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6 Tips for Flying with Pets

By Dr. Patty Khuly

terrier at the airport

At no time in history have as many pets earned their wings, and it’s not just under seats and in cargo holds anymore. If you’ve flown anytime in recent memory, you’ll have seen dogs atop their peoples’ laps bedecked in red vests proclaiming their status as service animals and their right to fly in plain sight.

That's why we’re talking about what it takes to be a responsible owner when flying with your pets – particularly with dogs, whose needs are more complex as they navigate our uniquely people-centric public airports.

Flying with your dog takes a high degree of commitment to your dog’s welfare balanced with a responsibility to public safety and comfort. Add to this delicate blend the inevitable pain of airport angst amid a hassled slice of humanity and you’ve just whipped up a volatile recipe for an especially stressful flight. For the uninitiated, traveling with pets is as likely to elicit anxiety (both yours and your pets) as it is to alleviate it. Pets might find themselves in dire need of it instead. However, thorough preparation can go a long way to ease the discomforts in learning to fly with pets.

Here’s what you should know in advance:

1. Calculate how many hours your pet will spend beyond the TSA checkpoint.

If your flight is four hours long and you’ll be getting there two hours in advance, you should plan on at least a full six hours during which he or she may be required to refrain from going potty. If your pet can’t wait that long, you’ll have to consider some alternatives like pee pads or diapers.

2. Know as much about your airports as possible.

Where are the “pet relief areas?” Do you need to leave security to get there or is there one inside? Some airports have pet rooms with fake grass and doggie bags. Is there real grass or just the fake stuff your dog won’t use? Do they have a culture of accepting dogs with open arms or do they have a reputation for being difficult? You can learn about these things by Googling your airport and “pet travel.”

3. Think of your pet as you would a child on a long flight.

What will she need to keep cozy and content for all those hours? A rolled up padded bed, a few toys, a Thundershirt, some time-consuming chews. Be thoughtful and considerate to your pet’s needs and desires.

4. Plan ahead with your airline to ensure your pet has enough space.

If your pet is large, they’ll likely have to make accommodations. Make sure that you’ve obtained all the necessary ticketing and paperwork. Airlines will often have a department dedicated to disability concerns that will help you through these basic considerations.

5. Some kind of sedation might be in order.

Typically, I recommend that nervous pets stay home, but mild sedation is perfectly appropriate for well-socialized pets who might be a little anxious on their first few flights. I like using Benadryl (diphenhydramine) or Sileo (dexmedetomidine). Ask your veterinarian what’s best for your pet.

6. Be prepared for little emergencies.

An extra few hours on the tarmac, a nervous bladder, a vomit-y mess, etc. Paper towels, wet wipes, and clean-up bags are indispensable.

Whatever you do, be sure to keep a positive outlook. Traveling with pets can be rewarding, and your good attitude goes a long way to making sure you have a great experience. But it’s just as important to recognize that not all pets are born to be world travelers. Figuring that out early can be just as valuable as getting to your destination.

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