Flying with a Cat? Here’s What You Need to Know

The airplane is a stressful place. Nearly 40,000 feet in the air, these vehicles are loud, cramped, and uncomfortable. Between getting yourself to the airport, securing your boarding pass, passing through TSA, and finally boarding the plane, passengers must deal with a lot of responsibilities. Now, imagine doing all of that while carrying an unhappy cat—no thank you.

However, travelers often find themselves stuck in these tough situations. Flying with a cat can be difficult, but it is not impossible. Airlines have specific, feline-related rules and regulations, but because of the animal’s size and decreased potential for harm, these rules can be less severe than they might be with dogs. Regardless, cat pets should take precautions to make the travel experience as comfortable as possible for both the feline friend and fellow passengers. Below, readers will find helpful tips for preparing your kitty for takeoff, understanding how behavior can affect ability to travel, and preventing prohibited breeds from boarding planes.

 

 

Preparation is Key

Cats are temperamental creatures. Though loved for their hot and cold affectionate behavior, unpredictable moods can lead to a stressful and unfortunate travel experience. Though forecasting behavior on the day of a flight can be difficult, cat parents can prepare the animal in advance, leading to less stress and a more pleasurable experience for everyone involved.

Several weeks before your flight, begin to crate train your cat. Most cats hate crates and carriers—they are seldom-used and often associated with stressful situations, such as vet visits. The mere sight of a crate can send a cat running. However, owners can train their cats to associate the crate with fun, positive experience, allowing for easy and stress-free transport. To begin the training, make the crate into a piece of home furniture; place it in a corner of the room for the cat to explore on his own. After time, the fear factor will begin to fade.

After a couple of weeks, begin to introduce activities to the crate experience; throw a ping-pong ball into the container, or layer blankets to make a comfortable bed. If your cat is food-oriented, spend some time training him to enter the crate for a treat. Once your cat is comfortable spending time in the crate, begin to take him out of your home—bring him along for a drive or a walk around the block. Though it may take several weeks for a cat to feel comfortable in a carrier, this is a crucial step for a safe and pleasant travel experience.

While crate training, is it important to acclimate your cat to loud noises; planes and airports are far louder than the average home, and loud noises can be very stressful for our feline friends. If possible, take your crate-trained cat to the airport for a test run—allow them to experience the sights and sounds before the big day, then reward good behavior with a treat. This can also help you understand how they will react while travelling.

 

Behavior and Travel

Cats are small and relatively quiet, making the animals excellent candidates for in-cabin transportation. However, cats react differently to stressful situations. For example, if your cat hisses or becomes violent when overwhelmed, he may not be destined for in-cabin transport. As stated above, preparation is necessary for anxious and tense cats; practice rewarding your cat for good reactions to stress. Ultimately, you have to know and understand your cat’s personality to assess his ability to travel.

If, on the day of your flight, your cat becomes unrecognizably tense, throw a heavy blanket over the carrier. This will dull the noise and eliminate optical stimulation, allowing your cat to relax. Removing stimuli, when possible, is the best way to calm down an anxious cat.

However, if your cat becomes loud, irritated, or a nuisance to fellow passengers, you may be asked to store the feline friend in cargo. If this happens, don’t freak out—give the cat a few treats, spray some Feliway, and allow kitty to go down below. However, to avoid injury, ensure that your cat is in a pressurized, temperature-controlled part of the plane; this is usually classified as “extra baggage.”

 

Prohibited Breeds

Though cats experience less phenotypic variation than dogs (they are around the same size, have similar features, and experience similar health issues), certain breeds can be banned from air travel. Brachycephalic, or snub-nosed animals, are banned from planes due to health risks associated with breathing. In 2011, the Department of Agriculture reported 189 animal deaths on commercial flights between 2005 and 2001; the New York Times reported that, of those 189 animals, 98—more than half—were brachycephalic breeds. As a result, all animals characterized as brachycephalic are banned from most air travel.

Brachycephalic airway syndrome refers to a particular set of upper airway abnormalities which affect brachycephalic cats and dogs. The condition, experienced in most snub-nosed breeds, catalyzes the development of abnormalities—an elongated soft palate, a hypoplastic trachea, stenotic nares, and/or everted laryngeal saccules. Put simply, brachycephalic airway syndrome puts added strain on an animal’s breathing. This strain, when combined with the stress and changes in air pressure concomitant with air travel, and cause asphyxiation.

Persian, Himalayan, and Burmese cats are the most well-recognized brachycephalic cat breeds. However, if you are unsure of your cat’s breed, consulting a veterinary professional is your best option.

 

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Flying with a Dog? Here’s What You Need to Know

Whether you’re traveling to your hometown or taking an extended vacation, bringing your dog along can relieve the stress of hiring a sitter or kenneling the dog. It’s also a trade-off for the obstacles involved with airline pet travel including TSA and airport navigation. Flying with a dog can feel complicated and confusing to first-timers, but we have the Airline and Airport information resources you need to successfully navigate the process. Once you know what to expect, you’ll understand why more people than ever are choosing to fly with their dog.

When it comes to air travel, we often discuss cats and small dogs together. Many of the same rules do apply, but it’s also true that these animals may require different accommodations and may be disqualified for air travel for different reasons. Flying with a dog is more nuanced than buying a travel-safe carrier and showing up at the gate. Our guide to dog-friendly travel will take you through the factors to consider prior to purchasing that plane ticket; everything from smell to breed can impact your dog’s ability to board a plane.

 

What You Need to Know about Flying with a Dog

When traveling with your dog, owners should consider a range of factors and qualities characteristic of their pet. However, even the friendliest dog could be denied boarding by a strict airline; most commercial airlines are dog-friendly, but each has a unique and distinctive pet traveling policy. For more information about specific airlines, see our Airline Pet Policy and Travel Reservation Guide.

 

When to Put Your Dog in Cargo

For most dog owners, choosing (or being required) to put a dog in cargo is a difficult process. If we had our way, we would opt to let a pet sit on our lap for the ride, or perhaps even purchase a separate plane ticket to share the row. Unfortunately, this is not how dog air travel works. When flying with a dog, your pet must stay in their carriers at all times. And if your dog is loud, large, or odorous, cargo is likely the only option.

Once you have made the decision to put a dog in cargo, you can take extra steps to ensure his safety and security. In strategically booking your trip with direct flights, you can reduce the risk of harm. Fit your pet with a collar that can’t get caught on a carrier door, and, when you board the plane, let someone know that your furry friend is down below; they can contact you in case of a problem. Additionally, label your pet’s carrier, choose flights that can accommodate comfortable cargo temperatures, and acquaint your dog with the travel carrier prior to boarding.

 

Why Breed Matters

Most airlines have banned a particular type of dog from air travel: Brachycephalic, or “short-nosed” dogs. This ban exists for a variety of reasons, all of which are related to the animal’s ability to breathe. Brachycephalic animals, such as pugs, boxers, and terriers, have very sensitive airways; changes to air pressure can impose additional strain on these air passages, creating a potential for suffocation. Similarly, the added stress of a loud, enclosed environment can cause additional stress, causing the animal to breathe heavier and faster. A stressed-out brachycephalic animal can asphyxiate—the heavier he breathes, the more restricted the airways become. If travelling with one of these adorable but tedious animals, you’re better off opting for a road trip.

 

Though brachycephalic animals are the most commonly-banned, dog parents should be privy to their breed’s capacity for travel. Greyhounds, for example, pose an interesting problem. These long, lanky, horse-like animals bear more than a resemblance to their equine friends: they don’t sit. Sitting can be an intensely painful experience for greyhounds, and so they either stand or lay down. This might pose a problem while in transit; if your greyhound is in a crate down in cargo, turbulence can result in anything from extreme discomfort to a broken leg.

 

Of course, not all animals are as susceptible to this pain as greyhounds and brachycephalic dogs. Before choosing your travel path, do some breed-specific research. You animal’s size can be a great starting-point; small dogs pose less of a space problem but are often loud; large dogs require a lot of room but can have more mild temperaments. Furthermore, check with your airline for additional breed-specific guidelines and limitations. It may be possible that plane size hinders the ability for animals to travel at all.

 

Additional Restrictions for Flying with a Dog
Airlines can impose limits beyond breed; in fact, most include limitations related to age, temperament, size, and general condition. Below, we have expanded on these potential restrictions.

 

Age—Though airline-specific, dogs should be at least eight weeks old in order to board a plane. However, some commercial airlines, such a Delta, will require a dog to be slightly older. This limitation is imposed because of puppy temperament, training opportunity, and age-related vaccine requirements.

 

Temperament—Nobody wants to sit next to a crying baby; why would they want to sit next to a barking dog? If your animal causes a significant noise disturbance, you may be asked to put him in cargo. However, it can be difficult to anticipate such a reaction. To better understand your dog’s temperament and ability to travel, put him in the travel crate and take him for a drive. If he barks or causes a commotion, he likely does not have the temperament for in-cabin air travel. Similarly, if your dog is not social, is easily scared, or does not like to be touched, he is likely unfit for this type of travel.

 

Size—Most often, size determines whether your dog will ride in cargo or in the cabin. However, large dogs may face additional restrictions and charges. Though flying with a Golden Retriever might not be too much of a hassle, getting a Great Dane into cargo storage poses a new set of space and weight-related problems.

Condition—When choosing a travel method, dog owners should also consider the condition of the animal. Is he sick? Did he recently have surgery? Is he growing old? Elderly dogs and animals who have recently undergone veterinary procedures may have particular odors, or perhaps unsanitary bandages. Take these factors into consideration; though you may still be able to travel with your dog, he may need to ride in the baggage compartment.

 

 

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