With vacations and the holidays comes fun, excitement and a chance to get together with family and friends. But as many of us know, they can also bring pressure, tension and chaos; particularly if we’re flying. We’re reminded of this during peak travel times with the now expected television coverage of busy airports and frustrated travelers. But there are some travelers that never make it to the screen. As a matter of fact, you won’t see the majority of them in the airport.
Our pets become members of our family. And just like we may not want to leave our children with a babysitter when we travel, many of us feel the same way about our pets. While millions of pets fly safely each year it is a bit more complicated than just checking luggage. These basic tips, and things to avoid, will hopefully give you a better understanding of what flying with a pet entails.
No matter what kind of pet you have, it’s important to take the right steps in advance so you both can enjoy a safe, comfortable and stress-free journey.
Not all airlines are not created alike. However, national standards regarding pet travel and safety are in place. When making your reservation make sure to look in to the airline’s safety record for transporting animals as well as any pet transport policies they may have. For instance, some will not allow snub-nosed dogs to fly in the cargo hold. The Federal Animal Welfare Act also has restrictions for traveling pets. Dogs and cats must be at least eight weeks old, and weaned for at least five days, and must not be brought to the airline for shipping more than four hours before departure.
If your larger pet will be flown in the cargo hold make sure to book a direct flight and fly on the same plane as your pet. Also make sure to check the size of the carrier that will be allowed on board if you’re traveling with a smaller pet. And remember, pets don’t fly for free so take that in to consideration when booking your flight.
Most every airline in the world requires a health certificate signed by a veterinarian before allowing a pet to fly. This will entail a basic examination by your vet who will also make sure your pet is up to date with vaccinations and is healthy enough to fly. It’s important to note that most airlines will only accept health certificates that are ten days old or less so make sure to time the check-up accordingly.
Individual airlines have specific policies regarding regulation carriers but minimum standards have also been set by the FAA and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. When in doubt, contact the airline and ask to speak to a pet transport specialist.
Most but not all airlines will allow smaller pets in the cabin as long as the carrier can fit under the seat. Carriers must have a waterproof bottom, adequate ventilation and a secure, spring loaded, all around locking system. There are new soft sided carriers that meet requirements, fit well under a seat and are a good choice for smaller pets.
When choosing a carrier remember that your pet will need to be able to stand fully erect, walk a “figure eight” when inside and lie down completely. Larger pets must be kept in their own carrier. But two smaller pets, those under 30 lbs., can share the same carrier as long as they are the same species. Of course, you’ll want to make sure they get along. To be on the safe side I recommend that each traveling pet have their own carrier.
If your pet needs medication bring it with you. It will be affixed to the carrier by airline personnel. On the outside of the carrier you will also want to make sure to attach, or use a permanent ink pen to write, your contact information, your pets name, any special feeding or medical instructions, its microchip ID number and the hot-line number for the microchip company.
Bring a detachable food and water container that can be attached to the inside of the gate or door. A good tip is to freeze some water in the container the night before to reduce the chance of liquid water spilling. Make sure your pet is wearing its collar and ID tag and take precautions if the tag could get caught anywhere within the carrier. And don’t forget the pee-pee pads!
One of the most important things we can do in advance of our pets flying is to make sure they’re accustomed and comfortable in a carrier. The goal is for them to not look at the carrier as punishment but as a “safe place.”
If your pet hasn’t yet be introduced to a carrier, begin getting it acclimated at least three weeks before your journey. Start by placing your pet in the carrier every day at feeding time with the front door removed. To get them to stay inside place their food and water in the rear of the carrier. Eventually you will begin closing the door during feeding and gradually increasing their time in the carrier. Place their blanket in the carrier and a favorite toy if they are not excessive chewers. A good idea is to also cover the carrier with a blanket. I recommend covering the carrier when you arrive at the airport to cut down on the visual stimulation and keep your pet calm so it’s a good idea to practice at home.
When training your pet to be comfortable in its carrier, don’t give in to the occasional whine or fussiness. And above all else, work to teach your pet that their carrier is a good place to be and use positive reinforcement throughout the process.
As you get closer to your trip you’ll want to help prepare your pet with a few simple steps.
Pets travel better on an empty stomach so avoid big meals prior to departure. The last feeding for your pet should be no more than six hours before your flight and consider feeding moist food which will help with hydration. Trim your pet’s nails in advance and, for dogs, I suggest giving them as much exercise as you can prior to departure to tire them out and encourage sleep during the flight.
And just like during the carrier training process, use positive encouragement on the way to the airport and prior to departure. If your pet will be flying in the cargo hold, try not to make it feel anxious with a long goodbye. Being in the carrier is a good thing, right?
We all have stories about how our luggage ended up on one side of the country while we’re on the other. When you consider how many people fly it’s amazing the missteps are as few as they are. That’s why it’s important to control the things we can control. By counting on the airline to have food and water containers, labels to write your contact information or absorbent mats, you run the risk of your pet not being able to board the aircraft. Taking care of everything in advance will help insure your pets safety and provide you with peace of mind during the flight.
I am against sedating pets for travel and here’s why. Side-effects. Any time we take a drug, or give one to our pets, there is always the possibility of a side-effect. Airlines are not responsible should something happen to our pets while they are flying so it’s a much better choice to not take the risk. The only exception is if your veterinarian has prescribed a sedative and has a good reason for doing so.
Flying with a pet is more than just putting it in a carrier and hoping for the best. They aren’t luggage. Take the time to prepare your pet for its time in the carrier and purchase all the necessary items that will keep your pet safe and healthy. While the airlines have instituted a great many safeguards, don’t be afraid to ask a representative any questions you may have. Most have dedicated pet travel specialists and they’ll be happy to give you the requested information.
Like most any parent will attest to, the first time you leave your child in the care of a baby-sitter can be a nerve-racking experience. And the same can be true for turning your pet over to airline personnel. Some of the ways you can alleviate the stress is to make sure you’ve prepared everything you can in advance, arrive at the airport with plenty of time to spare and do your best to relax. You can also ask an airline representative if you can watch your pet being loaded and unloaded from the cargo hold if it won’t be flying with you. I also suggest mentioning to the flight attendant that your pet is on the flight. The chances of anything happening to your pet during a flight are low, especially considering how many pets fly successfully each year. But the more active you are in your pets flying experience the less worry you will have.
I find that making a checklist of things I will need to fly with a pet is a real help. The last thing we want is to be half way to the airport only to remember something we forgot to bring. Here is a list of some of the suggested items you’ll want to have.
- Leash and Collar with contact info affixed (Do not leave the leash in the carrier)
- A photo posted on the carrier and in your wallet in case you are separated with your pet
- Blankets and absorbent pads for the carrier
- A label to be affixed to the outside of the carrier with your name, your pets name and contact information
- Any needed medication
- Food and water containers to be attached to the carrier
- Health Certificate. One for the airline and a copy for yourself.
- Microchip ID Information
Oh…and don’t forget your pet!
As pet owners we can all list the great things our animal friends provide us with. Fun, companionship and loyalty are just a few. But there is another benefit to having a pet and that is the responsibility they demand from us. Our pets can’t tell us when they’re thirsty so we make sure they always have clean water. Our pets can’t tell us what’s exactly wrong with them so we take them to the vet to find out. In essence, our pets are reliant on us to take care of them.
But it is that very responsibility that can also provide the most joy. That’s why we get up at 4 in the morning if they need to go outside. That’s why we walk our dogs in the rain, buy our cats their favorite toys and do everything we can to make sure they’re happy and healthy. It’s also why if we choose to travel with our pets we take all the necessary steps and precautions to make sure our pets are comfortable and kept as safe as possible.
Because if we don’t do it….who will?
More expert advice about Traveling Cat Owner
Photo Credits: Louis Vuitton Dog @ Atatürk Airport By Flickr: lrumiha; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas - Fotolia.com