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Flying pets

The holiday season is coming closer and many of us might want to take their dog or cat around the globe. Here are some things you should consider before going on trip by plane with your furry friend.

Planning the trip

Plan your trip way in advance. Some destinations can be challenging to travel to with your pet. Be aware of this an, depending on the purpose and length of your trip, you might want to choose leaving your animal at home with your family, friends or a good dog/cat sitter.

Make sure you are familiar with all of the legal requirements you have to meet when you enter the destination country. Some countries might have very tough restrictions in order to protect their local flora and fauna such as quarantine times or/and proof of serum antibody rabies titers.  Contact the local authorities of the country you are traveling to. Be sure to meet all their demands regarding the documentation (passport, identification, health certificates etc.), vaccination and deworming status of your pet. Also make yourself familiar with the requirements the airline will impose regarding your dog’s traveling documentation. These might differ from those imposed by the local authorities at your destination. Don’t forget that you will travel back to your country and that you will also have to meet their requirements! Also inform yourself about prevalent diseases that might be a risk for your pet’s health in the destination country. Your animal might need further vaccines or additional parasite control in order to prevent, for example, vector mediated diseases such as heartworm disease or Leishmaniasis.

Consult the websites of both the authorities and the airline companies and ask your veterinarian to assist you.

Carefully choose the airline you will travel with. Make sure they transport animals. Some will only accept your pet in cargo, some will allow smaller dogs and cats in the cabin (most airlines limit the weight of your pet and it’s traveling bag to a total of 8kg) and some simply will not take them to your destination. If your pet is registered as an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) or as a Service Dog, you may be able to take it with you in the cabin, even if it weighs more than 8kg. The regulations of the airlines are not uniform. For more information contact the airline in time and make sure that your pet meets all requirements and that you have all the necessary documents (medical reports, certificates, etc.). In part, these must be sent to the company and validated before the flight.

If you travel with an animal, it is useful to book the whole itinerary directly via the company you want to travel with. As the number of animals that can be taken on a single plane is often limited you should plan on having alternative routes and dates set up. Choose your itinerary carefully. Especially if your animal needs to travel in cargo, minimize its traveling time, try to find direct flights and avoid long layover times.

When you make your booking have all the information regarding  the container (weight and dimensions) your pet will be traveling in as well as your dog’s weight, height and breed ready. The breed of your dog is an important aspect you should be aware of. Brachycephalic dogs (short-nosed dogs, such as French Bulldogs, pugs etc.) can be prone to develop respiratory distress and hyperthermia when they experience stress. This can lead to life threatening situations or even death and they are often not transported by airlines in cargo. Some breeds that are perceived as dangerous or attack dogs (e.g. Pitbulls, Rottweilers etc.) can be excluded from transportation. Most airlines have lists on their websites. Also, make sure to comply with the regulations of your destination country. You might need to procure additional documentation, such as behavioral test certificates, for certain breeds or they will simply not allow certain breeds to enter the country.

Also keep in mind that the container (adapted traveling bags for smaller pets in the cabin and crates for heavier animals traveling in cargo) need to meet the requirements of the airline. Some company’s offer you to buy these items directly via their site. In general, the crates need to be IATA approved and they should suit your pets’ size and weight (your dog or cat should be able to stand, lay and turn around comfortably in its traveling home). Most local pet supply stores carry these crates and it is worth stopping by with your animal in order to choose the correct size.

Before the trip

Prepare your furry friend! To minimize the stress level of your pet during the journey, especially if he needs to fly in cargo and is not crate trained, you should take some time in advance and make it familiar with its new home. Gradually increase the time the dog or cat spends in the crate or bag and make him feel safe in their home. Remember, even if your animals travel in the cabin, the airlines require you to keep them in their bag during the whole flight. You can for example feed them in their travelling container and reward them with treats. Some owners will let their cat or dog sleep in the crate in their bedroom or make the animal travel with them in the car while being in the crate or bag. The goal is that your pet does not associate the small and dark container with any negative feelings. Some animals might be more sensitive and fearful. The use of special products, such as  sprays and collars containing soothing and recomforting pheromones, might help your pet. The question whether to use tranquilizing or anxiolytic medications or not often arises. You need to be aware of the fact that these medications might have side effects (cardiovascular, respiratory etc.) and that their time of action is limited. If you are going on a long journey your dog or cat might wake up alone in cargo when the medication stops having any effects and be even more stressed by the unfamiliar environment. Talk to your veterinarian about this issue.

Assure that the bedding in the crate is comfortable and suits the needs of your four-legged friend. Your animal might have a urinary accident during a longer flight. Placing absorbent pads specially designed for animals beneath the bedding will help keeping them dry. This is only recommended for animal that don’t have the tendency to chew on everything you give them.

Be aware that during the flight the animals in cargo are mostly not looked after, nor fed or given any water. Most crates are equipped with one bowl that can be safely attached to the wire of  its door. The airlines often don’t allow you to leave any items that can cause injury (such as an additional bowl on the ground) or strangulation (you will have to take of the collar) in the container. On the way to the plane the crate will be handled by the ground personal. To make sure that the water in the bowl, or bowls, if you choose to buy an additional one for extra food or water, does not spill and your animal finds himself without water, you can previously put the full water bowl in the freezer at home. This way its content will slowly defrost during the flight your animal can hydrate properly.

Make sure that your pet’s container can be properly identified. Write your name and phone number with a water-proof pen on it. You can add a visible message such as “friendly dog” for the ground staff. It is recommended to make a copy of all the required documentation and to attach the copy to the crate or store it in a compartment of the crate.

Take a picture of yourself with your pet and ad it to the documentation. This way you can prove that you belong together when you arrive at your destination.

If your animal requires a special diet and you are travelling to a country that has food import restrictions, you should make sure that his or her food or an equivalent is available in the country.

Plan ahead if your animal is on medication. Take the medication and a valid prescription for it with you in the cabin (don’t take any fluids containers with more than 3.4oz or 100ml) and bring enough for your stay. If you are planning to take your pet on a long trip you should ask your veterinarian to send you its medical record. This way you are well prepared if you do need to take your animal to see a vet.

Travelling day

Don’t forget your pets’ documents and arrive on time! Doublecheck with the airline the check in time of your pet if it flies in cargo. First check in yourself and the luggage. The airline staff will direct you to the area (often bulk luggage counter) where you will need to drop-off your animal that flies in cargo. Some airlines will make you pay the transportation fee on the spot. Have your credit card ready.

If the temperament and stress level of your dog are manageable, take him for a last small stroll before putting him into his travelling home. If the staff allows it and your pet will not eat it, put a personal item, like a-shirt you have worn or your pets favorite cuddly toy, in the crate and don’t forget the water and some food.

If your pet is travelling with you in the cabin be aware of the fact that you will have to take it out of its container at the security checkpoint and you will need to take of the collar. This can be a quite challenging situation with a cat and also with some dogs. Make sure you train this situation at home.

If your animal is travelling in cargo talk to the ground staff before boarding the plane. They will inform you when your pet has securely been boarded. Once you board the plane make sure to either talk to the captain or the chef steward or stewardess. Let everyone be aware of the fact that they have a furry passenger in cargo.

Have a safe trip!

Dr. med. vet. Lena Horn is a medical consultant, veterinarian and since beginning of May new editorship member and veterinary adviser of POLO+10.


© Thomas Wirth
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