What to Know Before Flying With Your Pet

Do's and Don’ts at the Airport

On the day of your flight, you should not feed your pet for several hours before the trip, in part because they can experience motion sickness on a plane because they can’t see much of what’s happening around them, Dr. Beaver says. You can give him very small treats along the way as rewards for good behavior.

For very small dogs or those with diabetes or other health conditions, however, consult your veterinarian for specific feeding instructions. You should also talk with your vet about how to handle your pet's water needs during the flight, as every pet is unique and some might require small amounts of water throughout the trip while others could be fine for the full duration.

Allow yourself enough time to get your dog to go potty before going through security, or, if your airport offers a comfort station where your dog can do his business before the flight, leave time to make a stop there before you board the plane. For both cats and dogs, Dr. Beaver recommends lining the carrier with an absorbent pad and bringing extras just in case.

You might have to remove your pet from his carrier so the carrier can go through the X-ray machine. Be sure you have him securely on a harness to do this. In its list of tips, the Humane Society says you can also request a secondary screening that won’t require removing the pet from his carrier.

Other than at security (if required), don’t take your cat out of her carrier at the airport because you’re taking a risk that your kitty will escape and get lost, says Dr. Beaver. She also recommends avoiding taking your dog out of his carrier, to the extent that it's possible, because other travelers often can’t resist the urge to pet a dog and being surrounded by strangers can make a dog very anxious.

“Most of them — if they’re used to being in these carriers — they often will sleep most of the time,” says Dr. Beaver.

Flying in the Cargo Hold

Larger dogs who are not service animals don’t have the option of flying in the cabin with you, so the only option when it comes to air travel is the cargo hold.

Dr. Beaver strongly advises against flying your dog in the cargo hold, and the Humane Society also warns dog owners about the dangers of them being injured, lost or even killed in this situation. There are potential problems with the temperature in the cargo hold, especially it's hot or cold outside or if the flight is delayed.

Still, the Humane Society says the majority of animals do arrive at their destination safely. And sometimes you truly don't have any other choice.

If your only option is to fly your pet in the cargo hold, here are a few things you can do to prepare and protect him, according to the Humane Society:

  • Be sure you have a secure crate.
  • Travel on the same flight as your pet — preferably nonstop. When you board, notify the captain and a flight attendant that your pet is on board.
  • In the summer, choose early morning or evening flights. In the winter, choose afternoon flights. Some airlines only allow pets in the cargo hold during certain months of the year.
  • Be sure both your pet and his carrier have the proper identification and your contact information. Carry a current photo of him with you.
  • Check to be sure he’s OK as soon as you are reunited with him after the flight.

It's also a good idea to talk to the airline about when their staff will have access to your pet and what food and water instructions you can provide for those times.
Like pets who are traveling in the cabin, he should be comfortable with his carrier and shouldn’t eat 4 to 6 hours before the flight. Again, consult your veterinarian to be sure this is best for your pet. You’ll also have to find out from the airline where to drop off and pick up your pet.

If you plan ahead and prepare your pet, you should be able to avoid any issues in your travel together.

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