Cats on a plane!
August 6, 2013 6:45 AM   Subscribe

What's the best way to take a cat from the UK to the US and back again? Any advice on how to make this go smoothly?

We're going from the UK to the US for a year, and we'd like to take our cat with us. On the way over, we're planning to take her in the cabin (in a carrier that fits under the seat), but that doesn't seem to be an option coming back to the UK, where it looks like we'll need to have her shipped via air cargo. The options we're considering for the return trip are (1) having her shipped directly from the US to the UK or (2) flying via Amsterdam (with a long layover), taking her in the cabin to Amsterdam, and then handing her off to a shipping company for the last leg of the trip to the UK. The second option seems more appealing because she'd be spending less time going via cargo (and it may also be cheaper).

We've gotten the cat chipped, gotten her a rabies vaccine, and we'll be getting a pet passport. I think that's enough to get her back to the UK under the pet travel scheme. A rabies vaccine certificate appears to be the main requirement for bringing her to the US.

Any suggestions from people who've done this? Anything else we need to consider? General advice about travelling with a cat in a plane cabin or shipping a cat via air cargo would also be appreciated.
posted by klausness to Pets & Animals (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You might also consider the ferry for the last leg of the trip to the UK from Amsterdam, although it will significantly increase your journey time most likely (depending to some extent on where in the UK you plan to finish up, too)? It might prove less stressful for your cat if you can have a private cabin on the ferry for example.
posted by edd at 6:52 AM on August 6, 2013

Best answer: Look, your cat is going to hate the journey whichever way you address it although it will get over it.

If I was going to take my cat as far as Amsterdam in the cabin and that was feasible, I'd travel overland/ferry to London rather than use a shipping agent for the final leg. Beware - pets are not allowed on Eurostar, unfortunately (else it would be a simple 4h30 journey to London with a change at Brussels). But you can get a TGV from Amsterdam to Calais, which takes 5 hours and gets you to Calais Frethun. Another option is that hire car companies do cheap deals on one way car hires between countries if it suits them. So you could actually hire a car and get from Amsterdam to France. By preference, I'd break the journey up so the cat got a break. I.e. spend a day/night in Amsterdam and travel to the UK the next day.

The key considerations if you don't go via a shipping agent are how and where you feed your cat and let it use the litter box. It's one thing for the cat to be in little cat carrier for a 3 hour domestic flight. It's another for it to be in it for an overnight flight and potentially another three quarters of a day getting to the UK.

Shipping agents are costly and they don't always get it right. My folks once shipped our pet cat back from Africa and the poor thing ended up going round the baggage carousel at Johannesburg airport and then sharing the hold with two lions bound for London zoo. If I was investigating that option I'd ask them about end to end travel time and cost and weigh up the two options.

Finally - be very, very clear about what guidelines you need to follow. Double check. Because quarantine is miserable. Our two cats each did two 6 month stints in quarantine, and each one did a single stint alone and it's heartbreaking to leave them there.
posted by MuffinMan at 7:11 AM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Please don't ship the kitty air cargo. It's cold, dark and scary. Yes, your cat may throw a fit. Discuss options with your vet and see if felaway works for your kitty.

You'll need to take your kitty out of the carrier when going through security. Get a harness! Squirmy cat will squirm and may bolt. You NEED this aggrivation?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:15 AM on August 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: We'll be going to Newcastle, so going via ferry to London would be a pretty big detour. There's an overnight ferry from Amsterdam to Newcastle, but it looks like they only allow pets in vehicles.
posted by klausness at 7:19 AM on August 6, 2013

I had my two cats sent by cargo from New Zealand to Ireland via London. Seriously, it's fine. My cats hate strangers, hate travelling, are a bit highly strung, and the whole journey was totally no problem. They arrived clean and relaxed and just fine. Ignore the scare stories, cats get sent like this all the time, it is fine. Just send your cat whatever the fastest most direct way is and don't worry about the cargo aspect. Much better and less stressful for all involved to get it over with than mess around with different legs for no reason.

Also, use either a good pet moving company or at least a vet that is familiar with import issues in both countries. Because getting my cats into the UK involved not just a simple rabies vaccine, but also a blood titre test (which for me involved sending the blood to Australia) followed by six months wait. That was just over two years ago, I don't know if the rules are still the same but they change regularly so you do need to check. You've got the six months covered but you need to make sure that whatever rabies cover you're using is good enough to get back into the UK because otherwise you'll have to start from the beginning at best. This is annoying because redoing the initial vaccine is a lot more expensive than the usual boosters plus would suck if your cat had to wait six months when you're ready to come home. Better to get it correct right from the start.
posted by shelleycat at 7:27 AM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also my cat moving company dealt with the substantial paperwork in NZ, cleared them through Heathrow, flew them on to Dublin then drove them down to Cork. A door to door service like this might be worthwhile for you living in Newcastle. I found it much less stressful than trying to deal with flying myself and the cats all at once, but I also don't have a car so had different things to consider than you might.
posted by shelleycat at 7:30 AM on August 6, 2013

I've read too many horror stories on the Consumerist about pets going via air cargo. If I had the opportunity to be in the UK for a year, and were to take my pets, I would travel by boat, which is how my mother did it in the 1970s with 3 kids. The Queen Mary 2 does have a kennel for pets, including cats, which allows you to visit them during the day, and has someone whose full time job involves maintaining and watching the pets. I know it's unrealistic for most people, but that's the way I would prefer to go; second would be through a company that specializes in transporting pets. has details on rules. The US is considered an "unlisted" country. You need to get the blood test and other stuff at least three months ahead of your trip.
posted by mitschlag at 7:39 AM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: According to this, it looks like the USA is a non-EU listed country, so I think the blood test shouldn't be necessary.
posted by klausness at 7:48 AM on August 6, 2013

klausness is right though - foot passengers can't take pets on board ferries, which I hadn't checked. Which basically boils the options down to:

- The cat flying with you. KLM seem to allow this ("A small cat or dog can be taken into the Economy Class cabin of most KLM flights"), but whether they allow it on UK destination flights looks to be something you have to call them about.
- The cat going via a shipping agent.
- The cat going in a [hired] car on an overnight ferry from the Netherlands to either Newcastle or somewhere like Hull, which is either very costly as a one way hire or costly as an international hire and having to return the vehicle yourself.
posted by MuffinMan at 7:49 AM on August 6, 2013

I'm in LOVE with the idea of cruising with Pets! It's fabulous!

Also, you get 7 days to relax, no luggage hassles AND it's about the same cost as an airline ticket! $1999 for a balcony cabin.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:50 AM on August 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks, kalessin, we are considering the option of sending her overseas in cargo on the way back (my option 1 above), even if it's not our preferred option. So if you could provide the info, that might be useful (and it could be useful to others looking at this question).

MuffinMan, we did check with KLM, and they don't allow pets in the cabin on flights to the UK. That's why we're thinking about weird options like taking her to Amsterdam in the cabin and then handing her over to air cargo there. Another option might be to pay for a friend to come over on the ferry (with a car) to pick her up.
posted by klausness at 1:29 PM on August 6, 2013

Are you willing to medicate the animal? In the past for long trips I have asked my vet for a few doses of kitty valium. It works like a charm at keeping them calm/sleepy and seems to minimize the trauma of the experience.
posted by annekate at 3:58 PM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

This cat (HC) went from San Francisco to France and back in 2012. She was an old cat. She slept all the way over and all the way back. Debarking, people on the airplane said "I didn't know there was a cat aboard!"

This cat (Electra) went from San Francisco to France and back in 2013. She is just a year old. She slept all the way over and all the way back. Debarking, people on the airplane said "I didn't know there was a cat aboard!"

Each cat traveled in this backpack, under the seat in front of me. When you drape a blanket or towel over it the cat says good night and sleeps. She's in a secure place and right near you so what's to worry about?

On Air France the business class seats aren't set up for putting luggage under the seat in front of you, so you should fly in premium economy instead. In coach the legroom is so scant that if you're not short you will be uncomfortable.

Electra doesn't like airport or train station concourses and she will sometimes fuss about the noise. HC was fascinated by everything and she spent all the time in concourses looking around, walking from side to side in the backpack.

On French trains the backpack sat on my lap, and each cat got to see the scenery go by.

Neither cat ever wanted to eat, drink or use the litterbox on these trips. Hint - some of the baby-changing stations at Roissy have floor-to-ceiling doors, cats won't get out of those if you are afraid they'll bolt. Since it is 24 h block-to-block for my routing they're in the backpack a lot and even a little stretch seems welcome. As soon as they get to the destination there's food, water and a litterbox and that's apparently fine with them.

French airport security like you to take the cat in arms when you go through the magnetometers they use, and the backpack goes through the baggage X-ray separately. Having harness and leash completely devoid of metal makes this passage much easier. TSA - US airport guard - is more trouble, ask that the cat itself be hand-inspected; they will take you to a small room and (in Electra's case) swab your hands and the cat's paws - no kidding - for nitrates to see if either of you has fired a gun recently.

To bring a cat into the US, you apparently need nothing but a healthy cat. Do note that you are bringing an animal into the USA on the customs declaration form. Nobody bothers inspecting your animal, but it's apparently bad if you don't note it.

To take a cat to France from the US you need an English/French EU form stack of five pages: "Veterinary certificate to EU" and "Non-commercial movement of five or less dogs, cats or ferrets". The USDA APHIS veterinary services will frank these forms if they are in order and then you are good to go. Air France will ask for them when you request pet accompaniment in the cabin.

It's fun to take cats on vacation and even young vibrant cats just settle down where it's dark and warm and you're nearby, and go to sleep.
posted by jet_silver at 6:38 PM on August 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: OK, so we've brought the cat over, taking her in the cabin (under the seat in a SturdiBag). She wasn't totally thrilled by the process but seems to have survived without too much trauma. Our options on the way back are (1) shipping her from Amsterdam via a pet shipper after flying her over in the plane cabin or (2) having some friends come over to Amsterdam by ferry with a car and then taking her back in the car on the Amsterdam-Newcastle ferry. I guess we'll decide which one we'll do when it gets closer to time to return. We just wanted to make sure that we had some options available before we brought her over here in the first place. Thanks to all for the advice.
posted by klausness at 5:34 PM on September 20, 2013

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