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Traveling with Your Pet: In the Air

by Dr. Jean Hofve, DVM

Many dogs love to ride in the car, but some dogs, and most cats, do not. Even pets who enjoy the car may not do as well on very long trips. Air travel may get the trip over faster, but it can be extremely stressful for your pet. Traveling with pets can be a hassle, but good preparation will ease the stress for everyone.

General Travel Info:

All traveling pets (even close to home) should wear a collar or harness with current ID tags. If you haven’t already done so, consider micro-chipping your pet. (Rumors about microchips causing cancer are greatly exaggerated). Be sure the chip is registered and kept up-to-date in an appropriate database, and bring the chip number and registry contact information with you in a separate pocket or purse.

If you will be crossing state lines on your trip, you are legally required to have a current domestic health certificate for your pet(s). This requires examination by an accredited veterinarian within a certain time frame (typically 10-30 days). Each state has its own rules, so be sure to ask the states you’ll be traveling to (or through) for their requirements. A list of state veterinarians, with contact information, can be found online at the Vet World website.

If you’re traveling outside the U.S., a special USDA-issued international health certificate is necessary. It’s best to contact that country's consulate or embassy for the most up-to-date information. Most countries require a current rabies vaccine; many require a microchip; and some impose a quarantine. A list of consulates can be found online at the U.S. Department of State’s website. 

Air Travel

Most airlines (and most U.S. destinations) require a current health certificate, as described above. Contact your destination state and carrier for specific requirements.

"Envision a world where pets fly as family members." Having trouble seeing such a place? Animal Airways and their Terminal 4 Pets is trying to change that negative stigma. Together, the companies' version of the flying-with-animals-experience includes services like veteran pet travel agents, professional couriers and escorts and, now, veterinarians in 10 languages on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Pet Airways is definitely worth checking out for pets who must travel by air. On this pets-only airline, animals travel in a pressurized cabin with a human attendant who checks them frequently. Prices are reasonable, and more destination cities are being added all the time.

In the Cabin

On domestic flights (except to Hawaii), a limited number of pets may be permitted in the cabin. Reservations are required, and there will likely be a significant extra charge. There is usually a 20 pound total weight limit for both the pet and the carrier. For in-cabin flight, you can use a sturdy fabric carrier that will fit under the seat.

Other items to bring along include your pet’s favorite treats and toys, a harness and leash, pet-safe cleaning wipes, and holistic remedies for anxiety and motion sickness. See the list below and our Travel Checklist for more details.

In Cargo

If your pet must travel in the cargo bay, there are some additional considerations:

• Your pet must be secured in an appropriately-sized hard case, with filled food and water cups.

• Freeze the water in your pet's travel carrier dish to help your pet stay hydrated longer. (Add flower essences to the water before freezing for a constant source of comfort!)

• Do not tranquilize pets in flight! Tranquilizers impair the body’s ability to regulate its temperature—a potentially fatal problem. Use natural remedies such as flower essences, homeopathics, or herbs (see below) instead.

• Carry a leash with you so that you can walk your dog (or—if your cat is used to it—use a kitty harness and leash) before you check in and after you arrive at your destination. For your pet's safety, do not put the leash inside the carrier with the animal--it could become tangled or stuck, or your pet may chew on the leash.

• In warm weather, book a non-stop flight early in the morning or late at night when temperatures are cooler. In cold weather, consider a microwaveable heating pad to place under the carrier bedding.

• Use a permanent marker to label the kennel with your pet's name, the words "LIVE ANIMAL" (or use a pre-printed sticker). Add a tag with your contact information, both in route and at the destination. Use tape or paint to make the kennel uniquely identifiable and easy to spot.

• Once you board the plane, ask a flight attendant to confirm that your pet is safely in the cargo hold. The flight crew will have access to the manifest and other documentation to confirm this for you.

We also suggest that you consider bringing the following:

Here are some resources with great information on pet-friendly hotels, travel tips, and more:

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The articles and information in the Holistic Healthcare Library are presented for informational purposes only and are not intended as an endorsement of any product. The information is not intended to be a substitute for visits to your local veterinarian. Instead, the content offers the reader information and opinions written by our staff, guest authors, and/or veterinarians concerning animal health issues and animal care products.

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