Flying your dog comes with risks. More than 100 dogs are lost, injured or killed annually in the cargo holds of domestic airlines, and any kind of air travel is stressful for dogs. Both the ASPCA and the HSUS urge pet owners to consider air travel a last resort.
Dogs can fly three ways: As carry-on(if the dog is small enough for a carrier that will fit under the seat in front of you); as checked luggage(i.e. on the same plane as you); or as cargo(if unaccompanied). The last two options carry the greatest risks.(If your itinerary allows, use Pet Airways, where dogs travel in the main cabin.)
If travel by plane is unavoidable, take the following precautions to ensure a safe journey for your dog.
1. Visit your veterinarian for a health check-up and to ensure all vaccinations are up-to-date. Don’t fly with dogs that are ill, suffer from severe kennel stress, are younger than eight weeks, or are short-nosed(pugs, Boston terriers, Pekingese). Short-nosed dogs can’t breathe well at high altitude.
2. Cut down on the length of travel and exposure to extreme temperatures. Whenever possible, book a direct flight. This decreases the likelihood of your pet being lost in transfer or spending time on the tarmac in harsh weather. During summer months, book early morning or late evening flights to avoid the worst of the heat.
3. Use only USDA-approved shipping crates. Write‘Live Animal’ in one-inch letters on the top and sides of the crate. Draw arrows that clearly show UP and DOWN. Label the crate with your name, full contact details, and details of your dog’s destination. Tape a photo of your dog to the crate.
4. Line the crate with shredded paper or towels, then use warm bedding on top. Include a well-worn piece of your clothing to soothe your dog. Firmly close the crate door, but never lock it—in case of an emergency, airline personnel must be able to get your dog out.
5. Freeze water in a deep bowl and put in the crate(unfrozen water might spill before take-off) or use a no-spill travel bowl. For longer flights, also tape a bag of food to the outside of the crate along with a feeding schedule, so airline personnel can feed your dog.
6. Arrive up to two, but no more than four, hours before your departure time. Feed and water your dog within four hours of departure.