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Flying with Cats

If your schedule calls for air travel, you can leave your cat home with a sitter or at a kennel. Or, you can take her with you.

Airlines have an excellent safety record for transporting pets, and they are obligated to treat the animals on their planes with care. But you can also play an active role in keeping your cat safe and healthy.

Preparing to fly
Getting off the ground

Preparing to fly
First, have your veterinarian give your cat a checkup and issue a health certificate. Do this no later that 7 to 10 days before your trip.

You'll need an approved carrier for your cat; the design, materials, construction and ventilation specifications are mandated by law. If your cat fits in a carrier small enough to fit under the seat in front of you, airlines will allow her into the passenger cabin, with two important rules:

  • only one cat per cabin, and no opening of the carrier in flight;
  • if the carrier doesn't fit under the seat, your cat must travel in the cargo hold.

Most airlines (and veterinarians) discourage sedating your cat for travel. A sedated animal may not be able to react properly to the movements of loading, unloading, takeoff, landing or turbulence, and might get injured. And the effects of medication at high altitudes cannot be accurately predicted

The law requires that cats be offered food and water within 4 hours of check-in, but don't overfeed your cat. Make sure you attach a food and water dish to the inside of the kennel, and just half-fill the water dish to avoid spillage.

Make sure your cat is wearing a collar with an ID tag. Just to be extra safe, attach a picture of her, along with her name and final destination with a phone number, to the outside of the carrier.

Check the website of your chosen airline to read their rules about pet travel. Or call their offices to talk to an agent.

Getting off the ground
Whenever possible, book non-stop or direct flights. Problems can arise on connecting flights, when animals risk sitting exposed in extreme weather conditions. Although there are rules about temperatures in holding areas in connecting airports, you can never be sure that every airline follows the guidelines rigidly. So call ahead, and do your own weather forecasting. Sometimes, if the connecting airport's holding area is deemed to be too hot or too cold, many airlines will simply not board your pet.

Also, ask if you can watch your cat being loaded. When you board the flight, tell the captain and at least one flight attendant that your cat is in the cargo hold. Not every cargo hold is pressurized or temperature controlled, so verify that the one on your plane is.

After the flight, if you discover something went wrong, call a veterinarian immediately and make sure someone from the airline witnesses the problem.

Despite these necessary precautions, remember that people travel with their pets regularly. With planning and forethought, your travels with kitty can be safe and easy. The only question remains: who gets the window seat?

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