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Cats on the Go

Here's how to make sure your cat is well cared for when you're on the road, whether she goes along or stays behind.

Consider Your Cat's Situation

Before you travel with your kitty, make sure it'll be enjoyable for both of you.

Most cats are creatures of habit, and don't appreciate being uprooted. That applies as much to a short car ride as to a cross-country plane trip. However, some cats are more comfortable travelers than others.

Before you pack up your pet, consider the following questions:

  • Is your cat happiest in familiar surroundings? Older animals in particular dislike changes in their routine.
  • If you've traveled with your pet before, how did she react? Did she experience any discomfort or illness, such as car sickness?
  • Is your cat physically up to the challenges of a trip? Elderly, ill, or disabled animals are often poor candidates for traveling.
  • Will your pet be welcome where you are staying? Whether it's a private home or a hotel or motel, you'll need to confirm that your hosts have no problem with your cat's presence.

Raising a Happier Traveler

Cats who are well-accustomed to hitting the road generally make the most congenial traveling companions. If you have a kitten and plan to take her along on frequent car trips, get her acclimated by taking her for short rides (to places other than the vet's office!). For her safety and yours, keep her in a pet carrier during the ride. (See page 3 for tips on choosing a carrier.)

Tips for Road Trips

  • Before your cat accompanies you on a long car journey, it's a good idea to have her checked out by your vet just to make sure she's healthy.
  • If you will be crossing state lines or international borders, have your pet's rabies vaccination certificate ready to present.
  • Pack your cat's food, dishes, and favorite toys. Dry food is most convenient for travel, if your cat is used to it. If you feed her canned food on the road, throw away any uneaten portions if they can't be refrigerated until your pet's next meal.
  • Take along a plastic jug filled with fresh, cold water. You can make a stop every couple of hours and offer your cat a drink of water in her usual water dish.
  • Always remember your pet's safety. If you must park and leave your cat in the car, lock the doors and open the windows enough to provide adequate ventilation. In hot or humid weather, never leave your pet in the car; take her with you, in the carrier.

Preparing for Takeoff

If you're traveling by plane, the safest way to transport your cat is to keep her with you in the passenger cabin. During the flight, she must stay in an approved carrier that fits under the seat in front of yours. To make sure your pet can fly with you, plan well ahead:

  • Airlines require a health certificate filled out by a vet no more than 10 days before the animal boards. Schedule a vet appointment for your pet within this time frame.
  • Book the reservations for yourself and your cat as far ahead of time as possible. Your cat needs her own ticket, which will generally cost about $50 for a one-way flight.
  • Airlines impose limits on the number of pets allowed to travel in the passenger cabin of each flight, so make sure your travel agent or reservations clerk puts you on a flight that has not been closed to additional pets.
  • The clerk will also need to assign you a seat with enough room for your cat's carrier to fit (aisle seats often have less room under them than center and window seats).
  • Try to book a direct flight or one with as few stops as possible. Travel during midweek if it is feasible; weekend flights tend to experience more delays.

Cats traveling by car or by plane need to be kept in an approved carrier. (Animals other than guide dogs are generally prohibited from traveling on buses and trains.)

Carriers are available in hard-sided, plastic models as well as soft, fabric bags. Either can work well, as long as it's sturdily constructed and meets the guidelines described below.

Label your pet's carrier with your name, address, and telephone number. Make sure your cat is wearing a collar with an ID tag.

General Guidelines

Here are the characteristics to look for in a pet carrier, whether you'll use it for a long trip or just for getting to and from the vet's office:

  • Big enough: The carrier should be roomy enough that your pet can stand, turn around, and lie down. It shouldn't be so oversized that she lurches around inside it, however. (See below for specific dimensions required for carriers used for air travel.)
  • Breathable: It should be ventilated on at least two sides, with rims or knobs around the ventilated panels to prevent them from becoming blocked.
  • Durable and portable: The carrier should be strong, well-constructed, and have securely attached handles or grips to allow you to carry it.
  • Leakproof: The carrier's bottom should be made of waterproof, leakproof material in case your pet has an accident inside or if the carrier gets wet or soiled from the outside.

Air-Worthy Options

Check with your airline for its regulations on pet carriers to be used in the passenger cabin. The usual maximum dimensions are approximately the following:

Length: 21 inches

Width: 13 to 16 inches

Height: 8 to 9 inches

Should you decide your cat would be better off staying home, you have several options for arranging for her care.

  • Have a friend or family member check in every day or two. This is the ideal situation, especially if it's someone with whom your cat is familiar and comfortable. The person can visit frequently to offer your pet fresh food and water, scoop the litter box, and play with her. From your cat's perspective, it's the next best thing to having you at home.
  • Hire a professional pet sitter. If no one you know is available, you might hire a pet sitter who can perform the same services for a price. Ask your vet and your pet-owning friends for recommendations.
  • Board your cat. Leaving your cat in a kennel while you're away should be a last resort, as it deprives your cat of both her familiar surroundings and personal attention. Investigate carefully any boarding kennels you consider, and make sure they are clean and well-run. Friends and your vet may be able to recommend reputable establishments.

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