When Pets Fly – How to Ship Your Dog or Cat by Airplane

Things can get pretty crazy when pets fly. 

For starters, the thought of Fido or Fluffy getting tossed around like baggage, or even worse, getting lost like baggage, turns many pet lovers away without a second thought. But what if flying is your only option?

Shipping an animal by air is still an expensive, nerve-wracking and sometimes dangerous experience for pets and their parents alike. But doing it the right way, with minimal impact on our canine or feline companion, is the only way for responsible pet lovers like you and me.

Here are seven safeguards to help you understand the pet shipping process from nose to tail.

1. Bring Your Pet as a Carry-On If Possible

If your pet is small enough to fit beneath an airplane seat, it’s likely that you can bring your pet on-board with you. Not only is this often cheaper, it’s much more relaxing for your pet. To bring your pet in-cabin you will need to have a soft or hard pet kennel that is approved by the airline and small enough to fit beneath the seat in front of you. You may want to bring treats to soothe your dog or cat if he or she gets scared.

2. Choosing the Right Crate

Shipping a pet with air cargo requires a hard plastic crate that is large enough for your pet to sit, stand and lie down in comfortably. When pets fly it’s possible they will be inside this crate for hours. You should ensure that your pet can stretch out inside it.

Avoid the temptation to choose a smaller crate since airline ticket charges are usually based on weight rather than size. Crates are often sold at the airlines for last-minute travelers. I recommend you purchase your crate well in advance from a pet supply store, shelter or veterinarian. Let doggie or kitty get used to the enclosure in a more gradual and pleasant way.

3. Creating a Safe Space for Your Pet

Once you have found the appropriate crate for your pet, you should make it as safe and comfortable as possible. The outside of the crate should be marked clearly as containing a live animal and you may want to include a sign that says that your dog is friendly and not dangerous.

  • Attach a bag of food to your pet’s crate. This will encourage the airport staff to feed it if there is a delay.
  • Place a warm blanket, such as fleece, at the bottom of the crate for comfort and warmth. Air cargo compartments get quite cold.
  • Give them a soft chew toy for comfort, especially if it’s a long flight.
  • Attach a water bottle to the crate for your pet to drink from. The up side down, no-drip spigot, clipped to the cage bottle is your best bet.

4. Getting Your Pet Checked Out and Checked In

Cats and dogs flying on a plane are required to have a health certificate within ten days of their flight. This certificate can be purchased from any vet and is necessary to ensure that your companion is healthy enough to endure flying. Your vet will check your cat or dog’s heart and lungs to make sure they can withstand the stressful environment of a flight.

Each airline has their own rules and procedures for shipping pets. Some appear to want our business more than others. Here are Google’s top searches for airlines that ship pets, beginning with the paid ads:

5. Sedating Your Pet May Help

Sedating your dog or cat with strong prescription drugs may lower your pet’s heart rate and slow breathing, which can lead to death within a plane’s cargo. But fortunately, if your dog or cat does well under the “relaxed alertness” of a mild, herbal calming formula, you will want to give the full recommended dose before leaving home.

6. Walk/Run Your Dog Directly Before the Flight

Walking your dog directly before their flight is absolutely essential. It’s very likely your dog will be spending at least a few hours inside their crate both before and after the flight. He or she could also experience delays during layovers, or simply miss a flight. Walking your dog will alleviate at least some of the potential discomfort in an unfamiliar, unfriendly situation.

7. Pick Up Your Pet Before Your Baggage

Your baggage can wait, but your dog or cat cannot. The great majority of injuries and deaths that occur when pets fly do not happen in the air, but instead at the airport itself. Hundreds of animals every year are lost at the airport or injured while waiting for their owners to claim them. Picking up your pet as soon as humanly possible will minimize the possibility that your dog or cat will get lost, injured or killed.

A dog or cat should never be shipped by plane if at all possible. Every year, when pets fly, dozens of dogs and cats are accidentally killed and hundreds are injured. Traveling by car, train or even boat is usually much safer for your pet and gives you the ability to keep them calm in transit. Unfortunately, there are some times when plane travel is necessary. During those times, it’s important to follow all necessary precautions to protect our precious pets.

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