Wouldn’t it be nice to take Chester home for the holidays to meet the family?
No, not your new boyfriend, the one you love above all others: your dog.
But before you start packing Chester’s carry-on, you need to know how to make it a safe and stress-free experience.
“When it comes to pet travel the only universal truth is that it’s a hassle to fly,” says Kaitlyn Wells, a pet expert for Wirecutter, The New York Times company that reviews products.
Here are some questions to ask before deciding whether or not your dog will also be your traveling companion.
Is it safe?
As with most things, safety first. Always consult your veterinarian before planning your trip, as certain breeds and dogs are at a higher risk.
“Brachycephalic dogs, which have short noses, like Boston Terriers, are at an increased risk of having an adverse reaction midflight because they’re already prone to respiratory issues,” Mrs. Wells said. (Kokito, the 10-month-old puppy that died on a United Airlines flight earlier this year after being erroneously placed in an overhead compartment, was a French bulldog, which is also a brachycephalic breed.)
Also, only smaller dogs that can safely fit in a carrier bag and be stowed underneath the seat in front of you can fly in the cabin. Large dogs, as long as the breed is approved by the airline, have to fly in cargo.
The International Pet and Animal Transportation Association, a trade association for professional pet shippers, said cargo travel is safe when proper precautions are taken. It recommends that dogs be crate-trained before their trip, which helps them remain comfortable during the flight.
Cargo is an option for smaller dogs, too, but that choice is up to the owner, unless you’re flying to a country that does not allow animals in the cabin at all, like the United Kingdom.
It is rare for pets to be injured or die during air travel, Mrs. Wells said, but not being able to keep an eye on your pet for potential issues during the flight can increase the risk. The airline crew “may not be as familiar with your particular pet’s medical history, or even know how to recognize when your pet’s in distress,” Mrs. Wells explained. “I never travel with my pets in cargo; I won’t risk it,” she added.
Should I sedate my dog?
The I.P.A.T.A. does not recommend giving tranquilizers to any pet during air travel. It said sedation suppresses respiratory and body temperature regulation and can have other negative effects on the animal’s physiology.
But other types of medications or natural calming aids can make a big difference, from toys or treats to anything that has prescribed by your vet after a consultation about the upcoming trip.
Do I have the right paperwork?
While you’re asking your vet about health issues, you also need to fill out the necessary paperwork for your trip. You don’t want your pup to be detained at customs, do you?
Typically, you need an accredited veterinarian to perform an exam before your trip to obtain a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (CVI). But depending on your destination, there are different admission requirements per state and country.
The United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service website is a good place to start. Some states require additional permits, and international travel is even more complicated and may include a quarantine period when you land.
Do I have the right carrier?
When booking, reserve a spot for your dog as early as possible. Most airlines will only allow a certain number of pets in the cabin per flight. You also need to confirm the airline’s animal carry-on rules for your specific itinerary, and pay the inevitable extra fees associated with a pet.
“The actual under-seat dimensions will vary by airline carrier, and things really get complicated when you consider the type of pet carrier, airline class seat, and short-haul or long-haul flights,” Mrs. Wells said.
“It’s soft-sided, which is more comfortable for my pets and easier for me to carry, it is flexible enough that I can fit it underneath the seat in front of me without squishing my pet, and it’s extremely durable,” she said.
Is the airport pet friendly?
Large airports are only required by law to provide pet relief areas for service animals — so unless you do your research, Princess Poochy may have to hold it for awhile.
“Some airports are more dog friendly than others, and not all of them have relief areas for animals,” Mrs. Well said.
She recommends mapping out where the relief areas are in advance, as they’re not always easy to find and may be located in some terminals and not others.
But some airports are making travel easier for pet owners, so traveling a bit further beyond your usual airport to locate one might be worth it.
New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport was recently rated as the most pet-friendly airport by upgradedpoints.com for having post-security relief areas at several different terminals. Terminal 5 also has what’s known as the “wooftop,” a 4,000 square foot outdoor patio that’s accessible to all passengers flying with pets.
No matter the airport, get there early, “so you have time to check-in for your flight, check your bags, and give your pet a bathroom break before you even head through security,” Mrs. Wells suggested.
What do I bring?
“When traveling with your pet, treat them like a newborn and come prepared,” said Mrs. Wells.
Keep in mind that your dog will most likely count as one of your carry-on items, so you may have to pack light yourself. You’ll also need room for items to keep your dog happy and healthy.
Mrs. Wells recommends bringing food and treats, a refillable water bottle, one or two toys, a small blanket, some training pads and dog poop bags.
“My dog Sutton always gets a Kong stuffed with some dog-friendly peanut butter or cheese whiz to keep her entertained on the flight, and I pack a spare,” she said.
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