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How Do Cats Use the Bathroom on a Plane? What to Know

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By Nicole Cosgrove

cat in carrier

When you travel with your cat on airlines, you may be as anxious about the trip. Air travel can be frustrating for humans, but it’s often terrifying for cats and dogs. Although very few pet fatalities occur in the cargo bay of planes, you’re better off keeping your furball in the cabin with you during the flight. Your pet will not enjoy the flight regardless of the location, but a cabin trip keeps the animal close to you and prevents the isolation and cooler temperature associated with the cargo hold.

You may be wondering: how do cats go to the bathroom on a plane? Since most airlines do not allow you to remove the animal or move the carrier during the flight, you can line the bottom of the container with absorbent liners or puppy pads. Rubber gloves, cleaning, wipes, empty bags, and deodorizing spray are necessary items for removing waste from the carrier and staying sanitary.

If your cat uses the bathroom, you can dispose of the pad in a sealed disposable bag and replace it with a clean one. However, some airlines may not allow pet owners to open the carrier. In that case, your pet may have to endure a soiled pad until you land. Before booking a flight with your feline, you can examine our preparation tips to make the trip go as smoothly as possible.

Airlines That Allow Cats in the Cabin

Most companies allow small pets in the cabin as long as they’re confined to carriers, but you should research the airline you’re planning on using to prevent a cargo ride. These airlines have different rules regarding pets on planes, but they allow you to keep your cat in the cabin.

  • Aegean Airlines
  • Air Canada
  • Air Europa
  • Air France
  • Alaska Air
  • American Airlines
  • Delta
  • JetBlue
  • Lufthansa
  • Southwest
  • TUI
  • United Airlines
  • Vueling

American, Alaska Air, Air Canada, and JetBlue prohibit carriers from weighing more than 20 pounds, but Southwest, Delta, and United have no maximum weight requirements as long as the crate fits securely under the seat in front of you. The German airline TUI only allows carriers weighing 13.2 pounds.

All airlines have limits on the number of pets allowed in the cabin, and it’s wise to book your flight early to reserve a spot. Direct flights are better for your cat because you do not have to keep it in the carrier for several hours before a connecting flight. Also, cats traveling in the cargo hold may wind up on the wrong flight during the transfer. Losing pets is not a common occurrence with airlines, but it’s not something you or your pet want to experience.

cat on a leash sitting at the airport with owner
Image Credit: Helena Zezulkova, Shutterstock

Veterinary Examination

Each state has different rules regarding the paperwork required for traveling with pets, but most require you to visit the veterinarian before your flight. The vet can ensure that your furball is healthy enough to travel and may offer tips for keeping your pet relaxed during the trip. If the feline is not up to date on vaccinations, you’ll need inoculations before visiting the airline. You can visit the Animal and Plant Health Inspection website, created by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to see what rules apply in your home state or departing city. North Carolina recently changed their pet travel restrictions, and the state no longer requires cats, dogs, or ferrets to have health certificates to leave the state. If you have a cat with medical conditions, a complete checkup is essential regardless of the state’s regulations.

Breed Restrictions

Depending on the airline and countries involved in the trip, you may not be able to take your cat on a flight with breed restrictions. More restrictions are placed on dog breeds, but some airlines will not carry snub-nosed cats or dogs in the cargo hold. Himalayan and Persian cats are more vulnerable to respiratory issues, and United Airlines is one of the few companies that allow the breeds in the cargo area. If you have either breed, you’ll have to arrange a cabin reservation for your pet. Dogs such as Pekingese, Boston Terriers, Japanese Chin, Bulldogs, and Pugs are also restricted from cargo travel.

Cat in purple carrier
Image Credit: Africa Studio, Shutterstock

Preparing Your Cat for the Trip

Your kitty may not enjoy your upcoming trip, but you can make the journey less agonizing with adequate preparation. Air travel in the cargo hold or cabin can be scary for your feline, but it’s safer than you may think. In fact, 99% of pet travelers are not injured or killed during flights.

Crate Training

If your cat runs when you get the carrier out of storage, you’ll need to start crate training several weeks before your trip. Leave the crate near the cat’s play area or bed so it can sniff around and get accustomed to it. You can place treats in the carrier to encourage the animal to visit it more or use a catnip spray applied to the container’s interior. Line the carrier with a comfy blanket and add a few toys and a shirt with your scent on it to relax the cat. The shirt and toys can remain in the crate to reduce the creature’s anxiety during the flight.

cat inside plastic carrier
Image Credit: Africa Studio, Shutterstock

Nail Trimming

Trimming your cat’s nails is not essential when it rides in the cabin, but it’s necessary for a cargo trip. The plane’s cargo hold is cold, noisy, turbulent, and full of unpleasant odors. Dogs and cats can injure themselves on flights when their anxiety hits a breaking point, and they try to claw their way out of the crate. With clipped claws, your cat is less likely to get its paws stuck in the metal gate at the front of the carrier.

Anxiety Relief

Veterinarians do not recommend sedating your pet on the trip, but they may prescribe medications if your pet struggles with a severe case of anxiety. Buprenorphine and gabapentin are common anxiety drugs given to traveling cats, and some pet parents apply a pheromone spray to the crate to relax their felines.

ID and Crate Stickers

In case the unthinkable happens, and your pet escapes or gets lost during a connecting flight, you should keep an ID collar on your cat. Make sure the collar has your name, address, and cellphone number, and add the same information to a sticker attached to the carrier. Your flight number should also be printed on the carrier.

cat in pet carrier waiting at the airport with owner
Image Credit: Monika Wisniewska, Shutterstock

Disposable Litter Box

Airports in the United States have family bathrooms that you can visit before your flight. With your cat on a leash, you can let it use the bathroom in a disposable litter box. If your cat cannot tolerate the leash, it may have to use the litter box in the car before going into the airport. Most large airports also have pet care areas where dogs and cats can do their business before flights. Contact your airport for more information about pet areas and family bathroom rules.

Restricting Meals

To reduce the possibility of vomiting or diarrhea during the flight, you can prevent your cat from eating in the morning before the trip. Your pet will not be happy for the skipped meal, but it will soon forget about hunger once it’s on the airplane. You should still take food and water with you, and most airlines require you to bring both, but several travelers have reported that their pets will not eat during the journey.

Final Thoughts

Air travel is not ideal for cats, but it can be easier for pet parents than enduring a lengthy car ride. Cats traveling short distances may not use the bathroom in their carriers, but long domestic flights and international trips can cause in-flight bathroom breaks. As long as your furball is comfortable in the crate and you’re prepared with absorbent pads and cleaning supplies, your pet’s bathroom activities should not be an ordeal on the plane. However, the animal may take a while to warm up to you when you reach the destination.

Featured Image Credit: Zossia, Shutterstock

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