Ask Dr. Tory: I’m Flying With My Dog for the First Time, What Should I Know?

by Sundays

Whether your upcoming travel plans are for pleasure or not, there’s some serious prep work required before you’ll be ready to jet off with your pet. 

My dog Mabel is a seasoned traveler. She loves when her airplane carrier comes out because she knows it means she is headed somewhere fun. But whether your upcoming travel plans are for pleasure or not, there’s some serious prep work required before you’ll be ready to jet off with your pet. 

For starters, it’s important to check with your specific airline to find out what paperwork is required. Every airline has different requirements for flying with your dog. In addition, the requirements for traveling in-cabin vs. in cargo often vary as well when it comes to documentation. Often, no vaccination certificate is required for travel in cabin but a signed health certificate and vaccine records are required to travel in cargo. I always recommend going to the airport prepared and it’s always best to be over-prepared vs. under-prepared in these kinds of situations. When traveling to Hawaii or internationally, extensive documentation is required and I recommend contacting your veterinarian as soon as you make your plans.

Should I sedate my dog for air travel?

Do not attempt to sedate your dog without consulting with your vet first. Benadryl should not be given unless directed by a veterinarian. Benadryl does not always cause sedation and may cause excitation in some dogs so it should be used with caution. Your veterinarian may recommend another prescription medication that provides more consistent sedation if warranted. If your vet prescribes a medication, I always recommend testing it out at home prior to flying to ensure your pup responds appropriately to the medication. 

What can I do to prepare my dog for an in-cabin flight? 

In-cabin dogs have to stay in their carrier throughout the flight. Only service dogs are able to fly without being contained in a carrier within the cabin. Therefore, it is important to make sure your dog is as comfortable as possible for whatever your flight duration will be. 

Try to help them acclimate by allowing your dog to spend more and more time in the carrier over the course of a few days. You can even teach your dog to get into their carrier on their own. My dog Mabel was taught to get into her carrier. At the airport you are required to take your dog out of the carrier and walk through security with them. It is helpful to have a dog that will jump back into their carrier after going through security, believe me! 

Another great way to simulate an airplane seat situation is to bring your dog in the airline approved  carrier on a car ride while you sit in the front passenger seat. You can place their carrier at your feet just like it would be on an airplane. Your dog should be relaxed and quiet in their carrier. If they are panting heavily, whining, crying, pawing or barking then it is important to take a step back and slowly introduce the carrier in a comfortable setting, like in your home.

What should I know about flying with my dog in-cargo?

Flying with your dog in-cargo can be a nerve-wracking situation, but it can be done safely. For instance, many top performance handlers (agility, flyball, etc.) safely fly their dogs around the world for competitions. Just like with preparing a dog to stay in their carrier for an in-cabin flight, you should train your pup to be comfortable in their crate for long periods of time. Here are some more helpful tips for flying with a dog in-cargo: 

- It is important to plan ahead and work closely with your veterinarian and the airlines to make sure you have the proper documentation. 

- Make at least three copies of every single document and tape a folder with copies of the documents to your airline-approved crate. 

- Ensure  your crate is zip-tied closed to prevent any damage. 

- It is best to fly first thing in the morning and take a direct flight when possible. 

- Make sure your pup’s microchip is up to date and get a collar with your phone number embroidered onto it (tags can get caught and also can fall off). 

Further, if you are flying internationally (or to Hawaii), the vaccine requirements and quarantine times can vary greatly so you must pay close attention to every detail. 

Once you have both reached your final destination be sure to follow your dog’s regular routines as closely as you can. Feed them their regular meal–good thing Sundays is made to travel!–and take them on their walk schedule to avoid any unwanted accidents. Bon voyage! 

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