it on the floor with the door open so Tiger can explore.

The minimum size acceptable to many airlines internationally is a Sky kennel medium or #200 series – about 28 x 19 x 20”.

The small size should be used only for kittens or very small cats.

There should be 2-3 inches of clearance over the cat’s ears.

It must have a metal front door (no plastic), no wheels, vents on the remaining 3 sides, with the top and bottom held together by a screw and (plastic) nut, and be labeled appropriately.

cat in a hard sided pet carrier
“Creative Commons Cat in a cage” by David Martyn Hunt is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Most airlines will supply the labels.

Bedding inside can be shredded appear, a bath towel, kennel mat, small folder blanket or something similar.

2 dishes must be attached to the door for food and water.

In cabin, travel requires a sturdy soft-sided travel bag that zips closed and has vents or mesh areas for air exchange.


Every country has different required documents to be met.

Some countries have requirements that start months in advance, like:

  • Australia
  • New Zealand
  • Japan

The basic rule is a health exam by your veterinarian no more than 10 days prior to travel and a health certificate must be signed and issued attesting to the good health of the cat.

Most countries require a microchip be implanted before the rabies vaccine, which often needs to be over 30 days old but less than one year, although certainly there are countries that accept 3-year vaccines.

Any airline will require the health certificate and rabies vaccine for manifest cargo even for a domestic shipment, and often for in cabin or excess baggage travel as well.

Other documentation for foreign countries might involve:

  • other vaccinations
  • blood tests
  • parasite treatments
  • more than one kind of documentation, frequently issued by a USDA (US Department of Agriculture) accredited veterinarian, and then the USDA office themselves must also sign and stamp the paperwork

cat hiding in a pet carrier

Other Items to Note:

Manifest cargo shipments are most often checked in at a cargo office, not in the terminal, although there are station exceptions.

Usually, pets are tendered 2-4 hours in advance of the flight.

Arriving pets may not be brought into the office for collection for 1-3 hours, again depending on airline policy and how long customs clearances may take.

Do not tranquilize your cat, even if your vet gives you medication.

Every airline will refuse a sedated pet for travel. Sedation lowers the heart and respiration rates, blood pressure and may even render a pet incapable of standing or walking.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) came out with a statement years ago discouraging tranquilization, but some veterinarians still recommend it.

Realize that excessive heat or cold may prohibit a planned shipment.

Airlines will call embargoes when they feel the temperature and/or humidity could be detrimental to pet shipment.

This is for the health and safety of your cat.

You may get on the plane, but your cat may not.

If you or your cat must travel during the extremes of summer or winter, have a backup plan, just in case, and call the airline pet desk prior to departing for the airport.

Returning to the USA – if you and your cat have been living abroad and want to come home, you will not be able to book the cat as manifest shipment yourself. Homeland Security rules dictate that only an authorized shipper can ship any kind of cargo into the USA.

You may be able to bring your cat as excess baggage or in a cabin, just check with your airline.

Either way, your cat needs a health certificate within 10 days.

Currently, there is no other requirement, even for a rabies vaccine, as the Center for Disease Control (CDC) does not mandate it.

If You Want Help:

There is an association of professional pet shippers ready to assist you.

These are professional businesses that specialize in pet movement, and know the rules, the airline personnel, and government offices (like the USDA or US Fish and Wildlife) and can arrange and handle the whole shipment of your cat from door to door.

To find an agent in your area, or in the area of your destination, visit the International Pet and Animal Transportation Association (IPATA) at

The USDA website has lots of information about requirements for international travel at .

1 thought on “Traveling With Cats: A Stress-Free Way To Preparing Your Cat For Your Next Adventure!”

  1. I like that you reminded us not to leave cats in a car when the weather is too hot because it only takes minutes for a car’s temperature to be too hot. My husband is interested in buying me a teacup Persian cat that I can bring me wherever I go. Since I want to make sure that I’ll be able to keep my teacup Persian cat’s health in good condition, I’ll remember all your tips.

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