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Things to know before flying your cat across the country

In January 2015, the “Stephanie party of one” officially became a party of two. No, I didn’t have a human child nor did I enter a committed relationship… I brought my cat up to Boston.

If you know me personally, you know how huge this is to me. I’ve had my cat, Toshi, since I was 14 years old. I bottle fed her, trained her and raised her. Upon moving to Denton for college, I had to leave her behind. I remember that day like it was yesterday.

My silver Yaris is packed up, eyes puffy from crying after saying goodbye to friends and family, and it was time to leave. She hid behind the toilet, eyes large and back hunched. She looked at me as if I just kicked her in the stomach — she was looking into the eyes of her abuser. I left without hugging her goodbye and cried for half of my drive, because she simply didn’t understand why I was leaving her.

Of course, I’d visit her every holiday and whenever I could drive home. She was taken care of by my grandmother and was able to stay in the comfort of her own home – the home where she grew up. Several years later, I found myself moving to Boston. I knew I would be unable to travel to my small hometown as often as I did before, which meant I would be unable to see my cat. Anyone with a pet or a fondness for animals could see how heartbroken this made me.

In November 2014, my grandma suffered a small fracture in her spine. She was unable to move, sleep, or live comfortably. I knew this was my sign, it was time to alleviate any of her responsibilities that I could (from 2,000 miles away). I knew it was time to bring my cat home.

How do you get a cat across the country?! – a question I heard hundreds of times.

It took a solid month of researching — pet shipping companies, traveling with a cat, airlines that accept pets, pet reservations. I read multiple blogs, articles and Facebook posts. Based on my experience, here’s what I learned.

When to stop feeding/drinking

In order to combat any form of motion sickness, make sure they stop eating 4-6 hours prior to travel. Although my cat has never gotten motion sickness in the car, I didn’t want to risk it. For water, I’d hide that 2-4 hours prior to traveling. I bought puppy training pads and lined the bottom of the carrier with a couple, just to be safe. The carrier that I bought (see here) also has a machine-washable liner, which makes clean up easy. Luckily, there were no accidents on our flights.

Calming treats don’t really work…

But cat calming vests (aka the Thundershirt) do! Typically, cats suffer from “freeze and flop” when wearing it, so it’s important to have the animal (dog or cat!) wear the vest a couple of times before traveling. The vest has a similar effect on animals as swaddling a baby: they seem to calm down and feel secure. If you do try calming treats, try them a few days before just to make sure there are no adverse side effects.

You’re going to need a harness

When you go through airport security, you have to send the carrier through the bag scanner, while you and your animal walk through the body scanner. As you can imagine, this was the most nerve-wracking part. Having a death grip on my cat and her harness really helped us get through security and avoid playing “catch the cat” through the airport. However, she just seemed desperate to get back into her carrier and hide from everyone.

Confirm the pet reservation

I’m not naming any airlines (American), but make sure you confirm and re-confirm your pet reservation on all of your flights. If you don’t, you may find yourself booked with bulkhead seating and nowhere to put your pet. However, if you’re like me, you can always call the airline, give them a piece of your mind, and try to get a voucher for your troubles. Because, really… traveling with an animal can be very stressful.

During the flight

Unfortunately, you can’t set a carrier on your lap during the flight. But, you can unzip it enough to slide your hand through and pet your animal. I did this about every three minutes (just kidding… maybe) to make sure Toshi knew I was still there and that she was safe. I may have been overdramatic, but I was genuinely concerned she would have a heart attack mid-flight or something.

Arrival

I grabbed my bag as quickly as I could and took a cab. My first priority was to get her into my room, with food, water and a litter box. Luckily, I had everything there and ready for our arrival – which was perfect. She was skittish at first, but having her food and water bowls under my bed (as though she was hiding) encouraged her to eat. I locked her up in my room for two full days so she would acclimate to her new environment. Don’t be surprised if they leave you presents somewhere our of nervousness. Lucky for me, my cat didn’t do anything but eat too fast one afternoon. 🙂

Would I fly with my cat again? Absolutely not. Unless it was necessary. Traveling alone is stressful enough, but add an animal who has no earthly idea what is happening and you’re going to need some Xanax. It’s been a year and a half since I flew her up to Boston, and she has adjusted extremely well. I have to say, she is the queen of the apartment and acts like her old self. It’s been great to reunite and have something to take care of again, and be a party of two.

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