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Pet Perception Management by Dr. Rolan Tripp

Keeping Your Pet Safe During Air Travel

Imagine air travel from the comfort of your own bedroom. As the world outside sped by you could sleep in your own bed or enjoy your favorite entertainment, just as if you were at home, instead of traveling inside a airplane at hundreds of miles per hour. 

This may not be possible for you, but it is for your pet - at least those pets who have been given the gift of "Contented Confinement" training. (see below) These pets relax in their own pet bed safe inside their portable kennel "bedroom," perhaps with a favorite toy or chew. The lucky ones even have their personal space bathed in commercially available airborne pheromones that have a calming influence. For these pets, as long as they are in their "Safe Place" it doesn't matter to them that the entire portable kennel is in a car, plane, motel room, or anywhere else.

This is in contrast to those poor pets whose guardians stuff them into a travel crate just before the flight without any preparation. These uneducated owners often then compound the problem by giving the pet sedatives that don't lessen fear, but in fact make the pet groggy and less capable of appropriate physiological responses. For a pet to be contented inside his or her kennel, it means the owner probably introduced the portable kennel in a series of steps designed to make it their favorite place in the world.

The key to safe travel is a quality portable kennel that has been properly introduced in advance.

Each pet has his or her own underlying medical conditions. Therefore, each pet should obtain a health certificate from their veterinarian, and take any medication they would normally take.

Similarly, each pet also has an individual personality and varying fear of abandonment and fear of new experiences. The key is for the pet to simply learn that being inside his or her own portable kennel is a safe and wonderful place to be. Then, as long as they are inside their safe place, the outside scenery can change without apprehension. Depending on previous experiences and the pet's personality, this "mind set" can take from one to three weeks to obtain. Here's how to do it:

Contented Confinement Training:

1)    For the first few days, introduce only the bottom half of the kennel as the pet's new dining room. Feed all meals inside where the pet only needs to step into half shell and can leave when done. Praise and stroke the pet when inside the kennel. If possible, do this in different rooms so it is the kennel that is constant.

2)    When the pet's body language is relaxed with this, add the kennel top, but leave the door off. Continue to feed within, but also now hide special food treats or chew toys inside the kennel, and watch for the pet to go in just to check for surprises.

3)    Add and close the kennel door during feeding, then open it to come out after finished. When no food is inside, place the pet bed inside and leave the door open with treats hidden inside. Praise your pet whenever entering the kennel.  Initially, every time the door is closed combine this with some peanut butter inside a toy. Chew toys left inside should be too large to be swallowed, and ok if destroyed. Provide cats with some catnip inside if the cat likes it.

4)   After 3-4 days of gradual introduction, (and extra exercise that day) close the pet inside with special toys overnight. The best location is next to your bed so the pet can hear and smell you sleeping. Ignore fussing, and praise quiet. If the pet complains too much, move the kennel to the other side of the house, and put a blanket over it. For these insecure pets include a worn T-shirt, and consider commercial anti-anxiety pet pheromones (D.A.P. collar for dogs, or Feliway for cats). Don't open the door when the pet is fussing. Better that the pet learn to accept the kennel here, instead of panic inside the belly of the plane.

5)   If the pet panics repeatedly when left alone, it is likely that "separation anxiety" is part of the problem, so obtain professional veterinary help resolving this pet behavioral problem. (e.g. www.AnimalBehavior.Net)  This category of pet might benefit from anti-anxiety prescription medication like "Alprazolam" when traveling, rather than a sedative.

6)   Once they are relaxed in their portable kennel at home, take the pet-plus-kennel in the car for some short trips, and praise quiet calm behavior. Give the special treat for the ride. You are gradually building up their tolerance. If at any point, the pet starts panicking, begin again introducing the kennel during feeding.

7)   Once the pet has adapted to calmly accepting the portable kennel as their private, "safe place" (even when traveling, and if you are out of sight), then your "precious cargo" is ready for air travel.

SUMMARY - Checklist For Pet Travel:

1)   Check your airline and with your port of entry (if you are traveling out of the country) for their specific pet vaccination and heath certificate requirements.

2)   Make certain your pet has had a recent health examination and if there are any known health problems, discuss these with your veterinarian prior to air travel.

3)   If the pet is seven years old or older, have a veterinary, "internal exam" of lab tests to be sure the pet is healthy.

4)   Have the pet travel in the cabin with you, if possible.

5)   Obtain a high quality, airline approved portable kennel.

6)   Provide a comfortable pet bed inside the kennel to help maintain body heat. (Cargo temperatures average 50-60F)

7)   Introduce the kennel at least a week before the trip as the pet's new, "safe place." (See instructions)

8)   Confirm that the door and all other openings are secure when checking the kennel at the airport.

9)   Do not open the kennel for any reason once inside the air terminal. (Escapes are common.)

10)  Do not provide food and water inside the kennel as it only makes a mess and stimulates elimination.

11)  Do not use sedation or tranquilizers unless absolutely necessary.

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...::::::: Copyright 2000-Present  All Rights Reserved by Rolan Tripp, DVM  and Susan Tripp, MS, Animal Behavior Network and Associates :::::::...