Just the thought of putting your pet in the cargo compartment of a plane for a flight can be very terrifying and stressful, and this is just what you are feeling. Imagine what your pet is feeling, especially if they are not seasoned flyers. Let the following information be a good starting point in your research on how to safely fly with your pet. Gathering as much information as possible, and preparing yourself and your pet ahead of time will do wonders for your peace of mind and also ensure that your pet has a safe, if not enjoyable, flight.
The first step in preparing to travel with your pet is making sure that they will be comfortable during the flight. Some pets get very stressed and have a hard time flying. Panting and crying are signs that your pet is uncomfortable flying. If your pet is uncomfortable flying the best option would be to leave them at home with a caretaker if possible.
If you are lucky and have a small dog, they may be allowed in the cabin with you during the flight. But, it is always best to check with your airline ahead of time so you can know for sure if your pet will be traveling with you in the cabin or down below in the cargo hold.
If leaving them behind just isn’t an option then you can start by getting your pet acclimated to the carrier that they will be traveling in. If your pet has never been in a carrier before, it will be an uncomfortable new experience for them so it is best to get them used to it ahead of time. Putting blankets and treats inside the carrier will help to get them inside at first. Once they are inside start by leaving them there for a short period of time, and slowly increase the amount of time that you leave them in the carrier until the amount of time equals how long they will be in the carrier during the flight. For pets that have never been in carriers this process can take weeks, so it is best to start well ahead of time.
Most airlines do require a certificate of good health from a certified veterinarian no more than 10 days old.
Also make sure that the carrier is well ventilated so that the pet can breathe easily and it will make them feel less confined. Also make sure that the carrier you get is durable and can withstand a decent amount of weight on top of it. That is because in the cargo hold, where many of our pets travel, it is not uncommon for luggage or other pet carriers to be stacked on top of each other. Picking a carrier that can withstand weight on top of it will ensure that the carrier does not collapse on top of your pet. Also, and this is something that many airlines will require, is to get a carrier that has food and water dishes attached to the inside, but are easily accessible from the outside. This is so that the airline employees can easily give your pet food and water before take-off and during the flight. To be safe it is best to write on all sides in big red letters “live animal”, so that the airlines employees are notified and take extra care while handling the crate. Written instructions for food and water should also be attached to the door of the carrier. It is also recommended to write your name, address and other contact information on the carrier in case your pet does become lost. Carrying a photo of your pet on your person also helps. Also be sure that the door latches securely so that your pet does not get out on the plane, or even worse, in transit between the plane and the airport.
Be sure to alert the airline ahead of time that you will be traveling with a pet because some airlines only have a limited amount of space for pets in the cargo hold. Another thing to be aware of is the time of the year you are traveling and the locations you are traveling to and from. Airlines have varying regulations on the outside temperature of the location you are taking off from or landing to. They will give an approximate waiting time of 2 hours between the runway and the terminal. In this amount of time, if the temperature is above 75 degrees Fahrenheit or below 45 degrees Fahrenheit, the airline will not be accepting pets for the flight. This especially holds true for people flying to a majority of tropical destinations in Mexico, or for snowbirds flying out of somewhere where it is cold and there is snow.
Be sure to not feed your pet at least 6 hours before the flight, otherwise they may very well be swimming in their own vomit during the flight. If you are traveling internationally be sure to inquire if there will be any sort of quarantine on your pet when they arrive at the destination or when they arrive back in your home country. Also try not to book a flight with your pet over holidays or weekends, and they will be stuck in the carrier for a much longer period of time, and also try to schedule a nonstop flight to decrease the odds of your pet being lost in transit.
Lastly, but most importantly, TRANQUILIZERS ARE NOT RECOMMENDED. Despite what you hear, you should not attempt to give your pet medication that will put them to sleep for the flight. Between the velocity that the plane is traveling at, as well as the altitude, putting your pet to sleep using medications may cause serious problems and even death. And the last place to experiment with these types of things is on a flight where you are not with your pet to know if something is going wrong. There are certain limited circumstances where your pet can be medicated but it is best to check with your vet first, and even get a second opinion. Besides medications there are certain nutritional supplements that have anti-anxiety effects. These may work for your pet, but as with the medications, it is always best to check with your vet beforehand.
In the end if you are able to leave them at home for your trip, leave them at home. If you cannot leave them at home, but it is possible for you to drive with your pet to your destination, then drive. If neither of those options are available and flying with your pet is necessary, then simply educate yourself, talk to your vet, research various airlines to see which is the most pet-friendly, and prepare yourself and your pet in advance. With careful planning and due diligence your pet will arrive safely at its destination.