Anxiety is a reaction to stressful, or unfamiliar situations which occurs in people and pets (dogs/cats). We all experience anxiety from time to time, in response to anything new or unfamiliar.
During air travel, dogs and cats are exposed to an unfamiliar environment with new people, unusual sounds and smells, and varying temperatures and lighting. These stressors are unpredictable and can have a compounding impact on dogs and cats. However, the impact on a dog or cat can vary from one extreme to the other. A great majority of dogs or cats appear relaxed during air travel; while others will exhibit clinical signs, such as: drooling, licking lips, panting, shaking, whining, and excessive barking. In extreme cases, dogs or cats may make concerted efforts to flee the stressful environment and attempt to break out of their travel crate.
For pet parents, stress/anxiety arises primarily (in my opinion) because of a lack of knowledge of the entire pet travel process, resulting in the inability to properly prepare their pets for air travel.
This is what you need to know:
- Pet travel is regulated by the destination state or country and by the airline.
- Pet owners must comply with by the destination state/country animal entry requirements AND the airline pet travel policies.
- Pet Travel Regulations can be found on my website, When Pets Fly at WhenPets.com or visit the USDA Pet Travel Website
- Contact your airline for their in-cabin and cargo pet travel policies.
- Pet travel carriers, that are used during in-cabin travel and are placed under the airline seats, have a standard size as dictated by the aircraft you are taking. You can find these requirements on the airline's website.
- The travel carrier that set the standard for all in-cabin carriers is the SHERPA Pet Carrier. Every airline approves this bag, and it even comes with a flight guarantee.
- You can find more about the SHERPA Pet Carrier on my site, When Pets Fly, and other recommendations under the Favorite Things tab on my site.
- Pet travel crates used for air travel must comply with the International Air Transportation Association Live Animals Regulations (IATA-LAR).
- Pets must be transported in crates that comply with IATA-LAR Container Requirement #1, which are designed to prevent a dog or cat from escaping the crate during air travel. You can find more about regulated crates here- pet-container-requirements.pdf (iata.org)
- Want my recommendations on the best crates that follow the regulations? You will find them on my site, When Pets Fly, under the Favorite Things tab.
With this knowledge, what can you do to help your dog or cat during air travel?
For an in-cabin trip, purchase an airline-compliant travel carrier months prior to travel. Make sure it is a good size for them so that they have room to stand up and turn around inside the closed carrier. Leave the carrier out so that you can allow your pet enter and exit as they want, when not in use, to get them acclimated to the carrier as their "happy space".
For an in-cargo trip, purchase an IATA-compliant travel crate months prior to travel.
- Make sure the crate is large enough to allow your pet to stand-up and sit up-right without touching the top of the crate, and able to lie-down comfortably.
- Get your pet acclimated to confinement in the crate. The process can take weeks to months, we suggest that you:
- Play music to calm your pet during the acclimation process.
- Give high value treats to reward your pet for remaining in its crate.
- Never use the confinement in the travel crate as punishment.
Consult with your veterinarian as early as possible when you know your travel plans. At that time, you can discuss your upcoming travel and the requirements for air travel to your destination.
- Depending upon the destination and their pet entry requirements, it can take weeks to months for your pet to meet requirements.
- Schedule veterinary visits to obtain the required documentation, and/or vaccinations and diagnostic tests needed to comply with the entry requirements of the destination.
Have your veterinarian review your pets' medical records and discuss if traveling via air is in their best interest. You need to determine if your pet is medically fit for air travel.
- If your pet has an underlying or pre-existing medical condition, please consider leaving your pet at home.
Identify your airline of choice and your method of transport (in-cabin vs via cargo) and ensure compliance with their pet travel policies.
Obtain all required documents (i.e., health certificate, international health certificate, customs clearing agent, reservations for quarantining, etc.) prior to departure.
- Don't assume that all pet travel crates are the same.
- Don't let the first time your pet is confined in its travel crate be within the hours prior to flight departure.
- Don't assume that you are free to travel domestically or internationally with your pet. The movement of animals (even your pet dog or cat) is regulated by multiple state, federal, and international agencies. When traveling via air, you must comply with the entry requirements of the destination state or country AND airline pet travel policies.
- Don't subject your pet to air travel if they have underlying or pre-existing medical conditions, such as: noise-aversions or separation anxiety; heart disease, respiratory disease, diabetes mellitus, seizures, etc.
- Don't sedate your pet prior to air travel.
With proper pet-centric travel education and advanced preparation, anxiety related to pet travel can be relieved.
Dr. Bryant developed "When Pets Fly" to share pet-centric travel education. Learn more by visiting her website at: www.whenpets.com
You can also find "When Pets Fly" on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.