What You Need to Know for Traveling With Your Dog By Plane

Flying with your dog takes some planning. Follow these tips to make sure it goes smoothly.

dogedit  |  Sep 13th 2013

Dogs may have been one of the first mammals in space (remember Laika?), but it doesn’t mean that taking them on an airplane has become any easier. There’s a lot of planning involved with taking a dog on holiday, both mentally and physically. It’s not a choice to be taken lightly, and due to the amount of time that’s needed to plan, it’s often not a great choice for a long weekend away.

If you’re going to take a dog away with you, you need to get ready well in advance. Adding your dog to the family holiday can’t be a last-minute decision.

Here’s what you need to know to have a great time flying with your dog:

First things first: Can your dog fly?

The first judgment you need to make is whether your dog can cope with a plane trip. There are some legal restrictions on dogs flying: The very young and the very old aren’t allowed to fly, nor can pregnant or ill dogs. Some breeds may face particular discomfort when flying, such as those with shorter nasal passages, like Pugs or Boston Terriers. If your dog may safely fly, then you need to judge his mental strength. It will be a stressful time, and if you think he’ll spend the entire journey terrified and whimpering, then leaving him with a pet-sitter, trusted friend, or at boarding kennels would be the kindest thing.

Do your homework

Once you’ve established that your dog will be able to fly, you need to prepare him for his destination. Check what vaccinations he has to have and make an appointment with a vet. This needs to be done around seven to eight months in advance. You’ll need to have a certificate of health, usually verified from around a month before arrival, but some countries demand one as recent as 24 to 48 hours before the flight.

Find an airline that’s happy, and equipped, to take dogs onboard. Some are great, and will have their own pet flying guidelines, but make sure you read reviews and ask around. Read the airline’s policies and regulations as often as possible, as rules can change quickly, and record all conversations you have about bringing your dog, just in case it goes wrong on arrival. It may also be worth bringing a copy of the section of the airline’s policy that covers animal travel, just in case officials aren’t entirely sure.

You’ll also need to get your dog used to the crate he’ll be flying in, so spend lots of time (and treats!) playing in and around it at home. You want to make sure he’ll be happy spending a long time in it, and that he’s comfortable and safe in there. Sedation is a possibility, but you should check with your vet first, as it can sometimes have adverse or stronger effects at high altitudes.

Some airlines will let you transport your dog in a carrier stored under the seat, though these flights are usually limited to domestic journeys. Airlines that do allow pets to travel in the cabin include Air France, Air Canada, Lufthansa, and Swiss Airlines. Others, such as Virgin Atlantic, British Airways, and Qantas, require any animals to travel in cargo. Each airline has individual weight restrictions and crate size requirements, so make sure you read these carefully, especially if you have a larger dog.

Guide dogs and other kinds of assistance dogs are often exceptions: Usually passengers will be given seats near the front, so no matter how big the dog is, he can be kept with his person. However, it’s imperative to check before you travel, as not all airlines will be happy to accommodate this or even think to give extra space for a large dog.

Making the flight easier

Try to choose direct flights, to save your dog from being bundled around between airports, as well as picking flights that won’t land during the coldest or hottest part of the day. There are strict regulations about how long an animal can stand in severely hot or cold weather, and you need to adhere to these.

Choosing the right crate is especially important. It needs to meet regulations set out by the airline, as well as be comfortable for the dog. It isn’t recommended to feed your dog while you fly, to save upset stomachs, and water is best stored as ice cubes. Make sure you have every bit of information attached to the crate, including all of your travel details and a 24-hour feeding plan, as animals and their owners are sometimes transported on separate planes.

On the day of travel

While you should be making the most of your preparations before the flight, there are plenty of things you can do on the day to make the journey as comfortable as possible for your dog. To minimize chances of an upset stomach, don’t feed him for around two to four hours before the flight, though water is fine. Take him on the longest walk you can. A tired dog is more likely to be peaceful (and sleepy) once on the plane than a dog bursting with energy. Most important, make sure you can take him out for a toilet break at the last minute.

Ensure your dog and his crate has plenty of identifying information. Use everything from a collar to a microchip, just in case the two of you are separated.

Know the symptoms for motion sickness. It should dissipate once your dog is back on the ground, but if you’re still worried, get to a vet as soon as you can. The main symptoms of motion sickness include excessive drooling, yawning, whining and crying, nausea and vomiting, shaking, shivering, pacing and unsure footing.

Taking your dog away with you, whether you’re relocating, traveling, or going on a special holiday, can make for the best time away, as long as you make sure you and your dog are both prepared, relaxed, and ready to go.

Now that you’re set, get tips on traveling with your dog: