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Tips for traveling with cats to make this holiday season a little brighter

Traveling with pets is generally not an easy endeavor, but cats make traveling with dogs look like a cakewalk.

Most cats hate everything about travel — their carrying case, getting jostled around, the loud noises. My cats in particular are not good travelers. Even when we have to drive all of five minutes to take them to the vet, they are not happy campers. Cats in general are just more sensitive to a major change to their environment. If you have indoor cats like I do, the experience is all the more jarring.

However, there are plenty of ways to make traveling with your cats a lot less painful for both them and you. It’s all about preparing appropriately ahead of time and making sure everyone knows what’s involved, depending on the kind of traveling you’re doing.

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Before you travel

Talk to your vet

Depending on where you’re going, your cats may need new vaccines. This is especially true if you’re headed overseas. You’ll also want to schedule a checkup to make sure they’re in good health. The only thing worse than traveling with a stressed-out cat is traveling with a stressed-out, sick cat.

If you’re flying

You’ll need to submit a health certificate to the airline within 10 days of departure. Be sure to check the specific pet policies of the airline you’re traveling with as well.

If you must fly with your pet, choose taking it with you into the cabin rather than sending it in cargo if you can.

Get a proper carrier

It’s important when traveling long distances with a pet that it has enough room to stand up, stretch and move around. This goes for whether you’re flying, driving or taking a boat. However, if you are flying, you’ll want to make sure whatever carrier you get is USDA approved for shipping. Also, it’s important to note that Persians and Himalayans are restricted from flying in cargo, but really no pet should fly in the cargo hold as it leads to many pet injuries and deaths every year.

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Prepare the carrier

Before you leave the house, make sure the carrier is as comfortable as possible for your cat. It helps to put a towel or sweatshirt that smells like you in the bottom, along with a few favorite toys. It’s also smart to prime the carrier with a pee pad since the upped anxiety could lead to an accident. You may also want to spray Feliway or another synthetic pheromone to keep your cat calm, especially pre-flight. A few drops of Rescue Remedy also helps.

You’ll want to leave the carrier out a few days before traveling, especially if it’s new, so your cat gets used to it. You may even want to take a few short trips with your cat in the car so it can have some experience with travel before your longer trip.

Day of travel

By car

1. Feed your cat at least three hours before getting in the car. This will limit any throw-up incidents on the road.

2. Secure the carrier with a seat belt or similarly strong apparatus. Make sure your cat can see you or someone comforting through the carrier, but for safety reasons, keep it in the backseat.

3. Feed and provide water for your cat at the times you normally would at home. An easy way to provide constant water without making a mess is to attach a hamster water bottle to the carrier. If you can, let it out to walk around the car for a little playtime.

4. If you have to leave the cat in the car for any length of time, make sure to crack the window but don’t let it out of the carrier. You should never leave it in the car for longer than a couple of minutes as temperatures can rise quickly in a car, no matter the weather outside.

By plane

1. Cats and small dogs are usually permitted to fly in the cabin with you, but make sure their carrier is approved by the airline.

2. Your cat’s carrier will need to pass through the x-ray machine at security check. Make sure you either have a leash to secure it outside the carrier or request a secondary screening that will allow it to remain in the carrier.

3. You will have to keep your cat in its carrier under the seat in front of you for the duration of the flight, but if you can, check on it from time to time.

4. You should keep a bottle of water and an eye dropper so you can occasionally shoot water into its mouth to make sure it’s well-hydrated.

5. Keep treats and food with you so you can feed your cat at its normal mealtimes. You may also want to have some Rescue Remedy on you to calm it down if it gets upset.

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