Preparation for Air Travel with your Cat

Dr. Nelva Bryant, Premier Expert in Pet Travel

September 2022

When Pets Fly often receives questions regarding traveling with cats. There are multiple steps, however in this article we will focus on getting your cat acclimated to confinement in its travel crate or soft-sided carrier. 

Cats are very sensitive. Any changes to the normal home environment can cause stress.  The simple act of putting out their travel crate/carrier can be enough to make a cat flee. While tips to  prepare cats and dogs for air travel are similar, extra effort is needed for cats.  

Due to their nature, it takes longer for cats to get prepared for air travel. Thus, I suggest that you start preparing your cat for the journey at least 8 weeks in advance.  In fact, it will benefit your cat if you start training them for travel as a kitten.  A friend to When Pets Fly indicates, “Cats can do anything you train them to do.  The #1 tip to remember, the more you train them as a kitten, the easier it is for you when they are cats, and it will seem normal for them.  You can train them to take walks with you, explore the outdoors with you and stay by your side.  You can train them to let you give them a bath with no fighting and you can train them to swim in a pool, lake or the ocean.  You can train them to let you brush their fur and brush their teeth.  You can even train them to see their crate as a “safe haven” they can enjoy anytime in your home if you let them have access to it every day.  

Again, the trick is to start all of this when they are kittens, and it will seem natural when they are older.”

Cats are often left at home and are not socialized like dogs.  When they do leave their home, they are taken to their veterinarian and/or groomer. For good reasons, of course-however your cat might not think so.  I’m quite sure they’ve figured out what the crate or soft-sided carrier symbolizes. So, when they see it, – they may hide and definitely not go inside.

So, how do you get your cat to go inside its travel crate or carrier willingly?  How can you make it comfortable for them?

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How do you get them acclimated for confinement?

Members of the “When Pets Fly” Facebook group made the following comments:

“We started about 2 months early and began by just putting the dish at the mouth of the open carrier and then slowly moving it farther and farther inside with the door open. Closing the door did not go over well but we found the Churu squeezable cat treat that he cannot resist and put that in his food and now he's accepting it at least until the food is gone! Dr. Noyes suggests to: “Start Early, Go Slow, Make it Yummy”
Hillary Noyes
Veterinarian with Hill’s Pet Nutrition
“I had my two cats’ crates available, easily accessible, and as appealing as possible 10 weeks before our flight. My cats were both completely disgusted and one of them cried the entire 3-hour drive to the airport. Now that we have arrived at our destination and no longer need the crates, this is what I see every morning. It is almost like he’s rubbing it in my face.”
Alina Woinarosky
Pet Owner
Cat Prep Flight

Tips to get your cat prepared:

  1. Purchase an IATA-compliant crate/carrier that is the appropriate size for your cat.
  2. Keep the crate/carrier in a shared area in your household.
  3. Never use the crate/carrier as punishment.
  4. Make the crate/carrier comfortable (add bedding) and make it fun (add toys, use pheromones or catnip, etc.).
  5. Feed your cat inside the crate/carrier.
  6. Once your cat is comfortable being inside the crate/carrier, enclose them for increments of time-but stay nearby.
  7. Extend the amount of time that they enclosed, however leave the room to see how they respond.
  8. Take short trips with your cat inside its crate/carrier. Make it fun for them and reward them at the end of the trip.

Ultimately, you want your cat to be accustomed to being inside its crate/carrier. With time and patience, your cat will learn to like it. This will make traveling with your cat less stressful for them.

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