Behavior and Training, Microchipping, Pet Care Basics

Flying with Pets: Tips for Flying with Dogs & Cats

Just like us, our pets can love to travel or they can struggle with the rigors of the changes. The smells, sounds, movement, and confinement can be stressful for them. There are many approaches we can take to soothe them during the trip.

Pet Flights

Well in advance of the trip, be certain you have made a reservation for the pet. Most airlines have a limit of the number of pets allowed on each flight, as well as the section of the airline they are permitted in. Be certain you included the pet on your airline reservation.

Be certain to check with the airline to determine if your pet is of a size that they can travel in the cabin with you. Very few airlines allow pets to travel in the cabin. If they are too large, you may need to fly them in cargo on your flight. Again, fewer airlines provide this service, and it may be limited by breed. Do not try to manipulate the system by claiming a pet dog is a service dog.

Choosing the right flight can also make a big difference in ensuring a smooth trip. It is best to choose a direct flight if possible.

What Documents Do I Need for My Pet to Fly?

Additionally, all states in the U.S. require a current rabies vaccination for dogs over four months of age and, in some areas, cats may also be required to be vaccinated for rabies. A certificate of veterinary inspection (CVI) or health certificate should be obtained. This requires an in-person visit with a veterinarian within 30 days or less of travel, verifying the pet is free from infectious diseases. Many times, the airline will not ask for this certificate. However, if the agent requests this paperwork and you are unprepared, you and/or your pet will not make your flight.

International travel is far more complex, depending on where you are travelling. You may start your reading at the USDA and Plant Health Inspection Service. Arrangements may take up to one year. For travel to countries with more complicated laws, you may consider hiring a pet export expert and or a pet nanny to expedite travel.

Ensure that your pet is up-to-date on vaccinations. There is a good chance that he will encounter other animals while traveling and during your trip.

Pet Carrier for Flying

Next, you will need a carrier suitably sized for your pet. Purchasing a carrier from the airline can make sizing easier. The airline will not question the size or quality of the carrier if it has their name on it. Pet carrier card holders can also be helpful for labeling your pet’s carrier.

Well in advance, start practicing putting your pet in and out of the carrier, and extend the time they are confined as a practice run. Remember, when you get to TSA security, you will have to remove the pet, carry him or her through the scanner, and load them back into the carrier. You don’t want the embarrassment of a struggling cat or rambunctious dog escaping in the TSA line.

What is the Best Leash for an Airport

Travel with a slip leash, that is a leash and collar combination, as well as a quick release buckle collar and clip leash to keep your pet securely with you walking through the scanner. Too much metal will set off the scanner. Two leashes and collars will assure your pet is safely with you.

How Do I Keep My Dog Calm at the Airport?

Should you have a pet that is overly reactive and will not easily load back into the carrier after the TSA checkpoint, you might be able to request a private screening in a TSA room. This may not be available at all airports so do not rely on this option. Better to practice loading and unloading and have the system down, than to have an escape in the security checkpoint.

If your pet seems distressed by loading, unloading, and/or resting in the carrier, contact your veterinarian about prescribing anti-anxiety pet medications. Do not use Benadryl (diphenhydramine), acepromazine or CBD for this purpose, as these are not anti-anxiety drugs. Remember each dog or cat is their own little science lab, meaning each will need a different drug and/or drug dose for a successful result. You may need to try several drug doses and combinations, so do not wait till the day you are leaving to determine the best choice. This is one more example of where having a great relationship with your veterinary professionals will benefit you.

For pets who easily get carsick, consider asking your veterinarian for maripotant (Cerenia), meclizine, or ondansterone. For dogs who have milder problems, feeding ginger snaps prior to travel may be sufficient.

How Do I Prepare My Pet for a Plane Flight?

A few days in advance of travel, be sure to bathe or professionally groom your pet. You and your pet will be in close quarters with your fellow travelers and passengers for hours. You want your pet to smell pleasant. Also be sensitive to others who may have allergies to pet; grooming can make their reactions to pet fur and dander more manageable.

After selecting your carrier, consider carefully the toys you include for your pet’s entertainment en route. They should not be too large, crowding your pet. Additionally, they should be fun but not too noisy, disturbing your seat-mates. And of course, should be safe, avoiding choking or obstructions.

Prior to departing, make sure you have researched the location of pet relief stations at the departure and arrival locations. These can be found on the airport websites.

Most carriers have a pocket or pouch for pet supplies. Line the bottom of the carrier with a disposable potty or chuck pad, and take additional ones in the pouch. If your pet seems uncomfortable during the flight, you can visit the lavatory on the airplane, placing the pad on the floor and allowing your dog a chance to eliminate. Cats may not be so cooperative.

The day of travel, allowing your pet a half-portion meal and small sip of water will reduce the likelihood of travel sickness and a need to urinate or defecate at inconvenient times.

Traveling with some treats that are not too smelly, a water bowl, and a meal or two, will be useful. If your luggage is lost, a few zip top bags of food will spare you the need to run to the store. Treats that are not offensive are a good technique for pets that are hungry and restless. And a water bowl is essential if your pet is thirsty. There are several styles of water bottles with bowls or collapsible bowls that are easy to travel with.

If your pet is on daily medication, pack these in your carry-on if possible. Just as with your medications, lost luggage could put your pet at risk if they have meds they are dependent on.

Microchip Your Pet Before Flying

It’s a good idea to make sure your pet is microchipped and that their microchip is registered in your name before you get to the airport. When in new settings, pets can get nervous and try to run off. The BuddyID Complete Protection System is the best level of protection for your dog or cat. The BuddyID Complete Protection System includes a BuddyBadge™ QR code pet tag, a microchip and the lifetime registration for your pet. If your dog or cat does lose the QR pet tag while you’re traveling, you still have the permanent ID – the registered microchip!

If this all seems complicated, it can be. Consider carefully if your pet is better off traveling with you or staying home or boarding during your travel. But with advance planning, and some experience, you and your pet can safely and confidently travel together.

Pet Travel Checklist

To make your pet packing a little easier, here is a simple cat and dog travel checklist to make sure you and your pet are prepared to have the best flight possible:

Pet friendly flight reservation
Health certificate
Carrier with the airline name on it
Practice riding in the carrier
Testing which anti-anxiety medication works best for your pet
Leash with collar
Bathe and groom in advance
Quiet toys
Find where the relief stations are in advance
Potty pads
Small meal prior to travel
Don’t cheat about your service dog
Water container
Extra meal
Extra meds
Microchip registration up to date

Written by: Marty Greer, DVM

Director of Veterinary Services

Marty Greer, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, has 40+ years’ experience in veterinary medicine, with special interests in canine reproduction and pediatrics. She received her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Iowa State University in 1981. She’s served as Revival’s Director of Veterinary Services since 2019. In 2023, Dr. Greer was named the Westminster Kennel Club Veterinarian of the Year.

If you need help, call us at 800.786.4751.