Keeping Pets Healthy While Flying

All you need to know about safely flying with your pet.
By: Billie Cohen

Related To:

Our pets are some of our best friends — that's why so many owners can't imagine traveling without them. Usually, that's an easy fix: Pack the car with a safety harness and some food and water, and you're good to go. But when the trip involves flying, precautions are more complicated. Find out the precautions you need to take to keep your pet healthy while flying.

“The first thing is to decide if you really need to take your animal with you,” said Dr. Kimberly Anne May, a spokesperson for the American Veterinary Medical Association. If the answer to that question is a resounding yes, make sure your pet is microchipped and its tags are up-to-date. Read on for Dr. May's tips for smart and healthy flying with your pet, and then check the AVMA's website and the Catalyst Council for additional information.

Study the Airline's Policies
When you book your reservation, make it clear that you will travel with an animal and read the airline’s specific pet-travel requirements, which can include paperwork, pet-carrier dimensions, animal size and weight and the time of year when animals can travel (summer is often no-fly season because of the heat).
Determine Whether Your Dog Is at a High Risk

Short-nosed dogs — which include pugs, Boston terriers, boxers, bulldogs and others—are known to have respiratory issues even when no air travel is involved. Add a pressurized flight and you could have a problem. “There was a recent study about deaths of dogs on airplanes; these were generally in crates, not in the cabin with people,” said Dr. May. “The study identified the risk factors, and one is that short-nosed dogs have a higher death rate.” As a result, some airlines won't fly those types of dogs. For more info, check the AVMA's website. 

Get a Health Certificate
In most cases, you'll be required to show a certificate of veterinary inspection. The inspection must be done within 10 days of the departure flight. The veterinarian must physically see the animal and will make sure your pet has all vaccinations required by your destination and is healthy for air travel. Dr. May also suggests getting an acclimation certificate from the veterinarian. It’s a general statement that identifies a range of temperatures your animal can be exposed to and which some airlines require. “The things you have to worry about are the tarmac and in cargo; most of the [flying-related pet] deaths you hear about were animals (that were) in the plane, on the tarmac or waiting to be loaded on the plane,” said Dr. May.
Get the Right Carrier
“Owners will be held responsible for the security of the carrier the animal is in,” said Dr. May, noting that there have been reports of animals escaping from poorly locked or just plain shabby carriers. So check with your airline to determine crate requirements, whether your pet is flying in-cabin or in cargo. “If you're going to take them in the cabin, you need to keep them in the carrier for their own safety and the safety of others,” said Dr. May. “It's a good general rule that you should have them restrained; if you hit turbulence and they're out, they could be injured.”
“We don’t recommend sedating pills,” said Dr. May. “The thing to do is talk to the vet, because any sedative could make it hard for [your pet] to balance, and they could injure themselves.” The AVMA recommends using the weeks before your trip to get your animal used to its carrier, since that’s one stressor you can help ease. Dr. May adds that it’s often nice for your pet to have familiar smells inside the carrier, but cautions that whatever you use — a toy, a blanket, etc. — should not cause any additional risk.

Even with all this planning, sometimes your furry friend won’t feel great even after you’ve landed, whether the cause is flight-related stress or a new environment. “Ideally, you want to know of a vet clinic at the destination,” said Dr. May. To find one, she suggests, a site that searches by zip code and also highlights the closest emergency clinics.

With that last piece of info squared away — along with some pre-vacation planning and a trip to the vet — you’ll be well prepared to keep your best friend healthy and happy while flying the pet-friendly skies.

Billie Cohen is a travel writer living in Brooklyn. She's covered the Northeast, the Far East and many places in between.

Next Up

Flying With Pets: New Rules Could Affect Your Non-Human Travel Companions

Traveling with pets can seem like a circus, but knowing what to expect and being prepared well ahead of your flight will make for a smooth trip for both you and your non-human companion.

Show Dogs Take Flight

Go behind the scenes at the 135th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Madison Square Garden.

25 Travel-Inspired Pet Names

Celebrate your love of travel with these adorable dog and cat names.

Gear Up for Pet Travel

Travel Channel's picks for travel pet gear.

Samantha Brown's Pet-Friendly Travel Tips

Whether traveling by car or air, these tips will help make for a great trip with your dog or cat.

Holiday Pet Travel Guide

Whether you’re traveling by air or car, or need a hotel for you and your furry friend, we’ve got tips for a safe and easy trip.

9 Times This Llama Had a Better Vacation Than You

Llama With No Drama gives us major travel goals.

Budget-Friendly Pet Travel

Creative tips for keeping costs down while traveling with your pet.

Tips for Taking Your Dog on a Road Trip

National Dog Day is August 26; here are some important reminders on how to travel safely with your beloved fur baby.

Top 5 Pet-Friendly Towns

Find out Travel Channel's picks for the most pet-friendly towns.

More Creepy Content

Follow Us Everywhere

Join the party! Don't miss Travel Channel in your favorite social media feeds.