While you’re probably traveling less for pleasure right now, if you have a big move coming up or are planning to stay away from home for an extended period of time, you’re likely going to be bringing your pets along. And if your pet happens to be a cat, you might be dreading flying with such a picky and particular companion.
There are a few steps you can take before heading to the airport that’ll make your trip go more smoothly. Levi Myers, a cat caregiver at Best Friends Animal Society, recommends first booking an appointment with your veterinarian, as many airlines require a current health certificate and a vaccine record. While you’re at the vet, Myers says you can even request a mild, prescription sedative if you anticipate your cat won’t react well to the trip. Airline pet policies vary, so check before you fly that you have all the proper paperwork and a carrier that fits your airline’s size requirements. Once you’ve got all that taken care of, here’s some gear that cat behavior experts suggest bringing along to make the trip a little more pleasant for your cat — and for you.
The best cat carriers for flying
Myers recommends looking for a soft carrier that’ll fit under the seat and let you check on your cat mid-flight without opening it up. “Other than security checks, avoid opening the carrier during transit,” he says. Mikel Delgado, a cat behavior expert with Rover, likes the Sleepypod Air because it’s specifically designed to fit under airline seats. If you usually only take the carrier out for unpleasant trips to the vet, Delgado suggests using the time leading up to your flight to encourage your cat to develop more positive associations with it. “Help your cat see the carrier as a safe space,” she says. “Leave it out all the time, and place a favorite blanket and treats in it, or even feed your cat meals in the carrier. During the flight, that familiar-smelling blanket will provide them with some comfort.”
Strategist writer Rio Viera-Newton, who recently took a long-haul flight with her cat, Martini, loves this expandable carrier that opens up on all four sides. “It gives her a little wiggle room, she can see me more clearly, and probably makes her feel less trapped,” she says.
We’ve written about this airline-approved carrier before, and it’s also one of Chewy resident pet expert Samantha Schwab’s picks for flying comfortably and safely with your cat. “Made with high-quality material, the carrier is extremely durable and can withstand years of traveling with your kitty,” she says. “Each side has large mesh windows so your cat can keep an eye on their surroundings and comes with tons of pockets for small essentials, like cat treats or ID cards.”
The best cat leash and harness for flying
Although your cat will stay in the carrier for the duration of the trip, you may have to take him or her out when you go through security. To do so safely, our experts recommend a leash and harness to keep kitty from making a run for it. Myers likes figure-eight-style harnesses that fasten around the neck and chest for extra security. You’ll want to try out the harness and leash a few times before you leave, as this will likely be a new experience for your cat. Delgado says you can also try requesting a private room for TSA screening, which may feel less hectic.
The best cleaning products for flying with your cat
Even cats who are meticulous about using their litter boxes and keeping them clean aren’t immune to accidents when traveling. Therefore, both Myers and Delgado recommend lining your carrier with a pee pad and bringing a few extras in case you need to replace it. Delgado says you may want to consider skipping your cat’s morning meal the day of the flight to avoid any stomach issues.
Schwab also recommends packing these all-natural, biodegradable wipes in case your cat needs a little cleaning up after an accident or spill. “These wipes will keep your cat clean and smelling good no matter where in the world you are,” she says.
The best feeding accessories for flying with your cat
You don’t want your cat to eat too much during travel, but Delgado says that for longer flights you “can bring a small amount of food and offer water during layovers.” These collapsible silicone bowls are both easy to clean and carry — they fold down flat when not in use and come with carabiners to clip onto your cat carrier.
“One of the best ways to keep cats calm during travel is to distract them,” says Schwab, and cat owners know there are few better distractions than your cat’s favorite treats. Rio brought along some treats that Martini “nibbled throughout the journey.” To make treat time a little more active (and therefore take up more flight time) Schwab suggests a treat-dispensing toy like this Kong ball that you can toss into your carrier. “Just stick your cat’s favorite treats in the ball and watch them swat away to their heart’s content,” she says.
The best calming products for flying with your cat
For cats who are especially anxious in new situations, Schwab says “you may want to invest in a calming toy.” She’s a fan of this one from Petstages that has a touch-activated purring mechanism that should be soothing for your cat to cuddle up with.
With a scent that mimics cats’ natural pheromones, these wipes — that you can use on your carrier or even surfaces on the plane — have a calming effect on some cats, according to Delgado. Probably worth trying them at home first to see how your cat responds.