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When Cats Fly

Birds and pigs aren’t the only animals that fly.  These days, dogs and cats globe trot around the world following their families to exotic destinations or perhaps heading off to new homes.  Preparing an animal to fly is all about research and preparation, not just to choose the correct means of transport but also to prepare the pet for the flight itself. 

Pets cannot be carried in the passenger cabin of the aircraft.  Instead they are lodged with an air freight company and will incur a fee depending on its size and whether or not it is accompanied by its owner on the same flight.  The chosen air freight company will be able to provide advice on the best route to take, the requirements to travel and how to prepare the animal to fly.

Always contact the air freight company well before travelling for their advice and policies and book as far ahead as possible as there are limited places on each flight.  At the time of booking, the size and weight of the container will need to be known.  In summer, aim for an early morning or overnight flight but in winter, avoid early or late flights so that there are no extremes in temperature whilst waiting for the flight – the temperature when on the plane is the same as that for the cabin.  If travelling with your pet, check availability of the pet booking before making any flight reservations.

It is the pet owners’ responsibility to make themselves aware of any state or country quarantine regulations that may restrict transportation and any policy changes by air freight companies.  These regulations are subject to change so it is important to check these every time that your pet flies.

All animals must be contained in a pet crate that conforms to the specifications within the IATA Live Animal Regulations (available at  For most cats, rigid plastic containers with a leak proof base are suitable but the upper and lower section must be joined using metal screws and bolts since the plastic joiners can fail during handling.  Door hinges and locking pins must extend beyond the horizontal extrusions above and below the door opening by at least 1.6cm.  If a container has wheels, they must be removed or made inoperable.  Containers made of welded mesh or wire mesh must have a leak proof galvanised tray base with corners and edges soldered and rolled up to 9cm.  Wooden containers can be used but contact the freight company for the correct specifications.

The total ventilated area of the container must be at least 16% of the total surface of the four sides, including the door.  The container must have side handles in a position where the handler can’t be contacted by the pet as well as spacers on the side to keep the containers separated whilst in transit.  A water container firmly attached to the side should be within the carrier but positioned so that it can be filled from outside.  An absorbent mat should be placed at the bottom of the container (not straw, kitty litter or newspaper though).

There should not be any additional solid objects placed in the container as these can be dangerous if any turbulence is experienced and the locking mechanism on the door must be secure enough to prevent any chance of escape.  The container should be labeled with the name of the pet and a 24 hour emergency contact number.

A maximum of two adult animals of similar size up to 14kg each can be shipped in the same container.  However, if they are from the same litter and up to six months old, three can be shipped together.

If travelling with your pet on the same flight, most airlines allow a passenger two small crates, one medium or one large crate per person.  There is no limitation for animals that travel unaccompanied.  Sometimes members of canine association may be allowed three crates at a discounted rate.  Check with the air freight company.

Within the container, a cat must have enough space to turn about normally, to stand and sit erect and to lie in a natural position.

Suitable pet crate dimensions:

Animals lodged in containers too small for their size won’t be accepted and acceptance of the container design is at the discretion of the air freight company.

Remember that some of the larger containers won’t fit on some aircraft.  For large dogs such as Great Danes and Wolfhounds, check with the air freight company before booking.

There are quite a few restrictions on the types and ages of animals that will be accepted by air freight companies.  Sick, injured or pregnant animals as well as those over 12 years and those between 8 and 12 weeks require a Veterinary Certificate to be issued within ten days of the travel date.

To help make the flight more comfortable for the cat, allow it to get used to the container by leaving it open in the home for several weeks prior to leaving.  Add a favourite soft toy or blanket so that it feels more secure.  Reduce the amount of food that it eats the day before and give it a light meal and a short drink approximately two hours before leaving and exercise it immediately before.  If the animal soils the container prior to travelling, the owner will be required to return to the air freight company to clean it or the pet will not be loaded for travel.  Try to keep the time the pet spends in the hustle and bustle of the airport to a minimum whilst still adhering to the air freight company’s lodgement regulations.

For most air freight companies, the pet must be lodged 90 minutes prior to the scheduled flight departure and will not be accepted prior to this.  This is to minimise the time that the pet is sitting in the terminal where opportunities for hydration, exercise and toilet breaks are limited or not available at all.  Specialist animal transport service providers are available who can undertake the booking and lodgement process on your behalf reducing the risk of any complications as well as stress to you or your pet.

When the pet arrives at the end of its flight, make sure it is met within 60 minutes of the flight arrival.  Give it a good health check.  Take it for a walk, make sure it moves well and is fit and healthy and then give it a lot of love and attention.

Pets that are not collected before closing time at the air freight company will be moved to an approved cattery facility at the owners cost.  If a Vet is required, this will be at the owner’s cost also.  The owner will be notified in these situations using the contact details on the crate.

It is a long standing practice of IATA and its carriers to discourage the use of sedatives and tranquilizers in animals to be transported unless prescribed by a Vet due to the potential adverse effects.  Should a Vet recommend sedation, a note must be attached to the container stating the animal’s weight, the generic name of the drug used, the dosage, method of administration and time given.

For times when the pets can’t be taken on holidays with the family, a boarding kennel may be a good option.  Check out our “Boarding your Cat” factsheet on the Better Pets and Gardens website.

The information included in this fact sheet is general advice only and correct at the time of preparation.  Since air freight companies differ and regulations are subject to change, it is essential that the owner undertakes their own research and seeks advice from their chosen air freight company. 

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