Flying with an anxious dog may seem like a very 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.
There are many things you can do to minimise stress when flying with an anxious dog. These things will take time, so it’s important that you prepare your anxious dog as far in advance as possible. By planning ahead, you can feel calmer about traveling with your dog, which in turn will make your pup a lot calmer too.
In this article we will outline some top tips for preparing to fly with an anxious dog, and top tips for making the flight easier for you both.
Prepping your anxious dog before your flight
1. Is your dog healthy enough to travel?
Before booking your ticket, speak to your veterinarian to ensure your dog is 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 boarding a plane with a dog, you want to ensure your dog is healthy. Flying can be stressful for dogs that have poor health. Therefore, the stress may make a dog that is already a little under the weather, even more sick.
Ask yourself why you are bringing your pet with you and whether it is worth it. Of course, if you are relocating you may have little 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. Book a flight with your dog in cabin.
Many airlines will allow small dogs to fly in the cabin with their owners. Unfortunately, usually dogs must weigh less than 8kg, however some airlines do not have restrictions, as long as they fit in a carrier stowed under the seat in front of you.
With you there to comfort them, your dog will feel much more secure and safe.
Although flying in cargo isn’t as scary as it sounds, we do not recommend it for anxious dogs.
3. Select the right dog carrier
Airlines have very strict rules and regulations about what pet carriers are allowed 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.
When flying 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 pet a little more room.
The size limit of the carrier will vary, 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 pets must be able to stand up, turn around and lie down in a natural position in their kennel (without touching any side or the top of the container).
4. Get your dog used to confined spaces.
Once you select the crate or carrier your dog will be flying in, it’s important to spend some time working on ensure he or she is comfortable in it.
It’s best to start this as early as possible, as it can take time for dogs to acclimate to their new carriers. If your dog is particularly anxious or nervous, you’ll want to allow yourself 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 toys and blanket. This is so that your dog associates the carrier with positive things.
When introducing your dog to its new carrier, it’s important to let your dog explore it on its own. Do not place your dog in immediately, and do not close the door until they are comfortable sitting or lying down in it with the door open. Instead, place your dog’s treats, toys and blankets inside and let them venture in by themselves. You want it to become a safe place.
It’s also a good idea to do some practice runs in your dogs carrier. When your dog is comfortable chilling in the carrier, take him out for a walk around the block, or to the cafe. The more practice runs you do, the less anxious your dog should be on the real flight.
5. 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 a airplane taking off and airport noise.
6. 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 and anxious on a plane.
Try to limit your dog’s access to food and water leading up to your flight.
Not only will it reduce the chances of them needing the toilet on the plane, some animals may 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.
7. 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 calmer. An anxious dog is more likely to feel calm if it’s owner is calm.
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 an anxious dog, we recommend bringing their favourite toy and blanket. Both of these will provide them with a sense of security. A blanket also comes in handy as you can use it to cover your dog’s carrier.
8. Familiarise yourself with signs of distress.
Look out for the following signs of distress in dogs:
- Excessive licking
- Excessive yawning
- A glazed over look
- Continuous shaking as if they are wet
9. 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 anxious out on the flight, and will likely feel more relaxed on the flight.
10. Book a direct flight if possible.
When flying with an anxious dog, 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. We recommend flying in the morning or evening during the summer, and midday during the winter to avoid extremely hot or cold temperatures.
Tips for anxious dogs during the flight
11. Give your dog something to chew on during the flight.
When flying with an anxious dog, it’s a good idea to pack their favourite chew toy.
Chewing on something is one of the ways that an anxious dog calms itself down. It will also distract your dog from the sounds and sights of a busy airport and plane.
Of course, you can pick something up at the airport, however their favourite chew toy will provide an anxious dog with a feeling of security.
Avoid packing any toys that make noise as you don’t want to disrupt other passengers. One of the requirements of flying with dogs is that they must be quiet and well behaved. You don’t want to get in trouble with flight attendants as they have the right to remove disruptive pets.
12. Give your dog 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. This way 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.
13. Keep them close at all times.
Most airlines require that dogs remain in their carriers at all times, stowed under the seat in front of their owner. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t reach your hand down to comfort your dog. Reach down every now and then to remind them that you are there for them.
Actually, 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. An anxious dog will feel much more comfortable on your lap than on the floor.
At the end of the day, the flight attendants get the last say. So, be extra friendly and they might just let you quickly take your dog out for a couple minutes to calm him or her.
For more information check Can my dog sit on my lap during a flight? [MAYBE! Here’s how].
Additionally, in some instances, you may be able to buy an extra seat for your dog’s carrier. For more information check Can I Buy a Seat for my Dog on a Plane? [Yes! Here’s how].
14. 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 less anxious, 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.
Place your dog’s favourite blanket inside the carrier for extra cushioning. The familiarity will provide your anxious dog with both security and comfort.
15. Swaddle your dog.
All babies love to be swaddled, even your fur babies. It has a calming affect on anxious dogs.
There are many products on the market, similar to weighted anxiety blankets, that may calm your anxious dog when flying. You could even put your pooch in a tight dog vest or shirt, which will give them that same feeling of comfort.
When flying with an anxious dog, it may also help to wrap them in an item of your clothing. Your scent may calm them. A scarf would work perfectly!
Should you use dog sedatives for flying?
If you are flying with an anxious dog, 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 animal’s natural ability to balance and maintain equilibrium, which can be dangerous when your dog’s carrier is moved.
While sedation is generally not advised, the decision on whether or not to prescribe a tranquilizer for your pet should be made by your veterinarian.
On the other hand, there are many natural, holistic alternatives that are made specifically for pets.
Some essential oils have a calming affect which could help an anxious dog when flying. Additionally, you could consider using a pheromone collar or pheromone spray for your dog. The collar, which looks like a flea collar, produces the hormone pheromone that mother dogs produce to relax their puppies. The collar is a natural way to help keep your dog calm during this stressful situation. Alternatively, you could spray your pet’s carrier with pheromones.
For more information: Dog Sedatives for Flying: Should I use them?
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I fly with my large dog in the cabin?
Unfortunately, most airlines will only allow small and light dogs in the cabin. This is because they usually must comfortably fit underneath the seat in front of you. If you are traveling with a large dog, it is likely that you will need to ship him or her in the cargo hold of the plane.
Can I fly with my puppy 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 under12 weeks old to fly on their planes. However, some allow younger puppies to travel, for example, Alaska Air require puppies 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?
Sadly no. Your dogs are expected to remain in their carriers while in the airport and on board the aircraft. This is the case for all 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.