Preparation is key to traveling long distances with a cat. You can't simply stick the animal quickly in a pet carrier the way you might if you were driving across town. A skittish feline on a long road trip or airplane ride can make your travels more stressful during and after arrival. The ASPCA recommends sticking to your cat's routine while traveling — from feeding schedules to bathroom breaks or playtime.
Before You Go
Consult your vet about where you're going. Ask about diseases prevalent there, vaccination requirements (especially overseas), what weather is like and if any of these things will affect your cat. An airline will require a health certificate for the cat, issued within 10 days of departure; a car trip requires a certificate from within 30 days.
Select a carrier that is well-ventilated and big enough for your cat to get up, move around in and stretch. Avoid letting the cat out of the cage, unless leashed, until you reach the new home. Ensure any crate is USDA-approved and pet-friendly for shipping if you fly.
Set the carrier out in your house a few days before you travel so your cat can get used to it. Let it explore the cage as it pleases. Take a few short car rides with your feline friend in the back seat in the days before you leave if traveling by car to see if it is meowing a lot or getting motion sickness.
Search towns along your route for emergency vet locations. Pack your cat's tags and medical and vaccination records. Some states require rabies records for all animals crossing state lines. You will also need these when boarding an airplane.
Plan for stops at hotels that welcome cats for rest stops. Hotels that accept cats are less plentiful than those allowing dogs. Search hotel websites, call area pet shelters or visit animal-oriented associations to find cat-friendly locations. Ask about weight restrictions, deposits or fees, number of animals allowed and whether you can leave the cat alone in the room.
Fill a box with your cat's favorite toys and food, plastic food and water bowls or bowls that fold, catnip, kitty litter/cat litter, elimination bags and a scooper. Pack water from your own tap bottled in milk jugs or smaller bottles to keep your cat's stomach from getting upset due to drinking unfamiliar water.
Feed your cat about three to four hours before you leave. The food needs time to settle so your cat doesn't leave you a regurgitated gift on the road or in your new environment.
Surround your cat inside the carrier with a favorite blanket that smells of home. A scent your animal recognizes provides comfort and makes the cat calm.
Secure the carrier in the car where it will not lurch forward or topple in a sudden stop. Place the carrier ideally where your cat can see you. Secure the carrier with a seatbelt, if possible.
Feed and provide water for your cat along the way at times it would normally eat. Allow a little playtime while you stop for your own break. Transition timing of routines slowly a few weeks before you leave to accommodate any time-zone changes.
Crack windows about an inch if you get out of the car for any length of time, but don't let the cat roam the vehicle. Beware of rolling down windows farther; cats are good at wiggling out of tight spaces. Don't leave the cat in a parked car for more than a couple of minutes, no matter the weather, the ASPCA cautions. Warm days can quickly heat up a car to dangerous temperatures, while cold causes hypothermia just as fast.
Consult airlines for animal policies. Ask whether your cat can travel with you or if it must travel in the cargo area. (It's better for the cat to be near you.) Ask about limits on how many animals one person can bring, what kind of carrier you need, medical requirements and costs.
Buy a new id tag for the cat that has your name, address, phone number, the cat's microchip number (if it has one) and your destination printed on it.
Book a flight that requires the fewest stops. Transfers from one airplane to the next, or workers making noise while handling baggage can stress your animal even more. Plan layovers with weather in mind. A hot southern sun won't be the best environment for a cat in cargo hold during summer — the same goes for those areas with subzero temperatures in winter.
Write on the carrier in dark marker your name and destination address, along with "Live animal" and arrows pointing which way the carrier should sit to be upright. Do this especially if the carrier is going in cargo hold. The CatWellness News website and ASPCA recommend pasting a photo of your animal on the carrier in case your cat escapes at some point.
Inform the flight crew that you have a cat on the airplane if your pet can't travel with you in the passenger area. It helps to have someone else thinking about checking on the animal in case of a delay or in an emergency.
Things You Will Need
Health certificate and medical records
Cat food and water
Food and water bowls
Photo of your animal
As soon as you know you will be traveling with your cat, call agencies near your destination to ask about special permissions, permits or other need-to-knows. Paperwork, such as that for overseas, can take months to process.
Mild sedation can calm a cat, but do this only if you will be with your animal. The ASPCA advises against tranquilizers for cats traveling in an airplane. Your cat needs to react to what's around it, the Alley Cat Small Animal Hospital in Napa, California, says. The hospital says most animals that die in flight do so because of tranquilizers.