Flying with dogs in cabin may seem like a rather daunting task. For many reasons, flying can be a stressful experience for dogs. Checking into a crowded airport and boarding a busy plane, along with being stuck in a confined space can all be rather overwhelming for a dog. However, in some cases it cannot be avoided, for example if you are relocating.
Don’t worry, there are a number of things you can do to minimise stress when flying with dogs in cabin. These things will take time, so it’s important that you start preparing for your trip as far in advance as possible. By planning ahead, you can feel calmer about traveling with your dog, which in turn will make your furry friend a lot calmer too.
In this article we will outline some top tips for preparing to fly with dogs in cabin, and top tips for making the flight easier for you both.
BEFORE YOU FLY: flying with dogs in cabin tips
1. Is your dog healthy enough to travel?
Before booking your ticket, have your dog checked out by a veterinarian to ensure they are healthy enough to fly. Experts discourage dogs that are very young, old, in heat, pregnant, have chronic illnesses or poor temperaments from flying.
Not only is a veterinarian health certificate usually a requirement when flying with dogs, you want to ensure your dog is healthy. Flying can be stressful for dogs that are unwell. You don’t want to risk the stress making a dog that is already a little under the weather, even more sick.
Ask yourself why you are bringing your dog with you and whether it is worth it? Of course, if you are relocating you may have no choice, however if you are planning a quick vacation then you may want to ponder a little longer. It’s important that you feel completely confident that your dog is well enough to travel.
2. Select the right dog carrier
Airlines have very strict rules and regulations about what pet carriers passengers are allowed to bring on their flights. Each airline has a different size limit on the dog carriers permitted, and some even have restrictions on the materials that are accepted. Additionally, some airlines have different restrictions depending on which aircraft you will be boarding.
When flying with dogs in cabin, many airlines accept both hard-sided and soft-sided carriers, however some only allow soft-sided carriers. We recommend using soft-sided carriers as they generally allow your dog a little more room.
You can get some great dog carriers with expandable sides, so your dog can have some extra room for stretching out when at the airport.
The size limit of the carrier will vary between airlines and aircrafts, but generally it must be able to fit under the seat in front of you.
Furthermore, you must comply with International Air Transport Association (IATA) guidelines, which state that dogs must be able to stand up, turn around and lie down in a natural position in their crate (without touching any side or the top of the container).
3. Get your dog used to confined spaces.
When flying with dogs in cabin, they will need to spend extended periods of time in the carrier. This is because most airlines require dogs to remain inside the carrier throughout the entire journey – that means at the airport, and on board the plane.
Therefore, once you select the crate or carrier your dog will be flying in, it’s important to spend some time working on ensuring he or she is comfortable in it.
We recommend starting training as early as possible, as it can take time for dogs to acclimate to their new carriers. If your dog has a nervous temperament, you’ll want to allow more time.
The aim is to get your dog used to spending time in it’s carrier for long periods of time, before your flight.
You’ll want to use lots of treats, and your dog’s favourite blanket or toys. This is so that your dog associates the travel carrier with positive things.
When introducing your dog to its new carrier, it’s important to let your dog explore it on its own. Never place your dog in immediately, and you should never close the door until they are comfortable sitting or lying down in it with the door open. This may lead to your dog associating the carrier with stress. Instead, place your dog’s treats, toys and blankets inside and let them explore it by themselves. You want it to become a safe place.
It’s also a good idea to do some practice runs in your dog’s carrier. When your dog is comfortable chilling out in the carrier, take him out for a walk around the block, or to the cafe. The more practice runs you do, the less stressed your dog should be on the real flight.
4. Get your dog used to airports and the sound of airplanes.
If it’s possible, take your dog to the airport and sit with him or her in the public waiting area. This way, your dog can get used to the sights, sounds and smells of an airport.
However, I understand that this may not be possible. If it isn’t, you could always play your dog an audio of an airplane taking off and airport noise. The sound of an airplane taking off can be quite overwhelming for a dog that has never heard it before. Try to get them used to it before the flight.
5. Try to limit access to food and water before your flight.
A dog that needs to go to the toilet is more likely to be distressed on a plane.
Try to limit your dog’s access to food and water leading up to your flight.
Not only will this reduce the chances of them needing the toilet on the plane, dogs are more likely to experience motion sickness if they eat just before a flight.
Air Canada suggest feeding your dog four to six hours prior to departure, as a full stomach may cause discomfort during travel.
If your dog does look like he needs to go to the bathroom when on the flight, ask the attendant for advice on what to do. Make sure you pack some wipes and poop bags in case of any accidents.
6. Pack paperwork and supplies the night before.
Get everything organised the night before your trip. This will make the whole journey much less stressful for you, which will in turn make your dog more relaxed.
The documents required to fly with a dog will vary depending on which airline you are flying with, and where you are flying from and to. But generally, you may require any of the following:
- Microchip certificate
- Rabies vaccination certificate
- Animal health certificate
- Import permit
- Additional vaccination certificates
- Rabies titer test results
- Parasite treatment certificate
This is just a guide on what is required, please check the requirements for your specific airline and destination country.
Supplies are key to a happy, healthy trip. Here’s what we suggest bringing:
- Your dog’s food
- Favourite treats
- Collapsible food and water bowls.
- An extra leash
- Plastic bags and hand cleaners in case of accidents.
- A safe toy or bone for chewing on during the flight
- A blanket
When flying with dogs in cabin, we recommend bringing their favourite blanket and toy. Both of these will provide them with a sense of familiarity and security. A blanket also comes in handy as you can use it to cover your dog’s carrier to create the secure feeling of a little den.
7. Familiarise yourself with signs of distress.
Look out for the following signs of distress in dogs:
- Excessive licking
- Excessive yawning
- Discharge from eyes
- A glazed over look
8. Exhaust your dog before the flight.
Try to exhaust your dog a little by increasing the level of activity before your trip.
A sleepy dog will be less prone to getting stressed out on the flight, and will likely feel more relaxed on the flight.
9. Book a direct flight if possible.
When flying with dogs in cabin, you should try to book a non-stop, direct flight whenever possible.
Additionally, try to fly on a weekday when airports are typically less hectic.
To avoid extremely hot or cold temperatures, we recommend flying in the morning or evening during the summer, and midday during the winter.
ON THE FLIGHT: Tips for flying with dogs in cabin
10. Give your dog some treats.
If you are flying with dogs in cabin, always pack some treats! Treats make everything better.
Give your dog treats when at the airport and on board the plane. Particularly if your dog is showing signs of being calm. Through positive reinforcement, they will realise that they are rewarded for calm behaviour.
However, try not to overdo it as some dogs can experience motion sickness on a full tummy. You also want to avoid them needing the toilet whilst on board, which would cause them discomfort.
11. Keep your dog close at all times.
When flying with dogs in cabin, most airlines require that they remain in a closed carrier at all times, when at the airport and on board the plane. They also usually require that the carrier is stowed under the seat in front of their owner, whilst on the plane. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t reach your hand down to comfort your dog. Reach down every now and then to reassure them and to remind them that you are close by.
In fact, some airlines do not specifically state that you can’t place your dog’s carrier on your lap after take-off and before landing. Check your specific airline’s policies to see if they will allow this. Your dog may feel much more comfortable on your lap than on the floor.
However, it is important to note that at the end of the day, the flight attendants get the last say. So, be extra friendly and whatever the rules are, they might just let you quickly take your dog out for a couple minutes to calm him or her.
Additionally, in some instances, you may be able to buy an extra seat for your dog’s carrier.
12. Ensure your dog is comfortable.
It’s so very important to ensure your dog is comfortable, particularly on a long flight. A comfortable dog is much more likely to feel more calm, and may just nod off for a nap.
As mentioned above, it’s important that your dog travels in an appropriate carrier. Your dog’s carrier must be big enough for them to sit up, stand and turn around comfortably.
Pop your dog’s favourite blanket inside the carrier for extra cushioning. The familiarity will provide your dog with both security and comfort.
Should you use dog sedatives for flying with dogs in cabin?
If you are flying with a dog in cabin, you may think it’s a good idea to sedate them. That way they will just sleep through the whole ordeal right? Not the case.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, in most cases, dogs should not be given sedatives or tranquilizers prior to flying because they can create respiratory and cardiovascular problems as the dog is exposed to increased altitude pressures. Additionally, they can also alter the dog’s natural ability to balance and maintain equilibrium, which can be dangerous when your dog’s carrier is moved.
However, while sedation is generally not advised, the decision on whether or not to prescribe a tranquilizer or sedative for your dog should be made by your veterinarian.
Although sedation isn’t recommended, there are many natural, holistic alternatives that are made specifically for pets.
Some essential oils have a calming affect which could help a stressed dog when flying.
Also check: Dog Sedatives for Flying: Should I use them?
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I place my dog's carrier on my lap during the flight?
Potentially. This depends on which airlines you are flying with as they have different rules and regulations. Some airlines only specify that pet carriers must remain stowed under the seat in front of you during taxi, take-off and landing. At the end of the day, the flight attendants get the final say, so be extra friendly and they may allow it.
Can I fly with my kitten on a plane?
This depends on which airline you are flying with, and where you are traveling to and from. Most airlines will not allow dogs under 12 weeks old to fly on their planes. However, some allow younger kittens to travel, for example, Alaska Air require kittens to be at least 8 weeks old and fully weaned. Check the pet policies of your specific airline.
Can I take my dog out of the carrier on the plane?
Probably not. Dogs are expected to remain in their carriers while in the airport and on board the aircraft. This is the case for most airlines, so that you do not disturb other passengers. However, if you are extra nice to the flight attendants, they may let you let your dog out for a quick cuddle.
Can I take 2 dogs on a plane with me?
Possibly, this completely depends on the airline you fly with. Different airlines have different regulations when it comes to traveling with pets. Some will allow 2 dogs, such as Jet Blue and United Airlines, where others do not.