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Pet Air Travel

Taking pets with you on a trip can be a joy.  Pets typically prefer to be with their families versus staying home alone. The key to safe air travel is preparation and planning ahead. 

What are the different ways my pet can travel by air?

When your pet travels as baggage, the airline may require that you travel on the same flight as your pet.  In the cargo system, your pet may travel unaccompanied.  Once the pet arrives at the final destination, allow at least one hour processing time before the pet is available for pick-up.

High temperatures can be extremely dangerous for pets.  Most airlines will not accept animals for shipment if temperatures at any point in the travel will exceed 85 degrees Fahrenheit (30c).

A few airlines allow small dogs, cats, and birds to travel as carry-on baggage provide the pet is small enough to fit comfortably in a kennel placed under the seat. In addition to standard plastic type kennels, airlines typically permit soft-sided carriers for pets traveling in the passenger cabin.

A few airlines welcome service animals on board traveling with physically challenged, vision or hearing impaired, law enforcement, or search and rescue passengers.  These animals are allowed in the passenger cabin without a kennel, provided they are properly harnessed. Charges for shipping a pet will differ depending on the service and airline you choose.

How do I prepare my pet for a flight?

Try to introduce this carrier at least 3 days before traveling. Feed the pet and provide a cushy pillow inside the crate. During the introduction, ignore the pet outside but PRAISE the pet whenever it is inside the carrier. Give special food treats while inside. Hide special treats in the crate to be found during the day. Use small quantities of VERY tasty food. The goal is to make the carrier a "safe place" and associated with all positive things. The cushy pillow will also help with heat conservation if it gets cold.

Do not lock the pet inside the kennel until the pet rests for periods of time inside of it, on its own.  Close the door, praise quiet behavior, and open the door, extending the time with the door closed.  Begin locking the pet in over night with the kennel next to your bed.

If you plan to use the same carrier that was previously used to go the vet, wash it inside and out with soap and water. Because of their sensitive smell, pets can sense odors we can't, and it might be a negative association. Also, if this is the case, allow a longer time to allow the pet to acclimate to the crate.

Begin by locking the pet inside overnight at first. Keep the carrier next to your bed. When the pet is acclimating, only respond to whining or crying to see that everything is okay, then ignore it. Consciously wait for the pet to give up on the crying, then praise quiet behavior. Control your own body language. If you feel stressed, the pet will pick it up, and become more stressed. (My person thinks SOMETHING is wrong!) Instead, radiate a calm relaxed posture and facial expression. If the pet is acting stressed; let it pass. If you reassure whining, the pet may mistake it for praise, and whine constantly during travel.

USDA regulations require that your pet is at least 8 weeks old and fully weaned before traveling by plane.  A current health certificate issued by a licensed veterinarian is required by most states and foreign countries.

How do I prevent pet elimination in the crate during travel?

A rule of thumb is that puppies can hold their urine by this formula: age in months, plus 1 = hours average puppy can hold its urine.

For example, a 3 month old puppy can hold its urine for 4 hours. A four month old puppy can hold it for 5 hours (up to a limit of 10 hours). For pets over 10 lbs, don't give water for 2 hours prior to take off.  Give an option to eliminate just before check in.  If your pet is trained to eliminate on command, you will be more successful.

Allow no food during flight or for several hours before take off. Most pets are too stressed to eat on a flight.  And if they do, it just stimulates the need for elimination which makes them even more uncomfortable.

Should I give my pet a sedative?

Tranquilizers are not advised except in extreme cases as their effects at high altitudes is unpredictable.  The final decision to prescribe them should be made by your veterinarian.  If a tranquilizer is used, it is a good idea to indicate type and dosage on the kennel.

The most common tranquilizer used, Acepromazine, lowers blood pressure, and decreases ability to respond to temperature changes. Pet deaths during plan travel have often been attributed to tranquilization.

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