Air Travel: Prepare your Pet for TakeoffPublished December 15, 2008
With more and more pets traveling with their owners each year, it's important to know the ropes when it comes to airline travel.
Read on to learn what your pet needs to have when traveling by air, airline requirements and tips for the day of takeoff.Although it's been almost 20 years, Julie Bleha still remembers how she acquired Diego and Weetsie.
"I was in Valencia, Spain, with my college boyfriend, enjoying a cappuccino. Suddenly, I saw a little kitten scoot into the alleyway next door. I scooped Diego up and knew I was going to ship him home to New York City." Later that week, while drinking in a local pub, she learned that the bartender was giving away free kittens. "Weetsie was irresistible," says the Columbia University graduate student. "The question was, how to get them home?"
Bleha discovered the pets would need vaccinations as well as a certificate from a local veterinarian. And their journey would be a complicated one. At the time, there were no direct flights between Valencia and New York, which meant the kittens would be transferred by airport personnel in Madrid. Fortunately, Diego and Weetsie made it safely to JFK airport--but it took their owner almost two hours to find their pickup location. "Next time I bring pets overseas I'll ask a lot more questions," laughs Bleha.
"Good idea," says Dr. Brenda Mills, a veterinarian at Livermore Country Pet Hospital in Livermore, California. Ask the airline if the baggage area is temperature-controlled. And be sure to inquire if animals are allowed on board. "Cats in particular get stressed out really easily," says Mills. "I would never recommend shipping them under the plane. Also, many airlines allow service dogs and therapy dogs on board, as long as their owner books a seat in the first-class cabin. But if your dog has arthritis, arrange another mode of travel for him or her. "Dogs with arthritis should never be shipped by plane," stresses Mills. "It can really exacerbate pain."
If your pet will be traveling in the baggage area, make sure the carrier is big enough for the animal to stand up in. "Pets need just enough space for them to turn around and lie down. Lying on their sides allows them to brace themselves against the carrier if they are shifted around during the flight," she says. And be sure to put a grate on the bottom of the carrier and cover it with two layers of fleece padding. "Your animal's urine will be absorbed by the fleece and he or she will stay dry." To ensure your animal is secure when he or she is transported in and out of the plane, drill two holes in the carrier and secure them with zip ties. "I recommend this because I know people who have seen carriers fall off hoisting machines, facedown," Mills says.
Most airlines require you to provide one metal cup for food and one metal cup for water. Mills recommends including a second metal cup filled with frozen water. This way your pet will have ample drinking water throughout the journey.
"I don't recommend the tranquilizer acepromazine if your pet will be stored in the baggage area," advises Mills. "It depresses the animal's ability to maintain body temperature, which can result in fatalities." But if your pet is traveling in the cabin, it's OK to give him or her a sedative. Mills says Rescue Remedy, which can be put in your cat's water bowl, is an excellent de-stressor. And a veterinarian-prescribed dosage of melatonin can help calm your canine.
If you're traveling overseas, double check the quarantine requirements of the country you're traveling to. Your dog may need specific vaccinations and may need to be microchipped. And before you board the plane, ask the airline where you will retrieve your pet after disembarking. If your flight plan includes a layover, ask the airline if your pet will receive additional water.
Now that you're in the know, it's time to book your flight. Hey, you might even come home with a new bundle of joy!
For more information on traveling with pets, log on to the Transportation Security Administration's Web site at www.tsa.org.
To learn more about Livermore Country Pet Hospital, log on to www.lcph.us.