Plane Travel with Pets
By Dr. Karen Burgess
Restraint while flying and at the airport
Safety for your pet during a flight is of utmost importance. It is best to avoid extreme outdoor temperatures when flying a pet in cargo. Many airlines will not allow cargo shipment of pets below 40 degrees or above 80 degrees. Animal crates are shipped in cargo, but they may sit on the tarmac or in holding for some time before and after flight. Double check with the airline to insure that your pet is being shipped in a climate controlled region of the plane. Airports will often have designated areas that dogs can be walked outside of the terminal. Pets are usually not allowed out of their carrying cases once within the terminal. It is strongly discouraged to remove your pet from their crate if at all possible as the sights, sounds, and commotion of an airport may frighten them and cause them to act differently than in the comfort of the home. Using a harness instead of a collar is in general more reliable for travel.
Selecting and preparing a crate
While on the flight, whether in cargo or the passenger cabin, pets should be confined to an airline approved carrying cage that allows them to stand up, turn around, and lay down comfortably. Contact your airline prior to travel to confirm acceptable crate size and weight; typical requirements include waterproof bottom, spring locked doors, disabled wheels, no handles, adequate ventilation, and metal hardware. As an added level of security plan on cable tying the crate door closed on the day of travel. Crates will need to be labeled with stickers designating live animal and direction of crate. You should also include contact information and general information about your pet in a protective sleeve (ex. medical or temperamental issues, picture of your pet).
Preparation for airplane travel
The more effort made to prepare for airplane travel the better likelihood of success. Determining well in advance that a pet experiences motion sickness or is frightened by travel can allow ample time to address and even correct these issues. When making flight arrangements research your airlines pet policy clarifying weight, size, and temperature limitations. Avoid flights that have layovers, connections, or a high likelihood of delays.
Now, even if future travel is not anticipated, get acclimated to the crate and car rides
Acclimating your dog or cat to their carrier or crate in a stress free time can lay the groundwork for potential future travel. Leaving your carrier out for general exploration is a good idea. Periodically put a treat or special toy in the crate for your pet to discover. Feeding your cat or dog in the crate can also help create positive feelings. Acclimate to car rides by periodically take your pet to the car and allowing them to get in and out giving verbal and treat rewards simultaneously. Assuming your pet is not showing signs of distress start taking them for short rides (ex. pull out of the garage and then back in, pull out of the driveway and then back in, drive around the block, etc.) always providing rewards. If your pet becomes nauseous, contact your veterinarian to discuss potential treatment options moving forward.
Continue desensitizing your pet to the vehicle. Ensure that you have proper identification in the form of a secure collar and tag. Contact your microchip company and confirm that all contact information is up to date. Schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to update vaccinations, obtain health records, and a health certificate if required. Check supplies of medication (flea/tick, heartworm, etc.) and obtain any necessary refills. Research your destinations finding appropriate lodging. Determine where emergency veterinary hospitals are on your route in case urgent care is required. Contact your airline and confirm necessary travel information for your pet and carrier size.
Check supplies of dog food necessary for travel. Consider whether bottle water would be helpful to bring. Pack your pet’s carry bag including food, dishes, leashes (bring an extra), plastic bags for cleanup, toys, bedding, litter and pan for cats, medications, medical records, and first aid kit. Print out airline pet policy information to have on hand in case there are any issues on arrival at the airport. Ensure that all supplies and paperwork required by the airline are in order.
Day of travel
Do not feed your pet six hours prior to travel. Plan on taking a break prior to entering the terminal to allow your pet to stretch, eliminate and drink. Always leash your dog prior to opening the car door. Identify pet friendly break spots and always clean up after your pet. Provide fresh water in the crate if allowed by the airline (hanging water bottle or non-spill crate crock with frozen water).
What if a pet experiences motion sickness?
Motion sickness can have medical and psychological origins. Slow desensitization can dramatically help. In addition there are several over the counter and prescription medications available for motion sickness that can be discussed with your veterinarian. Sedation for flights is typically not recommended and may even be prohibited by the airline. It is better to allow your pet to cope as they normally would in their crate.