Air Travel with Your Pet


By Mara Ratnofsky, DVM

The summer vacation season has almost arrived, and with some planning you can make air travel with your pet as safe and stress-free as possible. It is important to note that each airline has its own specific requirements regarding pet travel. These requirements cover everything from the type of carrier in which your pet can fly, to the temperature at which it can fly, its age, breed, and weight. This information is usually available on the airline’s website.


To maximize your pet’s comfort while traveling, make sure he or she is used to the carrier. Several weeks before your flight, leave the carrier out in the main living area of your home. Gently coax your pet into the carrier and then give him or her a treat. You can also try feeding your pet in the carrier to create a positive association. Driving your pet around in the carrier will help him or her get used to the feel of motion and vibration. Exercise or play with your pet before the flight to tire him or her out. Withholding food for a couple of hours before travel can help prevent airsickness and stress-related vomiting, but water should always be available to your pet.


It can be dangerous to sedate your pet for travel, because sedatives can make it difficult for an animal to maintain a normal breathing pattern and normal body temperature. Some airlines actually won’t allow a sedated pet to fly. If you think your pet will be a very anxious traveler, talk to your veterinarian about anti-anxiety medications which will not cause the mental depression that results from sedatives. You can also try pheromone-based preparations or herbal remedies if approved by your veterinarian.


Having your pet fly in the cabin under your watchful eye is obviously safer than having him or her fly unsupervised in cargo. Book your flight early, as there are limits to the number of animals allowed to fly in the cabin. A direct flight will be easier on you and your pet, provided the flight isn’t excessively long. Temperature is another consideration. Although the cabin and cargo areas of the plane are temperature-regulated, your pet may spend some time outside while being loaded onto and unloaded from the plane. Aim for morning or evening travel in the summer to avoid the heat of midday.


It is important to have your pet examined by a veterinarian before you fly to make sure he or she seems healthy enough to endure the stress of travel. Most airlines also require you to have a domestic health certificate signed by a veterinarian within 10 (or sometimes 30) days of travel and to have proof of a current rabies vaccination. The domestic health certificate will state that your pet is free from signs of rabies and other communicable diseases. Often it will also state that your pet must be kept within a certain temperature range. International travel with a pet usually requires a significant amount of preparation and paperwork, so begin your research early. Some countries require that you start the process at least 6 months in advance and that you have a veterinarian certified by the USDA complete your paperwork. Information regarding international travel with pets can be found on the USDA website (

Bon voyage!


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