You've got plenty of variables to juggle when you're flying with a cat. What kind of carrier is acceptable? Should you give your cat a sedative? These and similar issues tend to eclipse things like mealtimes. Don't let feeding become a last-minute concern: feed your cat four hours before flying.
Hungry Beasts & Fraidy Cats
Cats are notorious creatures of habits. They like regular feeding routines and as a general rule don't deal well with travel. Try to feed your cat before you leave for the airport, and make sure to bring some of his favorite canned foods and snacks with you for emergencies. The last time your cat should eat is four hours prior to takeoff, according to most pet nonprofits, personal anecdotes and commercial websites. As the flight nears, curtail food, but continue to allow your cat to drink water.
The Last Meal
Air travel stresses most cats, and it can take hours or even a day or two before your cat eats after flying. As such it's important he eats as close to the flight as possible before the no-food buffer. This period allows your cat to partially digest the food in his stomach, thus minimizing risks of nausea and vomiting en route. If your cat isn't used to riding in cars, he may get car sick, so consider curtailing food four hours before leaving the house. Try acclimating him to the car weeks or days before the flight to avoid this. If the four hour window falls outside your cat's normal feeding schedule or you have a free-feeding cat, tempt him with his favorite wet food or a treat.
During and After the Flight
Some people recommend feeding your cat treats just prior to and even during a flight to calm his nerves, although opinions vary. If your flight is long or includes layovers, offer your cat a small amount of food and water in a quiet space en route. If you're giving your cat a sedative or any other medication, follow food-relevant directions to the exclusion of all other advice, except that of your veterinarian. After arriving at your destination, make sure your cat has a clean litter box and fresh food and water.
Whether or not to feed your cat before flying is a moot decision if you haven't addressed other aspects of airline pet travel. Purchase an in-cabin ticket for your cat at the same time you buy your ticket. If your cat has to fly as cargo, consider other airlines. Book direct flights to minimize stress. Schedule a veterinarian checkup within 10 days of your flight and copy vaccination records and a health certificate. Review airline pet policies and measure and mark your cat carrier. Leave it out days before the flight. Make sure your cat has an ID tag or microchip.
- CatChannel.com: Flying with Your Cat
- PetTravel.com: Arline Pet
- CatChannel.com: Safer Rules for Cats on Airlines
- RamblinCat.com: FAQ about Traveling with a Cat -- Should I feed my cat before the flight?
- Catster.com: Traveling with Your Cat -- Flying the Friendly Skies with Fluffy
- American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: Air Travel Tips
- Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images