Why Preparation is Critical When Flying with a Dog

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Flying with a dog

More and more dogs, cats, and other pets are finding their way onto our airlines than ever before. Delta Airlines alone carries more than 700 emotional support animals per day — around 250,000 annually. But apart from emotional support animals (ESAs), what about those of us who just want to take our dog on an adventure? Dog lovers everywhere consider their pets as more than just pets — they’re part of the family and should get to experience our adventures alongside us.

Traveling with man’s best friend might seem like a great idea, particularly as trends like solo travel and slow travel lead to more people traveling alone and for longer periods of time than the traditional vacation or weekend getaway. With this form of travel, it makes sense that more people would want to take their pets along for the ride — after all, the alternative would be kenneling or getting a pet sitter. Unfortunately, an increasing number of pet deaths pertaining to air travel are being reported — along with situations in which airlines refuse to allow certain dog breeds on board.

Additionally, recent incidents regarding regular pets being masqueraded by their owners as ESAs has caused airlines to push new policies that have outraged flyers and caused a fair amount of online debate. While these events have made it harder for those with true disabilities to fly, it has also made it more difficult for those who just want to take their pet along on a trip.

If flying with a dog is a part of your travel plan, here are a few things to keep in mind to ensure your dog remains safe, healthy, and stable during the trip — and that you’re meeting all of your airlines’ requirements.

Consider If Your Dog Can Handle Air Travel

Remember, your dog doesn’t understand what flying is nor does she have an understanding of what it’ll be like. It could be very stressful for her, especially if your trip will involve more than one stop and layovers between them. If you have a long flight ahead, you might have some difficulty keeping your dog calm (and as we’ll discuss shortly, tranquilizing might not be a solution).

Kenneling your dog while you’re away may be a better decision if a friend or family member is unable to take care of them for you. Just as flying with a dog has certain requirements, so too does kenneling a dog. Once you’ve found a reputable kennel, review their requirements thoroughly as well as its appearance and cleanliness to ensure your day will be safe during her stay. But if flying with a dog is your only option, you’ll have some homework to do ahead of the flight.

Call the Airline Ahead of Time

Not every airline has the same policy when it comes to flying with a dog. Those that do allow it will have specific fees and requirements in order to permit your dog to travel with you. You can review current airline policies and fees here. Make sure you understand these requirements carefully, as fees can be steep and accumulate for each separate flight, and certain dog breeds may not be permitted in the cabin or at all. Those that are will be required to be in a sturdy container that is marked Live Animal with an up arrow and must be carefully stowed under a seat.

Make Sure Your Dog is Health Enough to Fly

Every airline that permits flying with a dog will require a health certificate from a vet proving that it’s in good health, is free of any contagious diseases, and is up-to-date on its vaccines. If your flight is a few weeks or months away, don’t head to the vet too early. Many airlines will require documentation that is no older than 10 days.

Reconsider Tranquilizing Your Dog Before Departure

Tranquilizing or sedating your dog before your flight will alter its equilibrium, which can be dangerous because your dog may not be able to balance well. Also, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the risk of respiratory or cardiovascular problems can increase when an animal is under sedation. Carefully consider the pros and cons of sedation for your dog before taking her with you on a flight.

Certain Dog Breeds May Have Difficulty Flying

Brachycephalic (short-nosed) dog breeds like Boston Terriers, pugs, bulldogs, boxers, some mastiffs, Pekingese, Lhasa Apsos, and Shih Tzus are at increased risk during air travel. These breeds are already often prone to respiratory problems, and changes in air pressure, temperature, and quality can heighten those risks. Additionally, short-nosed breeds can have difficulty breathing when stressed. If placed in a cargo hold or in a cramped cabin, the dog may experience difficulty breathing, and you might not know.

Fly Direct If Possible

Depending on your travel plans, consider booking direct flights to minimize the stress imparted on your dog. Multiple stops, layovers, and other air travel norms aren’t the same for animals as they are for humans. If you’re flying with a dog that has to be checked as cargo, you might not see her until you arrive at your final destination. If you’ll be flying internationally with your dog, it’s important to do your planning well in advance to ensure the safety of your dog as well as compliance with your destination country’s rules.

Whatever your travel plans may be, always ask yourself first: should I really be flying with a dog? While it may be fun to take your dog with you to a new destination, air travel does pose a risk to animals. The good news is that there are experts that can help if you’re unable to handle all of the planning yourself. Pet travel agents are available that can assist with travel plans, assisting with the necessary airline requirements, and even standing by for support.

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