A traveller’s guide to flying abroad with your cat
When I began researching the procedure to take my cat abroad, I realised the best place to get information was other people, not official websites. It wasn’t on a whim — I’ll be moving abroad and taking my kitty with me. What I found was that taking your pet abroad involves a lot of documents, lots of rules, lots of high costs and — unsurprisingly — lots of stress.
My research didn’t yield detailed enough instructions to give me the peace of mind that I wouldn’t face any issues when travelling from Pakistan. I then discovered a Facebook group where I found the stories of many pet owners who had travelled with their fur-babies. I realised then that this problem wasn’t just mine — it seems everyone who wants to travel with their pet faces a lot of problems. So, I spoke to people who have travelled with their cats abroad to put together a comprehensive plan on how they arranged everything, from their carriers and documents to flight tickets and food for their cats.
Some things to mention before we proceed are that you must know your pet’s health condition before travelling and you must have proper information about the requirements of the place you’re flying to. One thing everyone I spoke to agreed on was that it’s best to fly Turkish because they allow pets in the cabin. Etihad has since allowed pets in the cabin but only if the pet is flying from Abu Dhabi. Other airlines allow pets in the cargo.
Karachi to San Francisco
While making a plan for my own cat, and getting distracted by other fur babies, I was able to find a group named Pet Talk on Facebook. There I saw Mairah Farrukh’s post about how she travelled with her eight-year-old cat in 2019 and was able to reach out to her. She told Images that if a pawrent is planning to take their cat in the cabin via Turkish Airlines, they must plan three months prior to their trip.
For the preparation, she suggested quite a few things — at the time of booking your ticket, it’s best if you call the Turkish Airlines hotline and mention that you’re carrying a pet cat in the cabin. This ensures that the agent enters details about the cat along with your ticket. Then, all you’ll have to do is call Turkish Airlines three days before your flight to confirm your pet in cabin approval status.
She said to get a carrier that’s 23 x 40 x 55cm that compresses up to nine inches as it’s essential to make sure the bag fits under the seat in front of you on the plane. Another pro-tip she gave was to familiarise your pet with their carrier for as long as you can in order for them to get used to of it before your flight. She suggested you leave it open in places where your cat likes to hang out or play.
Documentation you’ll need
- A pet passport
You need a pet passport to travel and for her cat, Farrukh got one from Dr Isma Gheewala’s Animal Care Centre in Karachi’s DHA Phase VI. You need to make sure that your cat’s vaccinations are up to date. For her destination, San Francisco, micro-chipping wasn’t required so she didn’t get it done, however, it differs from state to state or perhaps even city to city so prior research is definitely a must.
- Rabies Antibody Titer test results
Farrukh got her cat’s test conducted at Tabanis’ Diagnostic and Medical Centre and Vet in Karachi’s Gizri for Rs5,000. Farrukh said the rabies shot needs to be given to the cat and if due, it should be done a month prior to the date you’re going to travel. If the cat’s not due for the shot then the titer test will suffice.
A health certificate from the cat’s vet
A Govt Quarantine Certificate
Your certificate needs to have been issued within 10 days of your travel date. A pro tip Farrukh shared was that anyone wanting to get the certificate must contact agents via pet groups that can help you get the certificate without any hassle.
Essentials to carry
Keep dry food, such as kibble, in a Ziploc bag for the main journey and some treats for your pet to de-stress
Keep unscented wet wipes and tissues to clean up
Get a collapsible water bowl for your pet to drink water during the flight or while in transit
Purchase a travel litter box and keep some litter in a plastic bag
Purchase pee pads and line the carrier before placing your pet in it
There are two free-of-charge pet relief areas at the Istanbul Airport that have a litter box dedicated for pet cats, water and some dry food.
Talking about her experience, starting with Jinnah International Airport, Farrukh said, “So the Karachi airport is the only place where they checked any of my cat’s paperwork (vaccination record aka the pet passport and the government quarantine certificate) at the first security checkpoint. They never bothered with it in Turkey or even San Francisco.
“The guards wanted me to take Elmo out of the bag so they could scan it separately so I just had to be a bit adamant about them manually checking it because there was no way I was removing him from his bag as he was already so stressed out, so they agreed. The rest was all smooth.”
She shared that at the check-in counter, she had to pay $220 in cash and it was recommended to her over the phone that she show up at at the airport six hours prior to her flight. However, for the sake of her cat and the long journey ahead, she chose to go at the regular check-in time and it worked just fine.
Then began a 30-hour journey for Farrukh and her cat Elmo. During the flight she found that the plane completely packed and she was unable to let the cat stretch. Despite this, the flight went off smoothly. Her cat refused to eat, sleep or drink throughout the flight and kept staring at her for comfort.
During their three-hour layover, she was able to let Elmo stretch in the restroom and allowed him to roam free but once again, the cat refused to eat, drink or use the litter.
On arrival at the San Francisco International Airport, Farrukh had one suggestion that you carefully fill the immigration form and remember to tick the box that says you’re travelling with a pet. The immigration process was very smooth for her and her cat. Compared to the Karachi airport where she was asked to take her cat out of the carrier, in San Francisco no officer checked the paperwork or looked inside the bag. However, they asked Farrukh to toss out any dry food she had with her.
Karachi to Chicago
Naina Jaffer travelled to the US last April and the list of requirements from Turkish Airlines scared her. However, what took precedence was travelling with her fur baby at all costs. Her journey was from Karachi to Chicago.
Jaffer toldImages that her journey started after a visit to the Turkish Airlines office in Clifton, Karachi. She was handed the dos and don’ts of travelling with a cat. At that time, the US removed some of its restrictions on furry friends on flights.
Like Farrukh, Jaffer also required only three items for her paperwork — a pet passport, a health certificate from the vet and a Government Quarantine Certificate. However, she struggled to find a proper carrier and was only able to find a cat backpack at a shop in Karachi called Paws and Claws. All airlines require a soft carrier in-cabin, which is why you must prepare beforehand. Your cat won’t be able to walk around in the backpack, unlike the soft carrier.
She paid Rs45,000 at the check-in counter at Jinnah International Airport for her cat’s flight via Turkish Airlines.
“So with me, I took his food in a Ziploc bag and his bowl of water and treats. I tried my level best to feed him less so that he doesn’t feel like going to relieve himself. I didn’t feed him before the flight as there are chances of your pet throwing up as well.
“I took a cat perfume and catnip spray with me, which I got from Pet Mania. I sprayed some catnip but only a little as he had no previous experience with it. From Karachi to Istanbul, the flight was packed and I couldn’t get a separate seat for him to sit in so he was a little irritated but I kept consoling him,” she said.
“The situation was not that bad. I don’t know about others, but my baby was more curious than nervous. He wanted to explore, which I obviously could not let him do. He tried sleeping but he couldn’t, due to lack of space,” Jaffer shared.
She said that upon landing in Istanbul, she struggled to find the pet relief area that is designated for all pets. She couldn’t find it after searching for a long time and had to head straight to the gate to catch her flight to Chicago. Her cat slept through the 11-hour flight as she had four seats to herself and was able to make space for him.
“I gave him space and he slept. He was tired too. He woke up after some time and I fed him some food. He did a little from time to time but I tried to limit his intake. Then I poured some of the water from my bottle into his bowl and he drank water from it and then slept again,” she said.
Upon reaching Chicago, Jaffer’s trip was over and a new adventure began for her furry friend. She shared that no one at the airport interrogated her, had a look at the documents or took the cat into inspection. Instead, they just went through immigration, grabbed the suitcases and came out of the airport.
Karachi to Kansas
Naba Zaheer took her fur baby to the US in October 2022. She travelled from Karachi to Kansas, a 30-hour journey that may sound stressful but this pawrent was ready to take her cat to her new destination at all costs.
Zaheer told Images that the first step for her to proceed was to check the CDC website to see what’s required in order to take her cat to the US. Luckily, cats don’t require a lot in order to fly with their humans.
The second step for her was to ensure all vaccinations are done and mentioned properly in the pet passport, which Zaheer suggested you must keep safe with you, along with your own documents. Third came microchipping, which cost around Rs3,000, which she got done at Dr Gheewala’s clinic even though it’s not required in the US.
Like Jaffer and Farrukh, Zaheer’s fur baby also got her titer test done, though it’s not a requirement in the US. However, you may be questioned about it by airport authorities in Pakistan. Zaheer got her fur baby tested at Tabani Lab for Rs10,500.
She cautioned that the health certificate from your cat’s vet is valid for 10 days only and must be made according to the date you’re travelling on. It costs Rs3,500.
Zaheer got her cat’s certificate from the Animal Quarantine Department by herself and said that for this step, you’ll have to take your pet along with the documents and the health letter from the vet as the authorities check the pet and then hand over the certificate. She suggested that the best time to go is between 10am and 1pm and that it cost her just Rs125.
“I had a flight from Karachi to Istanbul to Chicago to Kansas and nobody asked me for Luna’s documentation at the Turkish and US airports. However, the customs people in Pakistan are a pain. They didn’t say anything but checked her documents thrice for no reason!” Zaheer shared.
The pet owner said she kept dry food and treats for her cat Luna, but she refused to eat anything. She left a training pee pad in the carrier just in case Luna wanted to use it but she didn’t. Cats have the tendency to get stressed during flights and while travelling, you mat find that your cat is not using the loo, eating or drinking at all and that’s normal.
“During the flight, it is not allowed to take your pet out of the carrier but I got lucky because in all three flights, the air hostesses LOVED Luna and they gave me an extra seat for her and let me take her out during the flight. She is a pretty calm cat so she was chill throughout,” Zaheer said.
She was also able to make use of the pet relief room at the Istanbul Airport and suggested you ask anyone to guide you to the area. She found a litter box and some pet food in the designated room and added that there’s no payment or pre-booking required to use the relief area. However, she shared that despite hearing that there’s a pet relief area in Chicago as well, where she had her stopover, she wasn’t able to find it at the O’Hare Airport.
As an encouragement for all pawrents, Zaheer said, “I just want to say that while the process was slightly exhausting, it is all still worth it. Lots of people in my circle discouraged me from taking my cat but there was absolutely no way I could leave her back. My husband and I, from day one, made all future plans by keeping her in mind because she’s our child and there’s just no way we could leave her behind and I would urge all pet parents to do the same.”
Zaheer paid $250 at the check-in counter at Jinnah International Airport for her flight via Turkish Airlines.
Lahore to Toronto
Instagram influencer Two and a Half Monkeys shared her experience taking two cats from Lahore to Toronto, Canada in October 2022. Like any pawrent, this one was also ready with her research and found Facebook groups an easy source of information to make the final decision on how to travel and which airline to choose.
She and her husband picked Turkish Airlines. The required paperwork was the same as what has been mentioned above and even though it’s not required, both cats were microchipped before they were taken to Toronto.
The cat parent pointed that vaccinations must be up to date as they are the most important thing on your pet’s passport.
A tip that she shared with Images is that one should over-prepare, even if at some point they feel like it’s unnecessary to keep something as simple as rubber gloves.
Essentials to carry:
- Two expandable carriers
- Rubber gloves
- Dignity Sheets
- Ziploc bags
- Food and water dispenser
- Portable litter box
- Litter in a Ziploc bag
- Food in a Ziploc bag
- Piece of your clothing
- Pet remedy spray
- Wet food
After researching, these cat owners had two airlines in mind — Turkish Airlines and Etihad Airways, both of which allow cats in the cabin. However, at the Etihad Airways office they found that the staff didn’t seem to know much about carrying pets and were ridiculing the owner for taking cats in the first place.
“Turkish was an easy top choice. Their staff was knowledgeable, especially this guy called Haseeb who works the night shift in operations at the Turkish office at the Lahore airport, and they were supportive, generally. They have very clear guidelines and explained the entire process super clearly to us when we went to visit them first,” she said.
At the Istanbul Airport, they found Turkish staff and people rather amazing for treating their fur babies with kindness throughout, whether it was the flight attendant or the airport staff.
As for the cats, she shared that both their fur babies were scared upon visiting the pet relief area, perhaps because it wasn’t clean enough and that their pets could sense other pets that visited the place before them. The cats didn’t eat much throughout the flight either and lockable treats were something they were only remotely interested in, that too only during the last stretch of their journey.
“Our experience was smooth at the airports. But the Pakistani staff seemed to demonstrate really no respect for animals. They are not gentle with them. They want us to take them out of their carriers at the first security check and they are mean about it.
“One woman, the one inside the curtain who checks you, told me how ugly and ‘jangli’ [wild] my cat looked. I could only mumble ‘aap ko lag rahi ho gee, merey liye toh sub sey yeh sub sey pyaari hai. Aur kahin sey jangli nai hai [to you, maybe, but for me they are the most beautiful ever and not at all wild]’. I wish I could’ve said more. I was taken aback,” she shared.
Two and a Half Monkeys also said that their cats were being treated as if they were “rare elephants” being transported. Whenever anyone saw them, they would be shocked and ask if they were cats.
Calling their experience rather “stark”, she said the cats were familiarised with their carriers a couple of months in advance and that they tried to get them to sleep in the carriers in order to get them used to it. To lure them in, they’d often add dry kibble, treats and water from the dispenser bowl they bought for travelling.
With two cats comes a hefty cost but this cat parent was ready to pay up, starting with microchipping that cost around Rs3,500 per cat. The rabies test cost Rs5,000 per cat and health certificate Rs12,500. The quarantine certificate cost them Rs1,500 per cat. However, for them, the carriers were their most expensive purchase as it came to around Rs12,000 per cat. In addition, they also got Apple AirTags to attach to the cat’s collars in case they needed to track down the cats if they ran or the carrier was mistakenly placed somewhere. Each tag cost Rs8,000 and a pet remedy spray for Rs4,000.
Two and a Half Monkeys paid $250 per cat at the check-in counter at Allama Iqbal International Airport for their flight via Turkish Airlines.
Lahore to Estonia
Wasma Imran’s pet cat Nimbus is a cat-fluencer of Facebook pet groups since hers was the first post I saw when I began my research in 2021. She travelled with one cat to Tallinn, Estonia in September 2021.
At the time, Imran’s only option was Turkish Airlines as not many airlines offered to take pet cats in the cabin. In her post, Imran wrote, “We flew in business class only for Nimbus. Since you cannot buy a separate ticket for your pet, in economy you don’t have enough space to keep your pet. In business class we had a lot of leg room and lounge access where we could have some private space to open Nimbus for a while too. This doesn’t mean you cannot fly with your pet in economy! You absolutely can.”
She said hers was a 13-hour flight with a four-hour layover in between. Even though she travelled in business class, her carrier was the same size as the one used in economy. She said that though the airline-specified carrier may seem small, cats can easily sit in it. When picking a carrier, she purchased one that expands and allows Nimbus some space during the flight.
“Nimbus was very stressed of course, but one thing we did was that we got him used to his carrier days before flying. [We] just kept it open in the house and he loves getting inside every little thing so he immediately started sitting in it in the day. [We] played with him in the carrier by running our fingers along it for him to follow and grab to build positive association. He loves this game,” she shared.
Imran said that they got foldable food bowls and a litter tray, packed some litter in a Ziploc bag and lined his carrier with pee pads in case he peed. But he did not drink, eat or pee during the flight. She shared that according to her research, it’s suggested that you don’t offer food or water to your cat during the flight as they could get nauseous. As soon as they were at their transit airport, Imran shared that they found a closed space in the lounge and laid out Nimbus’ litter tray, gave him water and treats but he chose to explore instead of eating or using the litter.
“Cats are too stressed in the flight so it’s completely normal, don’t worry. We sprayed Nimbus’ cat carrier with a cat calming spray before the flight. This releases cat pheromones, and Nimbus immediately came inside the carrier when we sprayed it,” Imran said.
She shared that the most stressful bit of their trip was the security checks at the airport where the cat needs to be taken out of the carrier and go through the scanner while the carrier is scanned separately with your baggage. For this, she shared a tip to carry a familiar piece of cloth to swaddle your pet cat in as her cat was still very scared.
“During the flight, we extended our seats to make them into beds and kept Nimbus’ carry under it. The darker the place is, the better your cat feels. Keeping a blanket over the carrier also really helps. During the flight, Nimbus slept for a while too. Initially he was really scared but even in the lounge he was comfortable. Immigration and checks are very, very easy. At the final destination they literally just saw his rabies report and let him go. The staff was super nice to Nimbus, and helped us all along,” said Imran.
Like other cats, Imran’s Nimbus also got microchipped, a rabies titer test and quarantine and health certificates before travelling.
Imran paid Rs36,000 for her cat — Rs6,000 per kg of her cat’s weight — at the check-in counter at Allama Iqbal International Airport for her flight via Turkish Airlines.
Karachi to The Netherlands
Author and journalist Saba Imtiaz took her four-year-old fur baby to The Netherlands via Turkish Airlines in September 2022. Her experience was much like that of other pet parents — her cat refused to eat, use the loo or even sleep for long enough on the flight. She also learned that the Karachi airport staff had no idea that an animal could travel with their human without a boarding pass.
Imtiaz started planning the trip with information from her vet and companies that facilitate pet cargo, even though her cat eventually ended up travelling with her in the cabin. She had a long list of medical requirements to follow to take her cat — microchipping, vaccination against rabies, blood sample after 30 days of the vaccine for rabies titer test, sending the tests to a laboratory abroad and obtaining a stamp of approval and then, after 90 days, your cat is finally eligible to travel.
Imtiaz told Images, “You also need additional certificates and medications from the vet, as well as a Pakistani government-issued health certificate and a document for the EU. I worked with my cat’s vet (Healthy Tails in Karachi) for the medications, vaccinations, testing and certificate, and an agent who facilitated the Pakistani government documentation.”
Her pro tip for those planning to travel with their fur babies to the EU was that one must plan the cat’s travel at least four to five months ahead since there is a three-month waiting period after testing. This is the only way you’ll be able to travel together if you’re planning on taking your cat in the cabin.
She suggested that it would be easier to travel if you had company — even though it was doable alone, she wouldn’t have minded a helping hand.
Imtiaz said her cat was microchipped for somewhere between Rs5,000 and Rs8,000, the rabies titer and cost of lab test abroad was for Rs45,000 and additional document fees were Rs10,000.
Imtiaz suggested that the most important thing while travelling with a cat is to know that they’d have to be taken out of their carrier every time you cross a security checkpoint because the carrier will have to go through a scanner. This means the cat will be in and out of the carrier at least four times on the journey, if not more, and it will not be possible to hold the cat in your arms for a prortracted period since you’ll have to go through a security check yourself.
“I had not considered this, and thankfully I’d done some leash training. However, at airports like Istanbul, the waiting times at security checkpoints are longer and there are a LOT of people, which can be very stressful and overwhelming for a cat. My cat was on a leash and in my arms, but after waiting for a while and amid all the noise and people, he panicked and managed to get loose for a few minutes from the leash, but a very kind officer on duty and I were thankfully able to corral him and get him back into the carrier but it was a very stressful and heart-stopping few minutes (and we both got some scratches),” shared Imtiaz.
As for the carrier, she suggested you follow the airline’s protocol of carrier sizes. Not many are easily available at local stores so you may want to consider buying one in advance abroad or source it from abroad. Prior travelling period, she also suggested you let your cat get familiar with their carrier. Imtiaz also shared that her cat got so used to the carrier that at one point, it started taking naps in it. She even took the cat to the vet in it and it worked out fine.
“I lined the carrier with cat training pads. I also carried a light blanket, a couple of packets of cat food, cat treats, bowls, a toy, and litter,” she said on her flight. “The pads are good as a precaution, though I’d say a water bowl is more essential. Carrying litter was unnecessary because the pet relief area at Istanbul airport has a litter box as well as bowls. There are disposable litter boxes available abroad, so if you do have time/access to shop/order items abroad before traveling, that might be an option.”
She also shared that Turkish Airlines was her top option, mainly because cats can be taken in the cabin, there’s a relief area at the Istanbul Airport and the fact that Turkey is welcoming to cats. She found the staff helpful while booking the flight too. The second option for her was Etihad, however, she chose Turkish over Etihad because there are no designated areas for pets at the Abu Dhabi International Airport.
One important piece of information that Imtiaz shared was that if you plan on travelling with your pet cat, you must book the cat for the entire journey as there’s a limit on how many pets can travel in a cabin, so you want to ensure there’s space for your cat on all legs of the journey. She recommended that you speak to the airline directly when booking the ticket.
Imtiaz shared that her experience was somewhat good in Pakistan since at the security check in some staff were helpful and everyone was happy and surprised to see her cat.
However, at the second security check at Jinnah International Airport, the staff, according to Imtiaz, seemed “confounded by a cat” as they were unable to understand why it didn’t have a boarding pass and asked Imtiaz if the airline knew she was travelling with a cat. Though the matter was quickly resolved, she found that the staff didn’t seem to have a lot of experience.
“Karachi airport’s facilities are not designed for pets or to convenience people in any way. The bathrooms are so small that if you have a carry on and a pet carrier, it’s not very pleasant. Quite honestly, it made me wonder how people with children travel,” she said. “Obviously, there are no places to feed your cat safely or take it to the litter box. The cat carrier was transparent so a lot of people could see I had a cat — it was almost like a fishbowl. My cat got quite anxious seeing so many people, especially when people came up close. I had a light blanket which I used to cover the carrier so he could rest and not be distracted by people and the lights,” she shared.
At the Istanbul Airport, she found the pet relief area a great way to let the cat relax as hers walked around on the leash, used its litter and had some food. She found that no one had any issue with her cat in the carrier while she sat in the lounge.
“I was able to go to the bathroom at the lounge and the bathroom attendant kept an eye on my cat outside. Throughout the journey and all the flights, people were very curious to see a cat and I fielded a tonne of questions and comments and praise for my cat!” Imtiaz said.
She paid Rs25,500 for her cat to travel in the cabin via Turkish Airlines.
Unfortunately, not all airlines cater to people wanting to travel with their pets. Many have the option to take your pets in the cargo hold, but that isn’t an option many pet owners want to avail. The security of having your pet at your feet on the plane is unparalleled.
As travel becomes more accessible to people and immigration more common, it is time for airlines to advance and update their policies, if not from a humane perspective, then from a capitalist one. Why turn away prospective passengers looking to travel with their pets? Airports must also get with the times. If they don’t, the only winner here will be Turkish Airlines and the Istanbul Airport.