By Airplane or By Car: Tips for Traveling With Your Kitty


It may seem completely out of the question: Going on a road trip, or an airplane ride, with your cat.

But it's easier than you may think. At least it was for me and LuLu, my calico cat who is going on 22 years old.

I flew with my feline from Los Angeles to Detroit in 2000. It was a corporate move, and Gannett, the largest newspaper chain in the world, paid for all but kitty's ride.

When I decided I didn't like Detroit (even though the Detroit News is a great newspaper), Gannett paid to move me back to Southern California, to a job in Palm Springs, in 2001. But a smaller newspaper meant a smaller budget, so this time we had to drive ourselves back out. My belongings were put on a moving van, but they didn't pay to do the same with the car that time.

Traveling with your cat by air

If you're going to fly with your feline, you have two options. She can go down below, where the luggage goes (some airlines even offer special 'TLC' service for pets), or you can pay a fee and have her ride with you as a stowaway under the seat. I chose the latter option, but the seat next to me was empty, and the man sitting on the other side of that seat was a cat lover. So LuLu actually got her own seat, and the flight attendants didn't seem to mind as long as I kept her in her carrier.

Airlines will require you to keep your cat in a carrier. Make sure you check with your individual airline to see if they require special types of carriers, or carriers with certain dimensions. My cat has a Delta Airlines "soft side" carrier with mesh sides. It resembles a duffel bag for the gym but has a cardboard bottom so she can rest flat. She walks right into it when I get the carrier out, making transporting her a breeze no matter where we go (even when it was to go see grandpa in the memory care home before he died). Cats actually like to be in tight spaces, and if you use the same carrier for many years, they get used to them and feel safe when inside.

Check your airline's website first

Different airlines have different rules, so always check your airline's website before deciding to bring your cat along. Many require shots to be up to date and a pre-flight veterinary examination.

Hint: Hold your kitty tight when you're asked to remove your cat from the carrier during TSA screening. LAX was a frightening experience for LuLu. She literally threw her arms around my neck when I took her out of the bag for the security check.

Traveling with your cat by car

When I drove across the country with LuLu, she behaved remarkably well -- nary a peep for 1,800 miles. Again, she spent most of her time sitting quietly inside her carrier. I left the zipper undone at the top so she could poke her head out if she desired.

Plan ahead before your trip, and book hotels that accept pets. Specifically ask if they have rooms with boxed beds -- that is, beds that are solid underneath so the cat can't get under there and hide. You may never get her out. Then, when checking in, make sure you double-check yourself that the bed is boxed before releasing your cat from the carrier.

We left Palm Springs less than two years later, and again traveled by car all the way to the Quad-Cities, where we live now.

Bring plenty of water with you

The most important thing when traveling by car is that kitty has plenty of water to drink. You can buy a tiny water dish for a lizard and place it right inside the carrier. Fill it often with bottled water that you bring along.

Pet your cat frequently and tell her you love her during any trip

Talk to your cat and pet her now and then whether traveling by car or by air. This will reassure her that everything is going to be OK and that you're just taking a short trip. For a cat that doesn't much like to travel, you can request your vet prescribe Xanax for your kitty. My cat is in perfect physical health, but she is very loud and raises Cain now and then. The vet says she has dementia, so she is prescribed one half of a .25 Xanax every eight hours as needed.

The kitty litter issue

You can buy disposable boxes of kitty litter to bring with you on the trip. I bought one box for each hotel stay and just left them in the room when I checked out. It's a little bit of a cost, but well worth it. you don't really want to transport a kitty box in the car, even if you clean it out after each use.

Feeding time

Make sure you don't feed your cat right before you get on the road each morning. The best time to feed is her when you are done driving for the day. You don't want her to feel as if she has to have a bowel movement in the car, or get carsick.

Good luck bringing the cat along the for the ride this summer. It's easier than you think!

David Heitz has been a journalist for three decades and has scoured every inch of the Quad-Cities. He says he knows too much so he mostly writes about health these days, but still enjoys pointing out what's right about the Quad-Cities.