The decision to fly with dogs is not one that most owners take lightly. Traveling can be a stressful process on the best of days but add in the unfamiliar process of flying your beloved dog with you and the stress level quadruples.
Of course, the biggest question to ask yourself before you decide to fly is if your dog is really up for flying? Certain breeds, like those with short noses (pugs, bulldogs, etc.) are at a higher risk of suffering medical distress during a flight. The same is true of older dogs, and dogs with medical conditions. Given the option, your dog may be better off staying home with a pet sitter or boarded in a kennel. If your dog checks one of those boxes and it is necessary for them to travel you may want to consider finding alternate transportation, like driving if possible. If you think your dog is able to handle flying and staying home isn’t an option, then keep reading.
Leading up to your trip there were so many things to consider. Where are you going? Are you flying domestically or internationally? What time of the year are you flying? How long of a flight is it and are there any connections? What will be involved?
Flying domestically or internationally is a very different experience. If you are flying internationally you will have additional considerations to make like if you need to provide export or import documents, additional health/vaccine/quarantine requirements, size or breed restrictions. Flight length, connections, stopovers, as well as flight embargos. Some airlines do not fly pets during hot and cold seasons. You will have a long list of homework to tend to before deciding to take your dog abroad. As each country has its own specific rules, we will not be discussing them here. Check with the regulating authority of the countries you intend to visit to discover the ins and outs of their rules. One quick but very important note is to research dog foods available in your destination country. Rarely can you bring food from home with you and you will need a backup plan upon landing. Taking your dog on an international flight can be extremely difficult in some circumstances. It is recommended to consult or hire a pet travel company to assist you with these needs.
Flying with dogs domestically is much less of a process, but one that still requires careful planning on the owner’s part. Not all airlines fly pets, and some only do during specifics dates or seasons and blackout dates apply. There may be additional rules as to size and weight restrictions.
Once you have found a pet-friendly airline, usually just a simple phone call to book your pet with you on your trip is required, and a fee to be paid. Pets should be booked at the same time as your ticket to ensure space is available. General airline policies for pets state that they must be safely secured in an airline approved container and be accompanied by a signed health certificate from your veterinarian, dated no later than ten days prior to travel. Some airlines will have additional restrictions on food, water, sedation, and specs as to what they consider airline approved carriers or crates. You will need to check the airline’s website for additional information. If you have a small dog, they may be able to ride in the cabin of the aircraft in a soft-sided crate under the seat in front of you, larger dogs will have to go in cargo.
Reducing stress for you and your dog should be your ultimate goal prior to, and during your trip. The more well informed, organized and prepared you are the better you will feel. For your dog, however, there is a much longer process that needs to take place. Ask yourself, when was the last time Fido was in their crate? If they aren’t used to regularly being in the same crate that they will be flying in, or they are not content and comfortable with being in it, you’ve got some work to do. (This is a great time to research Crate Training 101 and start practicing in the weeks, yes, weeks, leading up to your trip. Your dog will thank you later!) It is imperative for the mental well being of your dog that their crate is their safe haven for the stressful and unfamiliar journey they are about to experience. They will encounter sights, sounds, smells and people they are not accustomed to. This is no doubt stressful for your pup. Their crate should be their protective barrier away from this scary world, so they must first be comfortable in it at home to help get them started on the right track. If Fido can get used to being content in their crate at home, then the transition to the scary airport will be a much easier one for them.
Shortly after your arrival at the airport, you will be asked to put your dog in their crate. If they are flying in cargo, after check-in they will be sent with airline crews to be loaded and will remain in their crate until you pick them up on at your destination. Small dogs going in the cabin will stay with you through security and once boarded the plane will have to be stowed away under a seat for the flight. They will be in their crate for an extended period of time. Again, them being well accustomed to their crate is so important. You do not want Fido to have an anxiety attack and chew through the crate while flying somewhere over Winnipeg on your way to Toronto, all because they only spent 15 minutes in their crate prior to this trip. The last thing anyone wants is to be sitting on the tarmac after you land, the aircrew pops open the hatch and have your dog escape down the runway. For the small dog owners who have Rusty as carry-on, you’re not off the hook either. Speaking from experience, you don’t want to be that person, the owner of the tantrum throwing, howling, yapping little dog stowed under your seat when you still have at least an hour left of your flight.
Now as ridiculous as this may sound, having a pet version of a baby diaper bag with you is strongly recommended. Everything is neatly packed away in your suitcase and nothing is handy when you need it. Taking a pet bag as your carry on makes life in the airport so much easier. Pack an extra leash, poop bags, water dish (you can top up at the fountain), a ziplock or sample-sized bag of dog food, treats, chew, a toy, and paper towels. Paper towels? You may ask? Not everyone is a great flyer, and with so many washrooms equipped with eco friendly hand dryers, paper towels may be a luxury you are wishing you had if you have a mess to clean up in the crate, in which case you may also want to toss in a pair of disposable gloves and hand sanitizer.
Lastly, and this is the absolute most important thing of all, please, make sure your pet is wearing a safe collar and has current, easily legible, ID tags on them. This may mean replacing the old, scratched-off phone number tags they currently have. Replacements can be ordered online ahead of time, at a bargain rate, through numerous websites, or made to order in a rush, in person at your local pet store. This will be the best $12.99 you ever spent. Make sure the phone number on the tag is a number you can reach yourself like a cell phone, or for someone back home who will answer a strange number calling. Better yet, also include a phone number for where you are staying at your destination on a temporary key ring tag (like a friend, family, hotel etc.).
It is so easy for a frightened pet to slip their collar. Even though they know you, a spooked pet may be reluctant to return to you. And while on that note, it is a great idea to have your dogs vet records, microchip or tattoo number and current pictures of your dog, with noticeable distinguishing features saved on your phone or email. It can be accessed remotely for a worst-case scenario lost dog poster or to show crews at the airport. These don’t need to be the super cute “aw, look at my dog laying on his back, watching football with his head on pillow pictures”. These need to be clear face and body shots where your dog’s features are visible and identifiable.
Traveling with dogs doesn’t have to be so bad. Early planning and plenty of organization can make it a smooth process. It can a wonderful thing to travel with your pet. You know exactly where they are, and they are not sad at a boarding facility waiting for your return. Don’t forget to book the pet-friendly hotel and car rental before you leave. Safe travels, friends.