Unless you own a private jet, you probably do not spontaneously pack up your pooch and fly to wherever you want. Traveling with a dog is not easy. And it is a lot tougher if you are travelling with your dog for the first time. Toggie will experience a pressurized cabin and high altitude, be restricted to a small crate, and will still be expected to be on his best behavior. You, on the other hand, have to prepare for immigration, reserve a spot for him in the flight, get the Vetbook and pet health certificate in order and of course, train Toggie to get used to the crate and behave well in a crowd.

There is a lot of planning that goes into air travel with a dog, and unless you (and your dog) are adequately prepared, chances are your trip will be a non-starter.

This article aims to make that first flight a bit easier. Here is a list of things to note and work on:

Make Sure You Have the Right Crate!

Unless your crate or carrier bag meets the airline’s regulations, Toggie will not be allowed on the plane, regardless of whether or not he is a good boy. Although the standard policies are the same for most airlines, some might vary on details. For example, American Airlines pet policy requires the combined weight of your pet and its carrier to be less than 20 pounds, whereas Delta requires only the pet to weigh less than 20.

When choosing a crate or carrier size, the general rule of thumb is that the dog needs to be able to stand up naturally (with a couple of inches of additional headroom), be able to turn around and lie down in a natural position. To make sure he/she is allowed to fly in-cabin with you, the crate must be small enough to fit underneath the sit in front of you. Depending on the airlines, maximum crate length allowed could be between 16 to 19 inches, maximum height could be between 10 to 12 inches.

Traveling with service dogs, emotional support dogs, or psychiatric service dogs is a little different. These dogs are allowed to fly for free in all US domestic flights and will be allowed to lie on your lap, at your feet or under the seat in front of you, so you may not need a crate.

Prepare Your Dog: Crate Training and Desensitization

Preparing your dog for air travel is the most important part of the process. Travelling can be stressful for us humans, and our dogs feed off our anxiety, so needless to say, their stress levels will be sky high unless they have a fair amount of practice and preparation for the big day.

If your dog is not crate trained, it’s best to start well ahead of your travel date because this step can take some time. It is worth researching different crate training methods and see which one will work for you and your dog. The most important thing is that they always associate the crate with fun and good experiences.

People often don’t consider that unlike us, many dogs aren’t used to the noises and crowds at airports and on planes. For most dogs it is a complete sensory overload and they are often entirely overwhelmed by the experience. Do your pup the favor of slowly desensitizing them to crowds and noises.

Buy Your Ticket in Advance and Read the Fine Print

Buying your ticket in advance is paramount. First and foremost, you need to find an airline that allows dogs and read up on their pet policies. Policies might vary between airlines and one airline might only allow for a limited number of small dogs in the cabin, whereas others might allow for your bigger dog to be checked in as cargo. Also, be prepared to fork out some extra cash for this endeavour. Depending on the airline and whether your destination is national or international, there might be extra fees involved ranging from check in fees to fees for customs and quarantine.

Some airlines also have age and breed restrictions. Many airlines won’t allow young puppies, and the same goes for most snub-nosed breeds because their breathing difficulties make air travel dangerous for them.

In this research phase it is also good to see whether the airports have any parks or “pet relief” areas. Planning your pet’s potty sessions ahead of time will save a lot of time and energy.

You will also need to pay your vet a visit and get a health certificate to prove that your doggo is healthy and fit for travel, and that they are up to date with vaccinations. If your pet isn’t already microchipped, be aware that if you are traveling internationally, microchips or tattoos might be required for certain countries.

Packing Checklist

Time to prioritize. Traveling with a dog is a lot like travelling traveling with kids. You need to have the essentials at hand, but not schlepp around unnecessary baggage. No pun intended. Here are a few things that you should always have with you when traveling with your dog:

  •       FitBark and ID tag
  •       Pet wipes and paper towels
  •       Poop bags
  •       Food, water and a bowl
  •       Vet book and health certificate
  •       A current photo of your dog
  •       First aid kit (including medication)

On the Big Day

Be aware of when and how much you feed your dog. The stress of travelling might cause them to have an upset stomach, so it’s best to give them a little food no less than four hours before the flight and make sure they have a chance to go potty for boarding.

You want to ensure that your dog does not become dehydrated, but you do need to restrict their water intake. Some people ask the flight attendants for ice cubes to give to their pets, and for those travelling in cargo, they should have access to water from the water bowls in the crate (which could be frozen beforehand to avoid spillage and to ensure the water lasts for longer.)

You may also consider lining your crate with Dryfur pads. It will keep the crate dry if doggo has a little accident.

Another great tip: Run them tired. Whether it’s a walk around the block or a 2km run, the more tired they are, the less energy they will have to be concerned with what is going on around them.

Do Not Sedate/Tranquilize Your Pet

You should NOT deal with your dog’s stress levels by giving them sedatives or tranquilizers. Giving your dog a sedative could potentially be fatal, which is why vets will only recommend that as a last resort. The change in altitude and pressure creates breathing difficulties and cardiac problems in pets that are sedated during air travel.