CVMA | Documents | Safe Air Travel for Pets

Safe Air Travel for Pets

October 23, 2012

As a rule, pets travel very well but air travel can be very stressful and traumatic. In order to minimize this, some guidelines should be followed.

The hazards of air travel are usually not in the actual flying, but rather during the down time when your pet is being loaded or unloaded from the airplane, or when it is waiting. Delays can result in extra time spent on the runways before takeoff or after landing. At these times the cargo holds are not pressurized and the surrounding temperature can vary from very hot to very cold. In fact, because of this, some airlines will not permit pets to fly during certain times of the year. For this reason, it is best to contact your airline and make sure that no risk is involved and that they will accept your dog on the flight.

If your pet is small enough, some airlines will allow you to take your dog or cat on board, provided that the carrier fits under the seat in front of you. Check with your air carrier.

It is also a good idea to have your pet examined by your veterinarian prior to departure to ensure that it is in good health and able to endure the rigours of air travel. Tranquillizers and sedatives are not usually recommended for pets except on the advice of your veterinarian. This is because sedation can result in serious complications. For example, it can inhibit your pet's ability to regulate its body temperature or cause breathing problems. 

For the actual flight, make sure that your dog is secure in an approved carrier, purchased either from the airline, a pet store or an animal hospital. Introduce your pet to the crate several weeks before departure to get him or her accustomed to it. Ensure that all the screws on the crate are secured and tight.  Carriers should be labelled "Live Animal" and "This End Up" in letters at least 3 cm. high.  Also tape some identification (name, address, destination) to the crate. Ensure that fresh water will be made available to your pet at some time during or after the flight.

It is best to travel in off-peak hours and on non-stop flights. Ideally, your dog should be last on and first off. Notify the flight attendants that you have a pet on board just in case there is a flight delay.