Virginia Simpson and Chance

Traveling or Flying With Your Pet

by Elizabeth Gigis, DVM, West Chester Veterinary Center

The holidays can be a busy time for many, and with the human- animal bond being stronger than ever, many people choose to travel with their pet during the holidays.  This can be a fun, enjoyable experience for all, but there are some important travel ideas to be aware of before you leave. 

If you choose to fly with your dog, a health certificate will need to be written by the veterinarian within thirty days of travel.  It is important to plan this ahead and make an appointment, because many veterinary centers are extra busy during the holidays.  The health certificate’s purpose is to state your animal is free of any contagious diseases. If driving, a health certificate is unnecessary.  Some airlines have regulations regarding rabies vaccine status, so check with your airline to make sure you have all the paperwork in order ahead of time.  If you have a smaller pet, some airlines will allow them to board with you. Check with the airline ahead of time to find out what their policy is.  Your pet may be placed in cargo if they are larger.  I recommend that you fly with your pet in the cabin as often as possible.  It is much less stressful for them, has better temperature regulation, and allows you to keep close watch on them while you are flying.  If your pet is traveling in cargo, make sure your pet has a comfortable, ventilated carrier that is airline approved.  Make sure your pet has been out for exercise and has used the bathroom prior to placing him in the carrier.  Make sure that he has access to water while in the carrier, but food is unnecessary in most circumstances.  Another important thing to realize is that most pets traveling under the plane may sit outside the plane for up to an hour with the luggage before being placed on the plane.  Thus, if the temperatures are not comfortable outside during this time, flying with your pet may not be a good option.  Many airlines have regulations regarding what ground temperatures must be for pets to fly.  This is also breed specific, for example, a husky would be fine outside in the cold for an hour, where as it would not be a good idea to keep a bulldog outside in a crate in July.

Many people request sedation for pets to travel.  The most common sedation prescribed for pet travel is a tranquilizer called acepromazine.  If tranquilization makes you uncomfortable, you can also give Benadryl. Benadryl should be given one hour before travel.  This will make your pet tired and will hopefully help them rest.  Benadryl wears off in about four to six hours.  Acepromazine is a common tranquilizer that’s safe if used as directed.  Your pet should have a full exam before taking this medication.  The most common side effect of acepromazine, other than sedation, is a drop in blood pressure.  As long as your pet is healthy and you follow proper dosing instructions, any affect on blood pressure will be not be noticeable.  Another class of medication that may be prescribed is benzodiazepines, or valium-like medications.  Most sedatives are safe for car travel when you will be keeping a close eye on your pet.  I do not recommend sedatives or tranquilizers for pets traveling in cargo under a plane because of the lack of supervision.

When traveling with your pet by plane or car, many people choose to use a crate or carrier.  In my opinion, this is the safest way to travel with your pet for long rides.  Many dogs will become stressed in the car and want to sit on your lap for comfort or can even get under your feet.  As you can imagine, this makes for very distracted and dangerous driving.   It is important that the first time you place your pet in his travel carrier is not the first car or plane trip.  Your pet needs plenty of time to get used to his crate before the travel date.  Introduce your pet slowly to his crate with positive reinforcement (using food or praise) several weeks to months before traveling.  Let him get used to it slowly in a positive fashion.  Also, don’t forget to make sure your crate is airline approved.  Many airlines have specific height, length and width requirements.

Finally, you will need to plan months in advance if you move to Hawaii.  Hawaii is the only rabies-free state, and the rules to bring any animal into the state are exceptionally stringent.  There will be a significant time and monetary investment on your part to be able to take your pet into the state.

I hope everyone has a safe and wonderful pet travel season!

Elizabeth Gigis, DVM
West Chester Veterinary Center
7330 Liberty Way, West Chester, OH 45069