He loves exploring new sights and smells and he's thrilled to go wherever you go. An open car door is an invitation to an adventurous road trip. Your dog seems to be made for the jet-setting life. Or is he? Before booking that flight and packing a doggie knapsack, take time to consider all aspects of your dog's temperament and your trip plans.
A nervous or skittish dog is not a good candidate for airplane travel. If your pet is upset by loud noises, needs to be in the security of your lap when encountering new situations or barks excessively, a plane trip might be too stressful. If you are the parent of a short-nosed dog, such as a Boston terrier, shih tzu or Pekingese, the Air Transport Association of America and the American Veterinary Medical Association recommends he not be subjected to the high altitudes of flight since his ground-level breathing problems will only be exacerbated. Many airlines refuse to transport short-nosed breeds as well as any dog less than 8 weeks old.
Consider also your itinerary once at your destination. If you're planning walks in the woods with your "best friend" trotting by your side, or if he can look forward to receiving lots of attention from his "grandma" -- perfect. If, however, your traveling companion will likely spend most of his time in hotel rooms waiting for you to return from sightseeing, he's probably better left at home with a loving caregiver.
So far so good? Then read on for the top five tips you should know before heading to the airport.
5: Book Your Flight Early
When it comes to flying, you're in luck! While big dogs are required to fly either baggage or cargo, smaller breeds have the benefit of being allowed to fly in the passenger cabin. To take advantage of this perk, make a reservation for yourself and your pet well in advance. Most airlines limit the number of small animals allowed in the passenger cabin. If you're flying overseas, check the regulations of the destination country. Many countries require special health certificates as well as mandatory quarantine, which can last from 30 days to six months, and may defeat the purpose of taking your pet.
The airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have strict guidelines for animals in the passenger cabin. Booking your flight early will give you time to brush up on the FAA rules as well the specific requirements of your airline. The American Kennel Club also lists requirements by airline.
Most airlines consider your pet part of your carry-on allowance, so keep this in mind as you pack and decide what to take on board. In most cases, you will also need to pay a fee for your jet setter. Fees can range from $60 to $250 each way for domestic flights.
4: Get a Vet Check
A check-up at the vet is a good idea before a flight. Not only will this make sure your pet is in great health and that all her vaccines and rabies shots are up to date, but your vet can provide you with a health certificate that you may be asked to produce by the airlines. Certificates often need to be obtained within 10 days of the flight.
Dog owners worried about nervous Nellies should ask their vet about sedation. The American Veterinary Medical Association does not recommend dogs be given sedation drugs prior to flying in most cases because these drugs can affect balance and equilibrium. If a drug is recommended, however, Elisa Mazzaferro, director of Emergency Services at Wheat Ridge Veterinary Specialists, in Wheat Ridge, Colo., suggests trying a dose at home before traveling to make sure there are no adverse affects. She also cautions to stay away from over-the-counter drugs unless prescribed by a veterinarian.
3: Prepare Your Small Dog
The FAA requires your pet be confined to an airline-certified pet container, which will be small enough to fit underneath the seat and have a waterproof bottom. Your airline can give you the specific measurements. Pets must remain in a carrier for the duration of the flight. It's a good idea to trim your dog's nails to prevent painful breakages if he scratches at the crate door.
If your dog is not used to a crate, now is the time to show him what a great place this temporary home can be. Start by tossing treats into the crate for your dog to run in after. Don't forget to make a fuss over how smart and wonderful he is. Once he feels comfortable in the crate with the door open, try closing the door for short periods. Extend the length of crate time as your dog becomes used to the idea. Continue to create wonderful associations with treats and special toys. And don't forget a comfy blanket.
For flying waterproof, purchase a bellyband -- a small diaper for dogs. If it's a long flight, consider inserting an absorbent pad in the carrier.
Make sure all your dog's identification tags are up to date, and if you haven't already, consider a microchip, a tiny transponder the size of a grain of uncooked rice, which a vet inserts under the skin. If the unthinkable happens and your pet goes astray, a chip scanner can retrieve information about your dog and who to contact.
Don't forget that there will be people on the plane who may not be dog lovers. Make sure your pet is odor-free and well-groomed to cut down on dander that may cause allergic reactions in other passengers.
2: Get Ready for Take-off
The last couple hours before flight time can get hectic when traveling with a dog, so here's a pre-boarding checklist:
- Feeding: A full stomach right before a flight could make your dog uncomfortable or even nauseated, so give your pet a meal about four hours before takeoff. Water can be given right up until flight time.
- Exercise: Give your dog a good workout before you leave home. Once at the airport, have a leash handy to walk off some more of that doggie energy.
- Last Pee Break: Find a place to let your dog answer the call of nature one last time before boarding. Petflight.com has a listing of airports with the locations of their "potty places."
- Security: The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) requires pets go through security checkpoints just like their owners. You may be asked to walk your dog through the metal detector. If for some reason your dog won't or can't do this, security personnel will perform a visual inspection or ask that the crate (but never your dog) be put through the x-ray machine.
Once you're on the plane, your dog must remain confined to his carrier and under the seat in front of you for the remainder of the flight. Do not put food and water into the crate for travel. Food can make your dog sick and water will cause a soggy mess as the crate moves. During the flight, ask for ice cubes from the flight attendant to give to your dog for hydration.
1: Help your Dog Adjust on Arrival
You've arrived! Now what? With all the passengers converging in the aisles and grabbing bags from overhead bins while punching numbers into their cell phones, it's important to remain relaxed and calm so your dog will follow your lead and not become stressed. Once some of the crowd has dispersed, take the crate out from under the seat. Your pint-sized travel companion may be anxious to get on firm ground, but FAA regulations require that you keep your pet in the carrier until you are through the gate and on your way to baggage claim. Many airports allow owners to let their pets out of the carrier to be walked around on a leash at this point.
Although you'll be anxious to get to baggage claim, you may want to first find a "potty place," and it's a good idea to check your dog for any signs of motion sickness. Symptoms to look for are:
- Excessive drooling
- Whining or crying
- Nausea and vomiting
- Shaking and shivering
- Unsure footing
Motion sickness should dissipate once your dog has his paws on solid ground. If not, you may need to take your pup to a vet. Petflight.com has a searchable database of emergency vets by ZIP code as well as a listing of emergency animal care facilities located near the busiest airports. Now, it's time to pat yourself on the back and your travel companion on the head. You've made it to your destination with barely a whine from you or your dog. You should be proud of such a successful plane ride. Now, go out and have some fun!