How to Prepare Your Cat for Plane Travel

Flying with a cat is always a little stressful, even for the most experienced cat travelers! We never know how the trip is going to go, and if there will be any mishaps along the way. You can reduce your stress by being prepared and knowing everything you need to know about flying with a cat.

While reading this guide, please note that this is based on my experiences for domestic flights within Canada. These tips may not apply if you are flying international.

  1. Reserving Your Pet On-Board
  2. Selecting Your Cat’s Carrier
  3. Travel Medication
  4. Harness and Leash Training
  5. Getting Your Cat Used to Travel

Reserving Your Pet On-Board

Every flight has a maximum number of pets allowed on board, and you have to call in advanced to ensure that your pet is registered. After purchasing your ticket, you have 24h to cancel for free (for most airlines), and you should aim to register your pet within these 24h. This is to avoid any cancellation fees if the plane already has the maximum number of pets, and you have to change to a different flight.

There is generally a pet fee and this can be paid over the phone as well.

Westjet: $50 per flight

Air Canada: $50 per flight

Photo by Suhyeon Choi on Unsplash

Selecting Your Cat’s Carrier

Finding the right carrier can be a little tricky as it has to meet the airline’s size restrictions. Check out Which Carrier Should You Use for Airline Travel for detailed information.

You should aim to get the carrier 2-4 weeks before flying, so your cat can have time to get used to it. Take this time to let your cat associate the carrier with positive experiences, so they will want to go inside by themselves. Check out Cat Backpack Training for more detailed steps.

Your cat will spend the majority of the travel time in their carrier. You may be allowed to let them stretch their legs while waiting for boarding, but on the plane, expect to have them inside the carrier at all times.


Travel Medication

If your cat is prone to distress when traveling, you should consider some calming medication. Consult your vet and let them know where you are going and how severe your cat’s anxiety is. You should aim to get the medication 2 weeks before flying, so you can do a trial run at home and make sure your cat doesn’t react negatively. You wouldn’t want to deal with diarrhea or worse while stuck on a plane!

Travel medication may sound harsh for your little cat, but if it helps them sleep through the day, they will actually be less stressed. I am all for travel medication as it makes your life easier, and makes your cat happier.

Please note that most airlines will not allow sedation while on board. Your vet will be able to recommend the most suitable medication for your cat’s situation.

Air Canada flight

Harness and Leash Training

I would highly recommend you to put your cat in a harness and leash, even while in the carrier. This reduces the risk of them suddenly taking off when you unzip the carrier. Additionally, you will have to remove your cat from the carrier while going through security, so the harness and leash is an added precaution. Harness and leash training takes several days to months, depending on the cat’s personality. For more detailed instructions, check out Harness and Leash Training.

I personally leave the harness and leash on my cat the entire day, even though they are inside their carrier. It gives me a sense of security and it doesn’t bother him at all.

Teddy in a harness and leash

Getting Your Cat Used to Travel

This is the more challenging part, and will depend on how much exposure your cat got to the world while growing up, and their personality. In general, exposure training includes slowly introducing something, making it a positive experience, and repeating it many times with small incremental steps. Plane travel is not something that you will repeat many times (probably), so it is difficult to train them to get used to it. However, you can train them to be used to these things:

  • being inside their carrier
  • being on a harness and leash
  • being close to people and strangers
  • suitcases being rolled around
  • loud engine noises like from a car
  • the feeling of movement like on a bumpy road

This training depends largely on the cat’s personality and how calm they are in new environments.


Good Luck!

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