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Should I move my cats from NYC to Chicago by air or car?


Photo of Cat in Soft-sided Carrier

Cat in Soft-sided Carrier

Photo Credit: © iStockPhoto/Sergey Kulikov
Question: Should I move my cats from NYC to Chicago by air or car?

I am planning to move from NYC to Chicago in about a month, and I am finding a lot of conflicting info about how to travel with cats over that long distance. I don't know if I should fly them out there with me, or drive there? Will an airline even allow me to bring a cat on a plane? Do I need to sedate them? Any other precautions I should take? I do NOT want to check my boys as "baggage" and risk their health or well being.

I have moved with them once before but within the city, so transit time was only 30 minutes. This is much more of an undertaking so I am trying to plan accordingly.


It is very difficult to give a definitive answer to this kind of question. It's no wonder you have found conflicting information on the topic, as so much depends on personal details such as

  • Will one or more human companion be moving with you?
  • The Number of Cats to be Moved
  • Chronic Medical Conditions of the Cats
  • Normal Stress Level of the Cats
  • The Cats Normal Reaction to Cat Carriers
To answer your easiest question first, yes, most major airlines have provisions for carrying cats in passenger compartments. There are governmental rules and regulations for this kind of travel, including the requirement for a veterinary examination and certificate of health within 10 days of the travel date. Your best bet is to check its specific policies with the airline you intend to use.

Since cats in passenger compartments of aircraft must be stowed under the seat ahead of you, there will be just enough room for one carrier. That was the reason I asked if other human companions will be traveling with you. If not, there is another option for you, rather than having your cats in the baggage compartment. Pet Airways was introduced as a pets-only air carrier, and the dogs and cats are carried in the passenger compartment with trained flight attendants. Because it is so new, the airports are limited, however both New York and Chicago have airports that Pet Airways uses. The downside is that you cannot travel with your cats, however you may be able to coordinate your own flight through another carrier at the same airport You can learn more in my article profiling Pet Airways.

Do I need to sedate them?

Although mild sedatives prior to air travel once were commonly suggested, the AVMA and the American Humane Association now strongly caution against the use of sedatives and tranquilizers for dogs and cats before flight. From the AVMA web site:

    It is recommended that you DO NOT give tranquilizers to your pet when traveling by air because it can increase the risk of heart and respiratory problems because they are exposed to high altitudes. Short-nosed dogs and cats sometimes have even more difficulty with travel.

    According to Dr. Patricia Olsen with the American Humane Association, "An animal's natural ability to balance and maintain equilibrium is altered under sedation and when the kennel is moved, a sedated animal may not be able to brace and prevent injury."

A possible alternative may be a homeopathic remedy, such as flower essences, however you should clear this with your own veterinarian first.

For more information, see my article on Travel by Air for Cats.

Moving Your Cats in a Vehicle

Moving long distance with cats in a vehicle can be a daunting prospect, as you may have already had a taste of by your local move. It will require frequent rest stops as well as overnight stays. I provided the basics with my article, Travel With Cats by Car.

Commercial Ground Shipping Services

Since I may be planning a similar move in the future, I've started looking into the options, and am leaning toward three different means, two of which involve commercial pet ground shipping services.

  1. Fly Ahead to set up "Safe Room" for Cats
    This may be more ideal, since the cats will need a quiet place to eliminate stress (and possible escape) while the movers are coming in and out with furniture. If at all possible, this could be coordinated so that the movers have already finished by the time the cats arrive. Some commercial pet shippers can also tow a vehicle, so this would help immensely with logistics in the new town.
  2. "Caravan With the Commercial Pet Shipping Vehicle"
    This is a good secondary option, because the cats would not feel so abandoned if I could see them during rest stops.
  3. Fly Ahead to Set up Safe Room, Then Return and Rent a Motorhome
    I like this idea, since a motorhome would be much more practical for keeping the cats comfortable. Comparable costs will be a factor that will help determine my own decision.
I've located a few commercial ground shipping companies which might work for you. I haven't personally investigated any of them, except that they are all approved by the USDA, so you'll need to do your own homework and select the best which might work for you:
  • Pet Chauffeur
    Located in New York, with local and long-distance services.
  • We Move Pets
    Family operated, but licensed throughout the U.S.
  • TLC Pet Transport
    Provides "one-family-only" transportation, for the comfort and safety of cats.

The Importance of Cat Carriers

Regardless of the means of transportation, your cats should be provided safe and comfortable carriers. If they fly with you, they will each have to be in a soft-sided carrier approved by the airlines. For ground transportation, hard-sided carriers would probably be best, as they are more stable, and if large enough, could have room for food & water dishes and a litter box. Even solid-bottom wire crates, such as exhibitors use, would be a good choice. You can find a selection of both airline-approved soft-sided carriers and hard carriers in my Top Picks Cat Carriers page.

Thank you for asking, and I hope to have provided enough information for you to make an informed choice. Be sure to check out the links below for more information on moving with pets.

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