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Airplane Travel With Your Dog

By Tammy Hunter, DVM; Ernest Ward, DVM

Care & Wellness, Pet Services

I'm planning to travel by air and would like to take my dog with me. What are some of the factors I need to consider before taking my dog on an airplane?

Having your dog accompany you during travel may add enjoyment to your trip. However, it is important to keep your dog's safety in mind when traveling, so be sure to check with the airline well in advance of your trip. Familiarize yourself with the airline's pet travel requirements so that you can avoid a last minute crisis.

For pets that are too large to travel in the cabin, you have two options: checked luggage or manifest cargo. If possible, avoid flying your dog as "checked luggage" during times when temperatures on the ground are likely to be below 40ºF (4°C) or above 80ºF (21°C).  Although ambient temperatures are controlled in holding areas, vehicles used to transport luggage are not sheltered from the elements. When your pet travels as manifest cargo, transport vehicles are temperature controlled and are handled by trained personnel.

"Take direct flights whenever possible and try to avoid connections and layovers."

Take direct flights whenever possible and try to avoid connections and layovers. Sometimes this is easier to do if the travel occurs during the week. This eliminates missed baggage connections and the chance that your dog will be left exposed in extreme weather.

Avoid the busiest travel times so airline personnel will have extra time to handle your dog.

Verify your airline's policy regarding baggage liability, especially with respect to your dog. In some cases, your general baggage liability coverage will include your pet. Check your ticket for liability limits or, better yet, speak directly with the airline. If you are sending an economically valuable pet, you may want to purchase additional liability insurance.

Many airlines will allow one pet to travel in coach and one in first class, with some provisions. Since some airlines limit the number of pets traveling within the cabin area, be sure to book well in advance if you plan to travel with your dog in the cabin. Your dog must be in a standard carrier that will fit under the seat (a collapsible fabric carrier may be suitable), must remain in the carrier during the flight, and must not disturb your fellow travelers. Obviously, only small dogs qualify for this type of accommodation.

 

Are there any special veterinary considerations?

Have your dog examined by your veterinarian in advance of the trip, especially if it has been more than a few months since his last health check, or if your dog has any health problems. Travel by airplane can pose a health risk to dogs with heart or kidney disease, or with some other pre-existing medical problems. Dogs with short faces, such as Pekingese, Pugs, English Bulldogs, Boston Terriers can run into respiratory difficulty in a confined carrier or if they are placed in the cargo compartment of the airplane, especially during hot or humid weather. Discuss these issues with your veterinarian prior to travel.

Purchase any pet supplies that you might need in advance of your trip. These include heartworm and flea preventives or any prescription medications that your dog may require. If your dog is on a specific diet, especially a therapeutic diet, you need to ensure that it will be available at your destination or take along a sufficient supply.

"If you are traveling to a foreign country, you may need to provide a specific international health certificate signed by a government-approved veterinarian or other government official."

Update all vaccinations, especially rabies, and take written documentation with you. A health certificate for your dog may be required by your airline. If you are traveling to a foreign country, you may need to provide a specific international health certificate signed by a government-approved veterinarian or other government official.

The specific requirements for travel vary by country, within North America and to other continents, and it is your responsibility to ensure that you meet all the criteria for your chosen destination. Requirements may include written proof of certain vaccinations, blood tests, or anti-parasitic treatment that has been performed within a specified time period. It may take several days or even weeks to get test results or obtain the appropriate paperwork, so plan well in advance. You can obtain the specific requirements from the consulate's office, or by searching the government website for the destination country. You should also inquire about any quarantine requirements, especially if your destination is an island country.

Also check into requirements for your return trip back to your country of origin.

How should I prepare my dog for the flight?

Make sure the travel carrier has specific feeding and identification labels permanently attached and highly visible. The information on the label should include your name, telephone number, flight schedule, destination, and the telephone number of someone at the point of destination. Do not rely on baggage tags as they may become lost or damaged.

Your dog should wear an identification tag attached to a collar or harness (a harness is preferable since it is more secure than a collar). You should provide a leash with the carrier, for secure restraint in case your dog needs to be taken out of the carrier. All tags should have updated contact information on them so that you or an emergency contact can be reached at all times. For additional security, all pets that travel should be microchipped prior to travel (and you should take a copy of the microchip number with you for reference). For further information on microchips, see the handout "Microchipping Your Dog".

"Do not tranquilize or sedate your dog without first discussing it with your veterinarian."

Do not tranquilize or sedate your dog without first discussing it with your veterinarian. If you feel that your dog needs to be sedated for travel, your veterinarian will advise you on safe medications. In order to determine the most appropriate dose, your veterinarian may recommend giving a test dose of the medication to determine its effect in advance of the trip.

Do not feed your dog within six hours of the flight. You should provide fresh water until flight time. Water should be available in the carrier during the flight whenever possible. Give your dog fresh water as soon as you arrive at your destination.

What do I need to consider when buying a travel carrier if my pet is going to be transported in manifest cargo or as checked luggage?

Your dog's travel carrier will be its "home" for much of your trip. It is important to choose the right carrier. Here are some helpful guidelines:

  • The carrier should be large enough for your dog to stand up and turn around easily, but not so large that the dog will be tossed about inside during turbulence. Crates are available for dogs from two to two hundred pounds. Make sure it is an "airline-approved" crate.
  • If your pet will be traveling in the manifest cargo or checked luggage, the walls and floor of the crate should be strong and waterproof. This will prevent crushing of the walls and leakage of waste (urine).You can place a disposable absorbent puppy-training pad or an underpad designed for bedridden people with bladder control problems in the bottom of the crate.
  • There must be adequate ventilation on at least three sides of the carrier. Holes and slits in the sides are characteristics of a good quality carrier.
  • The carrier must have sturdy handles for baggage personnel to use.
  • The carrier should have a water tray that is accessible from the outside so that water can be easily added when needed. 
  • Always familiarize your dog with the travel carrier before you leave for your trip. Let your dog play inside with the door both open and closed. This will help eliminate some of your dog's stress during the trip.

Pet stores, breeders, and kennels usually sell carriers that meet these requirements. Some airlines recommend specific carriers that they prefer to use. Check with the airline to see if they have other requirements or recommendations.

What about carry-on kennels for my small dog?

Small dogs may be allowed in the passenger cabin as long as the carrier will fit under the seat. Soft, airline-approved, carry-on kennels, sometimes called Sherpa bags, are available. Be sure to check with your airline regarding their specific carry-on policies and requirements. Many airlines allow pets weighing 15 pounds or less to fly in the cabin with their owners. Remember though that this weight includes both the pet and the carrier.

There may be an extra charge to take your dog in the passenger cabin.

What arrangements should I make at my destination site?

  • Make sure that your hotel allows dogs. Many bookstores carry travel guidebooks with this type of information. There are also helpful websites, such as www.petswelcome.com, www.petfriendlytravel.com, www.dogfriendly.com, or www.travelpets.com. Do not try to sneak a pet into a hotel. Not only may you be forced to leave or be charged a financial penalty, you will give the hotel a negative impression of pet owners.
  • If you leave your dog unattended in your hotel room, make sure that there is no opportunity for escape. Leave the dog in the carrier or inside a closed bathroom. Be sure to inform housekeeping personnel about your dog and ask that they wait until you return before entering the room. Use the "Do Not Disturb" sign.
  • Should your pet get lost, contact the local animal control officer. If your pet is microchipped, give the number to them so that you can be contacted directly if your dog is located.

Remember, advance planning is vital to making the trip an enjoyable experience for both you and your dog. By applying a few common sense rules, you can keep your traveling dog safe and sound.

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