Traveling With Pets

Q & A on Pet Travel from Banfield Pet Hospital (A Veterinarian's Perspective)

Is it safe to fly with my pet?
A healthy pet should be able to fly safely. Elderly or ill pets may be at risk due to the stress associated with travel. You should speak to your veterinarian if you have concerns about flying with your pet. Plan your trip to minimize stops along the way and to arrive during the coolest time of day in hot climates. Airlines may have some restrictions on flying with pets traveling under the plane in extreme weather conditions.

Why are certain breeds prohibited from flying in the cargo compartment?
Brachycephalic or "short-nosed" breeds are at a higher risk of overheating or suffering respiratory distress due to constricted airways.

  • Brachycephalic airway syndrome is a physical compromise to the airway of dog and cat breeds with "pushed in" faces
    • Stenotic nares (narrowed nostril opening)
    • Elongated soft palate (a flap of tissue that overlaps the epiglottis partially blocking the pet’s airway)
    • Hypoplastic trachea (abnormal growth of the rings of cartilage that make up the trachea, resulting in a narrowed airway)
  • Increased panting during the stress or heat of travel can caused increase inflammation in the airway and exacerbate this condition leading to injury or death.
  • Sedatives or anti-anxiety medications for these pets is not recommended during travel. They can relax the upper airway but may lead to an airway obstruction

The following Brachycephalic breeds and breed mixtures are prohibited from flying in the cargo compartment on Alaska Airlines:

Dogs: American Pit Bull, American Staffordshire, Boston Terrier, Brussels Griffin, Bull Mastiff, Bull Terrier, Chow Chow, Dutch Pug, English Bulldog, English Toy Spaniel, French Bulldog, Japanese Boxer, Japanese Spaniel, Pekinese Pug, Shih Tzu, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Terrier, Bulldog, Pug, Boxer.

Cats: Burmese, Exotic, Himalayan, Persian

Why are these breeds allowed to fly in the cabin if they are prohibited from flying in the cargo compartment?
Brachycephalic or "short-nosed" breeds are always at a higher risk of respiratory distress as compared to other breeds and careful consideration should be taken when planning travel. Should you choose to travel with these pets on an airplane, it will still be allowed under the continual care of their owner while in cabin.

Will my pet get motion sick if there is turbulence?
Unless your pet is prone to car sickness, he/she will likely not have a problem with motion sickness during travel. However, turbulence can be stressful to pets as it is unfamiliar to them and they may not understand it.

Is it stressful for my pet to fly? Will my pet be nervous?
Change is stressful to pets and flying, especially the first time, can be stressful. Acclimating your pet to the travel carrier a few weeks prior to travel is one of the best ways to help ease stress. Pets that are easily stressed or become nervous or frightened in unfamiliar situations and around unfamiliar people, may experience more stress than more laid back pets that enjoy new environments and situations.

What can I do to make flying more comfortable for my pet?
Giving your pet time to become familiar and comfortable with their carrier is very important. If you can, keeping your pet's regular routine on the day of travel will be helpful. If your dog is used to a romp in the park or a walk in the morning, fit that in if possible. Minimizing last minute preparation and chaos in the household on the day of travel is also helpful in reducing stress. If you are traveling with a dog, make sure you leave yourself time to let your pet visit the pet area at the airport to relieve itself prior to putting your pet into the carrier.

What will happen during my free office visit and travel consultation?
The pet will receive a complete physical examination and the veterinarian will discuss any concerns they find with the pet owner. Any issues that could affect the safety of the pet during travel would need to be addressed. By signing the health certificate, the veterinarian is stating the pet is free of disease, up to date on required vaccinations and healthy for travel.

Is a health certificate needed for travel?

Effective December 4, 2014: All pets traveling in the cabin or cargo compartment on Alaska Airlines, (including flights operated by Horizon, SkyWest and PenAir) will be required to have a health certificate dated within 10 days of outbound travel and 30 days of return travel.

For travel through December 3, 2014, Alaska Airlines does not require a health certificate for pets traveling in the cabin or in cargo compartment, however, many states have specific importation health and vaccination requirements. It's recommended to check with the State Veterinarian at your destination prior to travel to determine necessary documentation. Animals shipped via Alaska Airlines Cargo may require a health certificate. A Cargo representative can provide details.

What happens when a doctor examines my pet for a health certificate?
When examined at Banfield Pet Hospital, a pet will receive a complete physical examination by a veterinarian and they will discuss any potential concerns that could affect the safety of the pet during travel. A veterinarian will also be able to answer any questions you may have regarding traveling with your pet. When a veterinarian signs a health certificate they are stating that the pet is healthy for travel, free of disease and up to date on their required vaccinations.

Should I give my pet a sedative or tranquilizer before the flight?
This is a subject that should be discussed with your veterinarian. If the decision is made to sedate a pet for travel, your veterinarian may recommend giving a dose prior to travel to see how the pet reacts. While pet owners may feel their pet will be less stressed if sedated or tranquilized, this may not be the case (especially in cats) as the medications may cause the pet to be unsteady on their feet. Be sure to discuss the risks, as well as benefits, of sedation with your veterinarian.

What happens if my pet needs to use the bathroom during the flight?
There are no options for your pet other than the carrier. Carrying extra bedding (puddle pads, hand towels), wet wipes and a plastic bag that soiled bedding can be sealed in will allow you to be able to deal with any accidents that may occur. If your pet is traveling in cargo, you will be able to address any incidents once you are reunited with your pet at your destination. Several layers of absorbent bedding will keep the pet from having to lay in urine.

Should I feed my pet before the flight?
A small meal a few hours before the flight is appropriate and may be required by the airline, especially if the flight is long and the pet is flying under the cabin or in cargo. Large meals, unfamiliar food, treats or people food should not be given prior to travel to prevent the possibility of a stomach upset, vomiting and/or diarrhea.

Can my pet have water in his/her kennel during the flight?
Pets flying under the cabin must have a water dish that can attach to the kennel door and can be filled without opening the carrier. Airlines have their own protocols for supplying water and food to pets during travel related to things such as the length of the trip and temperature. Pets traveling in the cabin can be given water by their owners.

What should I do if my pet doesn't like his/her kennel?
It is extremely helpful to acclimate your pet to their crate prior to the day of departure. This can take a few days, weeks to even a month or two, especially for cats. Begin by putting the carrier in a common area in the house and gradually begin giving treats and feeding your pet inside the crate so they associate it as being a safe and positive place.

Should I give my pet their regular medicine the day of the flight?
It is very important to continue providing your pet regular medicine even on the day of travel.

Should I bring extra identification for my pet?
Proper identification is especially important when traveling with your pet. Whether you are traveling with your pet, or someone is picking up your pet, write the name, address and telephone number of your pet’s destination on top of their carrier. In addition, make sure your pet has current and updated identification on a properly fitting collar or harness and consider having them microchipped. Collars and harnesses can be lost while microchips are permanent and any pet related agency (shelters/vets) will scan pets without an owner who are brought to them. It is also a good idea to keep a current photo of your pet with you during travel.

What should be in my pet's kennel during the flight?
A towel, blanket or puddle pad to absorb urine in case of an accident. A small favorite toy, stuff animal or something that provides comfort to the pet may be helpful as long as there is no risk of the pet inappropriately chewing or swallowing it. Please note that kennels to Mexico may only have absorbent material, such as shredded paper, in the kennel.