Airplane Travel with Your Pet

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By Lynn McCarron, DVM

Travel and vacations are wonderful, but it can be hard to leave your beloved dog or cat at home. These days, many people are choosing to take their pets with them on their travels, even when they are traveling by airplane. Here are some tips to make that travel legal, safe, and hassle-free.

Airlines usually welcome pets on board, but certain restrictions apply.

• Check with your airline about their requirements and fees for flying companion animals.
• Most airlines require pets to be 15 pounds or less to fly in the cabin with their owners. This also means the pet’s carrier must fit under the seat in front of you. Check with the airline about carrier size and dimension requirements.
• Some airlines have maximum weight requirements for dogs traveling in a checked kennel. Be sure to check, particularly if you have a big dog.
• Most states will not accept animals younger than 8 weeks of age. Such youngsters will not be allowed to travel by air.
• Dogs and cats over 12 weeks old must have a current rabies vaccination and rabies certificate to be allowed to travel.

Keep your pet safe and comfortable for the flight.

• Taking your pet through security will usually require them to be removed from their carrier, so make sure they are wearing a secure harness or leash (especially cats).
• A microchip and ID tag with your phone number is recommended for traveling pets.
• Feeding your pet 3 – 4 hours prior to travel is advised so they are neither too full nor too hungry.
• Take a small amount of dry food or kibble in a container, and a dish to offer water to your pet.
• Absorbent bedding such as fleece or lambs wool will help keep your pet more comfortable, and be sure to pack baby wipes and Ziploc bags in case clean up is needed.
• Some animals may be stressed or frightened by travel. You may want to discuss with your veterinarian whether your pet may benefit from a mild sedative.
• According to the Federal Animal Welfare Act, there are specific temperature guidelines to which airlines must adhere. Ambient temperatures in holding areas for cats and dogs must not fall below 45°F for more than 45 minutes when being moved to or from a holding area.
• Animals transported in a carry-on are not protected under the Animal Welfare Act, so it is up to the person carrying them to see that they do not become too cold or overheated.

Follow the law.

• You will need a USDA health certificate to cross any state line. Flying outside of the United States, including to Canada, Mexico, or even Hawaii requires following strict rules to bring pets with you. Many times, airlines do not regulate or even know what the requirements are, so check with a veterinarian to make sure you have the correct paperwork. Nothing could be worse than arriving at the airport and finding out your pet is not allowed to go with
you due to incomplete paperwork.
• Travel to foreign countries now requires notarization of the certificate beyond the veterinarian’s signature. Countries often have other requirements including certain vaccines, blood tests, or medical treatments.
• For international destinations, each country has specific requirements for animal travel.
• To help pet owners better understand and meet the requirements, a website was launched this past summer,  www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/pet-travel.

This site provides information about taking a pet from the United States to other countries and bringing pets into the United States.  Follow the link, and then choose your destination from the dropdown menu.

Your veterinarian can help you navigate the regulations. Plan ahead for travel to make sure you have time to complete all the requirements. It is helpful to print the recommendations for your destination from the website, and bring it to your veterinary appointment.

Safe travels to all!

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