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One of the most challenging experiences that we had in terms of moving abroad was moving our cat. I adopted Lu in the United States at a shelter. Admittedly, she’s not so keen on traveling, but I knew that when we moved abroad that she had to come with us. Since then, she’s traveled with us to four countries following our various moves around Europe by plane and by train. I include my experience traveling with my cat internationally, some tips for traveling with your cat, and my favorite cat traveling accessories, including an airline approved pet carrier.
I urge you not to underestimate how many hours it takes to properly research flying with your cat to your destination as well as preparing them for the move. Cats are creatures of habit and it can be very traumatizing for many cats to be uprooted from their home. I can’t really say that it’s fun traveling with a cat, but sometimes it comes to this when making a significant move abroad with your cat.
- Tips for flying internationally with your cat
- Traveling with multiple cats
- Why you shouldn’t put your cat under the plane
- Should you drug your cat for travel?
- What you need to do before traveling with your cat
- Cat traveling essentials
- The best airline approved cat carrier
- Our experience flying internationally with a cat on a transatlantic flight
- Our experience flying within the EU with our cat
- Our experience taking the Thalys with a cat
Tips for flying with your cats internationally
Before you travel with your cat internationally
In general, I recommend not traveling with your cats unless you’re moving for a significant period. Both of my cats do not travel well and if it’s a few weeks, I found that it was better to board them at a facility rather than bring them with me to a destination where the paperwork would make my life more complicated.
In general, it’s generally cheaper to buy a round-trip ticket rather than a one-way ticket. Try to time the way back with when you think you’ll next head home, so you only need to purchase the way back to your new home.
If you intend to fly internationally with your cat, you need to carefully check the requirements of your final destination as well as possible transit destinations. Your cat needs to be healthy in order to fly. I had to first ensure that she was up-to-date on her vaccinations. Talk to your vet.
Some countries require a rabies vaccination to be given a certain amount of time ahead. As a result, you’ll need to plan at least 1-2 months ahead if you’re traveling from a high rabies country as a blood test may need to be done and your cat will need to have their vaccines done in advance. I had to bring my cat in for a check-up shortly before flying in each case to ensure that she was ready.
If you can minimize your travel time, do it by getting a direct flight. Your cat will appreciate it. Your cat will be stressed, hungry, and tired from the travel. Fewer flights will reduce the likelihood that you have a delay or missed transfer.
If you have a rolling suitcase, I recommend putting your cat carrier on top and rolling your suitcase slowly. I’ve tried a couple of ways in terms of minimizing trauma when traveling en route to the airport using public transit/walking and this way worked the best. It’s smooth, your cat is less likely to be jostled within the bag, and they can look out more easily!
If you can travel with your cat in the cabin, do it. I felt so guilty every time that I’ve traveled with Lu, however, it’s a small relief to be able to see how the cat is doing. Your cat might be deeply unhappy, however, at least you can give them water and pet them to calm them if needed. Just be careful about unzipping the bag, so they don’t escape!
Book your cat’s plane ticket in advance. Most airlines that allow animals on board have a limit on how many animals can be brought with you. I had to pay extra to bring Lu as my “carry-on” item and she had to fit in the space near my feet in her carrier.
Traveling on the plane with your cat
As soon as you get on the flight, talk to the flight attendants as well as those around you to check that nobody is allergic. Similarly, it’s good to notify the flight attendants of your furry friend on board just in case something goes wrong.
Keep your cat’s documents with you somewhere that is easily accessible. You might need to show them several times, so don’t put them away in your suitcase. I keep mine in the side pocket of my cat carrier. I have been rarely asked for them, but you never know!
Make sure that your cat carrier has a tag that states your information on it, including your phone number. I made sure that Lu was wearing a collar that stated my phone number on it, just in case she ran off.
The biggest risk in losing your cat is during security when they must be removed from the carrier to be carried through security with you. If you can find a non-metal collar, that’s probably best as you might need to remove the collar during security. I also had a photo of her on my phone, just in case.
Get through security when it’s not so busy and find a quiet place to sit. I recommend giving yourself extra time at the airport. That said, airports are really loud places and if you’ll be there for a while, find a quiet corner away from music, security, and people talking loudly to sit. Your cat will thank you!
Clip your cat’s nail before you travel. You’ll need to carry them through security most likely…and it’s not fun being clawed into with sharp kitty claws.
Avoid feeding your cat 4-6 hours before traveling. I caved during my flight with Lu and gave her a treat, which resulted in her pooping (a small bit) in the litter box. Obviously, for cats, this is not comfortable. I recommend carrying a small folding cat bowl that can be used for water if needed. I bought a water bottle once through security just to give Lu water as needed.
Once you arrive at your destination with your cat
Once you’re somewhere less chaotic and enclosed, let your cat out. They’ll probably be a bit traumatized from the journey as well as hungry/thirsty. The sooner that you can get a litter box, the better as they’ll probably need it.
Check with your hotel that it’s cat-friendly before you go. I find that dog-friendly hotels are often surprised that you want to bring a cat, but you’ll pay a premium for finding a cat-friendly hotel. Even if they say that they’re pet-friendly, not all will accept cats.
On average, you’ll pay 30-40% extra with the majority of hotels telling you no. It’s frustrating, but book your hotels/accommodation in advance as soon as you know your traveling dates. I always try to emphasize that my cat is very well behaved and doesn’t go outside.
Travel can be really hard on cats and it can take your cat weeks to get used to your new home. If possible, try to move slowly to avoid changing accommodations too often as they’ll want to be at home. I recommend looking for places with good windows (like our Paris apartment).
Traveling internationally with multiple cats
An acquaintance of mine contacted me about my experience moving abroad as she was moving with her two cats and one small dog. Airlines usually allow one pet per person, so she found out that it was cheaper to pay for a close friend’s round-trip ticket to her new home (e.g. a free vacation) than it was to have someone else bring her dog. Her friend got a free trip out of it and she got to bring her cats with her.
Why you should consider NOT putting your cat underneath the plane
Quite a few cat breeds, especially Persians, may have issues related to breathing and heat stroke. Putting certain cats into cargo may be a bad idea. Even if your cat is a mutt like mine, your cat might be hyperventilating during the flight. Coming with the uncertainty of not knowing what is going on and the sounds, your cat might be really anxious underneath the plane and/or have issues during the flight.
Some carriers will report the percentage of animals in their care that were injured or killed in transit. Choose carefully if you are considering putting your cat underneath the plane. Ask around if possible.
Lu tends to hyperventilate when on a plane and inside a car, so I opted to take longer to travel with her if it meant having her with me to check on her, even if there was a layover. I ended up going with Aeroflot due to their cat-friendly policy, which allowed her to sit near my feet!
Should you drug your cat for travel?
Talk to your vet about your travel plans. I’ve seen several vets about traveling with my cat. Only one of them recommended drugging my cat for travel while the rest said that it was enough just to use a calming spray. There are a number of other drugs, but you should discuss what is most appropriate with your vet.
Generally, cats are given something similar to Xanax (benzodiazepines) if they’ll be traveling a long distance. This is what my cat had gotten prescribed for our U.S. to Netherlands move, however, it left her disoriented and unable to sleep. Since then, I’ve not used a drug.
What you need to do before traveling with your cat
- 6 Months ahead: Book your cat’s plane ticket and find a cat-friendly airline.
- 5 months ahead: Find out your airline’s paperwork requirements for flying with your cat. Your cat might need to be microchipped with a different chip if it’s not the same where you’re traveling.
- 2 Months ahead: Talk to your vet about your travels. Ensure that your cat’s vaccines are up to date.
- 1-2 months ahead: Ensure that your cat’s travel documents are up-to-date. Possibly see the vet and make relevant appointments shortly before your travels.
- 1-2 months ahead: Organize relevant transportation (buses don’t usually allow cats) and cat-friendly accommodations in your new destination.
- 1 Month out: Buy a good cat carrier, calming spray, cat collar, a cat harness, and other relevant supplies (see below)
- 1 Month out: Call your airline to check that all is well.
- 2-3 weeks ahead: Take care of relevant travel documents (if required)
- Week of travel: Check-up with your vet to ensure that your cat is healthy to fly. Clip your cat’s nails.
- The day before travel: Give your cat a nice meal 12 hours before! Organize your cat’s travel documents. Spray the carrier with Feliway and leave it out for them to explore.
- Day of travel: Stop feeding your cat 6 hours before your travels. Get the cat into the carrier. Leave early for the airport. Keep calm and try to find somewhere quiet.
- Day of arrival: Buy litterbox and cat litter once you arrive. (You can bring a small litter box with you if you arrive late at night) Feed your cat and let them relax/sleep.
Cat essentials for flying internationally
The best airline approved cat carrier
I got this bag around five years ago. This Argo by Teafco Pet Avion Airline Approved Pet Carrier perfectly fits my cat (who is on the smaller side) and it’s built cleverly. Inside, you’ll find a leash that hooks into your cat’s collar as to ensure they can’t escape the bag. Similarly, there’s a way for you to reach your hand inside without the cat escaping if you wish to calm them. There are several pockets around the bag, which can fit Feliway, travel documents, and cat travel accessories.
Most importantly, I love this bag as people assume that it’s a carry-on bag, not a cat bag. Travel is stressful enough for my cat and having strangers trying to pet her doesn’t help. She can look out of the bag through the mesh sides without people peeking in, which has been great for international travel with a cat. ( In quite a few cases, I was never asked about the cat as they didn’t realize I had a cat with me.)
In general, I recommend getting a soft cat carrier if you’ll be flying internationally as your cat needs to fit underneath the seat in front of you. If your cat is larger, you’ll want to get a larger bag to ensure they have room to move around. There might be some squishing of the carrier, so it’s much easier to have a soft bag. (Every vet that I’ve seen in Europe has asked me where I got this bag.)
I recommend ensuring that your cat has a cat collar as you’ll probably want to use the collar to clip your cat into the bag (if possible) and/or connect them to the cat leash. You might need to remove your cat collar if it contains metal, so choose carefully. If you can attach your phone number to the collar, that’s great. Ensure that it’s snug, but not too tight.
Your cat might be frustrated inside of the bag. I found the cat harness to be helpful,
Folding cat bowls
You cat might get thirsty during the journey and once you arrive at your destination, you’ll want to feed your cat. It was really helpful having folding cat bowls as it enabled my cat to eat as soon as we got cat food. (I brought some with me in a plastic bag.)
Feliway has helped my cats travel. This spray mimics cats pheromones given off by mothers to help calm kittens. It can help reduce stress in some cases. I recommend putting an item of your clothing that smells like you and spraying it with Feliway before putting it at the bottom of the carrier.
Portable Cat Bed*
As I had to get rid of the cat bed that my cat loved, I ended up buying a smaller foldable cat bed that was in my house for a few weeks before my travels. My cat liked it as it was a good way for her to feel safe in a new environment. Similarly, it was squishy enough that I used it as a pillow in transit.
Portable Litter Box*
If you’re arriving late at night, you’ll want to bring a portable litter box with you as litter is typically easier to get at some late night shops/supermarkets, however you generally need to go to a pet store for the litter box.
Our experience flying internationally with our cat on a transatlantic flight
My first international flight with my cat was flying from New York to Amsterdam via Moscow. When moving to Amsterdam, flying Aeroflot with the cat was our best option for an affordable airline that allowed cats in the cabin. It took many hours to find a flight that would allow her in the cabin, but that was non-negotiable.
In our case, the paperwork involved my vet gave her an examination clearing her for flying prior to submitting the paperwork to a federal agency to be stamped. Ask your vet for the procedure for where you’re traveling. Some airlines have limited space for animals, so you should ensure that you reserve your cat’s place in advance. I reserved my cat’s place as soon as my ticket was booked.
On the day of our flight, we showed the paperwork as we checked our bags and headed through security. Security was difficult as Lu is very noise-sensitive and the various noises did not help at all. I was forced to take her out of the carrier as I went through the metal detector. She was very scared and clung to me. Once we were through security, she calmed down a bit.
Once on the plane, we asked everyone around if they were allergic to cats. (The passengers and the flight attendants doted over us and asked to pet her.) It was very painless. She was very quiet although very anxious during the flight. I checked on my cat at several points and she was too upset to sleep. As per our vet’s recommendation, we avoided feeding her during the plane ride and withheld food 4-6 hours before our flight.
Finally, once we arrived in Moscow for our layover. We put her on a cat leash and let her sit on one of the seats. She immediately curled up and took a small nap. Nearby, two burly Russian guys took selfies with her. On the next flight, she meowed quite a bit, but we managed to get to Amsterdam. We immediately went out and bought a litterbox for her as it was day-time.
Flying within the EU with a cat
If you’re traveling within or from the EU with your cat, I strongly recommend seeing if you can get your cat an EU pet passport. It will make your life a lot easier as it shows their complete medical record as well as recent examinations. Just a few days before our flight, we brought her to a vet for a pre-flight examination as required by our airline, who we booked her ticket through.
Last summer, we lived in Brussels while waiting for our French visas. We ended up flying with BlueAir, a budget European airline to Romania and France. The process was fairly decent as my cat already had an EU pet passport. She simply had to get examined by a vet in the days prior to the flight to clear her for health. At this point, she was up-to-date on her vaccinations.
I had Lu on a leash clipped to her collar. The most stressful part was security where one of the employees required that I take the collar off. I had to carry her through airport security, which was an immensely stressful experience for both of us. She tried at one point to jump back into her box as it passed through security.
The flight itself was fine, however we flew twice with her. It was quite hard on her and given the option, I prefer to take the train. That said, you will have limited options as most of the major bus companies in Europe do not allow cats on them, which is quite aggravating as a pet owner.
Taking the Thalys train with our cat
I’ve taken the Thalys with my cat between Belgium and the Netherlands and France and the Netherlands. Cats were free and allowed when I traveled, however I had to have all my cat’s documents in order (similar to a plane). She had stay underneath the seat.
When boarding the Thalys, you’ll need to scan your items. It was quite nerve-wracking going through the security line in Paris, which as outside next to the train tracks. I had to remove Lu from her bag and carry her through security. It was loud and I’d be a bit apprehensive about doing this with a cat who tends to run when they’re scared.
Once on the Thalys, I found my seat. The journey was uneventful and at one point, the conductor asked about the cat. On one journey, a woman next to me refused to sit next to me as I had a cat. (She was pregnant.) I was a bit confused, but she moved across the way with the permission of the conductor. The journey was easy and my cat was far more relaxed than traveling by slower trains and flying.