Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Photo of dog in carrier © Southwest Airlines

Most airlines have strict rules for pet travel.
© Southwest Airlines

October 2010

Creature Comforts

On the fly

Kathryn A. Kahler

We've offered advice for making road trips comfortable for both you and your pet. There may be times, however, when you have no choice but to fly. Whether it's a hunting trip to Canada, a cat show in New England, a national field trial or just an extended vacation in southern climes, the skies will be much friendlier for your pet if you do your homework ahead of time.

Government and airline restrictions

Most airlines have strict rules for pet travel, so it's best to read them carefully before booking your flight. Check out Airline Pet Policies for a comprehensive, airline-by-airline list of restrictions. You'll usually have the option of carrying small dogs and cats in a carrier with you in the cabin, checking them as baggage into the temperature controlled cargo area, or sending them as cargo.

Pets must be at least eight Kathryn A. Kahler weeks old and weaned, and in good health. Airlines may not require health certificates, but you should check with your vet about individual state requirements or for destinations outside the U.S. All states require proof of current rabies vaccination for dogs over 12 weeks old and some also require it for cats. Refer to U.S. Department of State for travel tips and a listing of foreign embassies you should contact for their health requirements.

Some airlines only allow dogs and cats and all have strict rules about the size and structure of travel crates, feeding and watering instructions, temperature restrictions and the number of pets they allow per flight. Most make special accommodations for service animals.

Plan to spend more

Charges vary with each airline, but the cost to take a pet in cabin is around $100 and as checked baggage, about $150. For pets traveling as cargo, plan to spend anywhere from $50 to $200, depending on kennel size. Some airlines require reservations for in-cabin pets and limit the total number of reservations per flight on a first-come, first-served basis – another reason to do your homework before booking your flight.

Planning tips

Consider these general guidelines before your trip to make the flight less stressful, if not enjoyable for your pet:

  • If possible, book a nonstop flight. You've heard the horror stories of lost luggage – imagine if it were your pet!
  • In summer, try to fly at night when it's cooler; conversely, look for daytime flights in winter.
  • Never sedate your pet before flight, even if he's a nervous traveler. Tranquilizers can affect your pet's ability to maintain balance and can interfere with respiratory and cardiovascular functions at high altitudes.
  • Carry a leash and try to exercise your pet as close to departure time as possible, but never inside the airport.
  • Pack your pet's normal medications and food supply. Travel time is not the time to experiment with new foods.
  • Never muzzle your dog during flight.
  • Don't travel with short-nosed breeds (like bulldogs, pugs or Persian cats) because they are especially susceptible to breathing problems at high altitudes.
  • Place an old towel or blanket and a chew toy in your pet's carrier to lessen stress.
  • Follow options for providing disposable litter boxes for cats, especially if you have layovers built into your flight plans.

Have gun-dog, will travel

Most hunters who take their four-legged companions on long-distance hunting trips or field trials prefer to drive, but more are opting to fly. The same travel rules and suggestions apply to hunting dogs. Whether by land or air, here are a few tips you may want to consider when traveling with them:

  • If traveling to areas of higher elevation, try to add a day or two to your itinerary to allow your dog to condition at the different altitude.
  • Don't forget to take spare batteries and chargers for electronic collars.
  • Consider the temperature and terrain you will be hunting. Bring fans, cool pads, warm bedding and dog boots as needed.
  • You never know when your dog may get a thorn in a pad or become sick or injured, so a first-aid kit made especially for him is a must. Items to consider include: muzzle, magnifying glass, scissors, tweezers, multi-tool, nail file, penlight, cotton swabs, eye dropper, petroleum jelly, gauze, first-aid tape, nutritional supplements and medicines. For a complete list, go to pawnation and search for "pet first aid."

Staff writer Kathryn A. Kahler writes from Madison.