Traveling with Pets by Air

What to do, What Not to do

By Dr. Genna Mize
Consulting and Reporting Veterinarian at Virbac


Many vacationers wait until it cools off before they begin their yearly travels. With summer in the rearview mirror and cooler temps just around the corner, some of us are starting to make plans for fall and winter vacations. But what if, this year, we want to travel with our pet companions?

We posed this question to Dr. Genna Mize, a Technical Services Veterinarian here at Virbac. Below, she answers the most common questions about traveling with our four-legged friends.


Q: What are the risks of taking your cat or dog on an airplane?

A: If traveling in unsafe conditions, traveling with your pet on an airplane can be quite dangerous. Educating yourself about potential risks (which can be as severe as death), in order to avoid them, is essential to ensure your pet arrives safely.


Overheating is a serious safety concern when traveling with pets. Thus, in warm weather pets should not travel in the cargo area. Most airlines have restrictions on temperature ranges and even breeds they will accept in cargo, but it’s always best to avoid travel in the warmer months if possible. If your pet has somewhere to be in questionable weather conditions and can’t ride in the cabin with you, it’s best to drive.  There are even professional transit companies devoted to transporting pets by ground.


Q: What kind of animals should NOT travel by air?

A: Generally speaking, it is best for pets with certain health conditions to avoid travel by air. Some examples of these conditions are: progressive cardiac disease; aggressive or high anxiety pets that might injure themselves or others; and brachycephalic breeds (dogs and cats with short noses). Pets with these conditions should only travel in very controlled conditions, definitely not in the cargo hold of an airplane and with care in the cabin. Stressful situations could have severe consequences for these animals, potentially even leading to their death.


Q: Should I give my pet a calming aid before taking them on the plane?

A: Talk with your veterinarian about your pet’s travel history to determine a plan. Does a car ride cause your pet to excessively pant, pace, or vocalize with stress? Are they prone to motion sickness? Or are they a happy passenger, eager to see new places? These are some questions to consider when determining if your pet may benefit from a calming aid while traveling. 


Here at Virbac, we offer easy to use calming supplements, such as ANXITANE® (L-Theanine) Chewable Tablets or even collars for dogs such as ZENIDOG® Pheromone Products (available in the US), which can help ease stress in pets when traveling. Prior to travel, your veterinarian may suggest trying the product(s) at home before the stressful event to ensure the appropriate regimen is successful. Every pet is different and adjustments may be necessary.


Lastly, a pet traveling in cargo should never be administered medication before travel as this could inhibit their ability to thermoregulate and be very dangerous.


Q: Should I not feed my pet the day of the flight, because there won't be anywhere for them to relieve themselves on board?

A: With more and more people traveling with their beloved pets, there has been great development in the availability of pet relief stations in most airports. These are mostly useful for dogs, providing astroturf (and even a faux fire hydrant decoration sometimes) for relief. Generally speaking, most cats can travel significant lengths of time without the use of the restroom and should (and usually prefer to) remain in their carriers during travel. There are no relief stations for pets onboard. For most pets who are healthy and comfortable traveling, this is not a problem.


Ask your veterinarian, but some pets may benefit from skipping breakfast or a decreased portion size immediately prior to travel. Never withhold water.


Q: Do you have any additional unexpected/lesser-known tips that make air travel with a pet easier?

A: Yes! Many airlines require a health certificate for travel from your veterinarian. This might also include proof of vaccination records (make sure your pet is up to date on all wellness care before planning travel). Be sure to check with your specific airline for requirements.


Furthermore, many countries and rabies-free states, such as Hawaii, require specialized treatments and diagnostics within particular time frames prior to entry. Specific health certificates must be completed by a USDA accredited veterinarian and often endorsed by a government veterinarian under many circumstances. These can be intricate and time-consuming, so best to plan ahead.  Especially for international travel, the USDA APHIS website is a great resource when planning.


If your pet is traveling in cargo, ensure their carriers are approved by the airline and safe. Your pet should be able to comfortably stand and turn around within the hard sided carrier. Soft carriers are not safe for cargo travel.


And don’t forget to pack for your companion, because they’re unlikely to do it on their own!  Pack their usual food, medications, clean-up supplies, leash, favorite toys, and other staples for the journey.


Use your best judgment and enjoy your adventures with your furry friend. Safe travels!


A longer version of this interview ran in Woman’s World. Read it here.