Traveling with Pets

There are many things to take into consideration before embarking on a journey with your four-legged companion.

The size of a cat or dog is a major determining factor on whether they will be able to travel in the cabin with you or need to go in the baggage compartment. Generally speaking, cats or small dogs (max weight 10 Kg) are allowed in the cabin. I would refer to specific airlines for carrier size allowances. If travelling in the cabin, the kennel must be safely stowed below the seat in front of you, so the use of a narrow kennel is recommended. The fee for pets travelling in the cabin tends to be less than the fee for those going in the baggage compartment.

Depending on the airline, there are much higher weight limits for dogs travelling with checked baggage (~ 45 Kg). It is required that the kennel is large enough for the dog to be able to stand and turn around, and the kennel should be lined with absorbent material. It is wise to attach all your contact information to the crate, including your name, address, cell number and the pet’s name. Another suggestion is to print LIVE ANIMAL and THIS WAY UP on the crate. While that may seem silly, I’ve seen first hand how luggage can be tossed around! You can leave an empty dish in the crate, in case of a delay, so that water can be provided. Ask a flight attendant to confirm that your pet has been loaded before the plane departs. Carrying a current photograph of your pet is helpful in case of separation. Full food and water dishes are not recommended.

With dogs flying with the checked baggage, there are other restrictions to take into consideration. May airlines have holiday restrictions due to limited room in checked baggage, during heavy holiday travel periods. It is important to refer to your specific airlines holiday restriction dates before booking travel.

There are also heat restrictions to animals travelling in checked baggage certain times of the year, depending on where you are travelling. The heat restrictions are also posted on the specific airline’s website.

Regardless of what part of the plane your pet is travelling in, there are certain tips to be better prepared for the flight. It is of utmost importance to have your pet well adjusted to his/her crate. This process should begin well before the anticipated travel date. Use blankets that are familiar to them, pack a favourite toy and put in a piece of clothing that smells like you. Consider wiping the crate with a pheromone wipe or spraying with a pheromone (ask your veterinarian about Adaptil or Feliway, both are calming pheromones, for dogs and cats respectively.) Zylkene is another natural product to consider starting a few days before travel, as it is made up of calming amino acids.

Most airlines and veterinarians are hesitant to sedate dogs and cats for air travel. Sedatives can create respiratory and cardiovascular problems as your pet is exposed to increased altitude pressures. They also alter an animal’s natural ability to balance and maintain equilibrium when the crate is shifted.

Certain breeds warrant extreme caution when flying, notably the brachycephalic/short nosed breeds. Stress and heat can exacerbate breathing problems with these breeds, so it is imperative to try and take the shortest possible route (direct flights) and fly early in the am when it is cooler outside.

It is generally advised to offer a light meal and water ~ 4 hours prior to travel; this allows time for digestion. Going for a walk before leaving your home is also a great way to burn some energy!

For travel out of the country, entrance requirements should be confirmed with the consulate, embassy or appropriate governing authority. Guidelines are also available on many airline carrier websites. Most countries require proof of current rabies vaccine and an international health certificate (stating that your pet has been examined by a licensed veterinarian and is free of any contagious disease and is healthy for travel). Some require rabies titres, a microchip, etc.

If leaving the province, please call your veterinarian to ask about preventative deworming. There are many parasites that we don’t worry about at home, due to our cooler and less humid climate; with travel, exposure and infection could pose serious health consequences.

With advance planning and preparation, both you and your pet will have a more enjoyable travel experience.

By Katherine Takacs, DVM