For humans and pets, flying is stressful, no doubt about it. But if you are planning to move cross-country this summer or take your pet on vacation with you, flying may be the best way to transport a dog or cat who will fit in a carrier that slides beneath your seat. Here are our best tips to ensure a safe, fear-free and uneventful trip for both of you.
Start preparing now. Making sure your pet is comfortable riding in a carrier is the foundation for everything else.
Your pet’s crate or carrier should be her happy place. If it’s not already, start by leaving it out in a conspicuous area in your home. Let your dog or cat investigate it at her own pace. Encourage exploration by tossing a favorite toy or treats inside it for her to find. Any time you see your pet inside the carrier, praise her and hand out a couple more treats. Feed meals inside the carrier to create an even stronger positive association.
You can also use pheromone products to help your pet feel at ease inside the carrier, both at home and during the flight. Pheromone sprays and wipes made specifically for dogs or cats contain substances that mimic the natural calming or familiarity pheromones that dogs and cats produce and may provide a feeling of security.
What should you look for in a carrier? An important consideration is that it must fit beneath the seat in front of you with your pet inside it. If possible, take it to the airport well before your trip and make sure it fits in the luggage sizers located near the check-in area. Choose one that zips open at the end and at the top to make it easy for your pet to walk inside it or be lifted out of it.
Practice carrying or—if it has wheels—pulling the carrier so your pet becomes used to riding in it. Your presence should add to his comfort level.
Accessories to pack in a carry-on bag are a collapsible silicone dog bowl for dinner and breakfast (if you’re taking a long-haul flight) and a water bottle with a bowl that sits on top. Squeeze it and water fills the bowl; release the pressure and the water drains back into the bottle. Wait to fill it with bottled water until you go through security.
Speaking of security, your dog will walk with or be carried by you through the scanner. Don’t try to send her through the x-ray machine in her carrier! You may be asked to remove the collar and leash so be sure you have a secure grasp on her.
Should you give your dog a tranquilizer or sedative before the flight? It’s not a good idea.
Drugs can have different effects at altitude. Sedatives and tranquilizers can affect equilibrium and blood pressure, especially in snub-nosed dogs or cats. Ask your veterinarian about other products that can help your dog stay calm without those side effects.
What about pottying en route? Airports serving more than 10,000 passengers daily are required to have at least one post-security pet-relief area. Install the free “Where To Go” app on your phone to make finding one just a tap away. If your pet is trained to use a pee pad, bring one to use in a bathroom or other quiet area. If possible, potty your pet before boarding. For long nonstop flights, a diaper can be the best way to contain any urine outflows. Accustom your pet to wearing one well before the trip.
This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.