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How Stressful is Flying for Dogs? Understanding Dog Travel Anxiety

Travel can be a stressful experience for humans, but have you ever wondered how stressful is flying for dogs? Dogs, as beloved members of our families, often accompany us on journeys, including air travel. However, the unfamiliar environment, loud noises, confinement, and separation from their owners can cause significant stress for dogs during flights.

In this article, we will delve into the various factors that contribute to canine travel anxiety, explore its effects on our four-legged companions, and provide tips on how to minimize their stress while flying.

Cabin vs. Cargo Hold

When thinking about how stressful flying is for dogs, one of the primary concerns is deciding whether to transport them in the cabin or the cargo hold. Each option has its own advantages and disadvantages, and the choice should be based on the individual needs and temperament of your dog.

Transporting a dog in the cabin provides the benefit of proximity to the owner, which can be comforting for both the dog and the owner. However, it is important to consider the size and temperament of the dog, as well as airline restrictions. Some dogs may find flying in the confined space of a carrier under the seat stressful, while others may feel more secure being near their owner.

Alternatively, larger dogs or those who become agitated easily may be better suited to travel in the cargo hold, where they have more space to move around. However, it is essential to research the specific airline’s policies regarding temperature control, ventilation, and safety precautions for pets in the cargo hold. Some airlines have strict protocols to ensure the well-being of pets during the journey.

Related posts:
Flying Dogs in Cargo: How Safe is it?
Flying with Dogs in Cabin? [12 Top Tips!] 15 Airlines That Allow Flying With Dogs In-Cabin [Prices & Policies]

How stressful is flying for dogs? Here are the stress factors.

Sensory Overload.

Flying means encountering a multitude of unfamiliar and overwhelming stimuli which can be stressful for dogs. The loud noises of aircraft engines, the bustling activities at airports, and the confined spaces inside the cabin can all contribute to sensory overload. These factors can heighten a dog’s anxiety, leading to restlessness, excessive barking, or even aggression.

Confinement and Separation.

Dogs are naturally social animals, and being confined to a small carrier or crate when flying can be stressful. The physical limitations of airline-approved containers restrict their movement and prevent them from seeking comfort from their owners. Furthermore, the separation from their familiar human companions can intensify their feelings of anxiety and insecurity.

Unfamiliar Surroundings.

The airport environment can make flying stressful for dogs. The loudspeakers, bustling crowds, security procedures, and unfamiliar scents can all contribute to their stress levels. Additionally, the change in routine and disruption of their daily activities can cause further anxiety.

Lack of Control.

Dogs are creatures of habit and thrive in environments where they have a sense of control. During air travel, they lose control over their surroundings, as well as their ability to escape potentially stressful situations. This lack of control can escalate their anxiety levels and manifest in various behavioral changes.

Health Risks.

The physical well-being of dogs is also a concern during air travel. The cargo holds of airplanes, where pets are often transported, may be subject to extreme temperatures, inadequate ventilation, and loud noises. These conditions can pose health risks, including respiratory distress, heatstroke, or even injuries caused by turbulence or mishandling.

Airline regulations make flying less stressful for dogs.

Airline companies have recognized the concerns surrounding pet travel and have implemented regulations and safety measures to ensure the well-being of dogs on planes. Most airlines have specific guidelines for transporting pets, including dogs, in the cabin or in the cargo hold. These guidelines often include requirements for suitable carriers, health certificates, and restrictions on breed and weight. The aim is to provide a safe and controlled environment for dogs during a flight.

Making flying less stressful for dogs. 

While flying can be stressful for dogs, there are several measures pet owners can take to alleviate their anxiety and ensure a more comfortable journey:

1. Select the right dog carrier.

Airlines have very strict rules and regulations about what pet carriers passengers are allowed to bring on their flights. The right carrier for your dog will depend on whether you are traveling with your dog in the cabin, or if you dog will fly in the pet cargo.

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 dogs a little more room. You can get some great dog travel crates with expandable sides, so your dog can have some extra room for stretching out when at the airport.

When flying with dogs in cargo, you must select a hard and sturdy travel container. It must also be clean, leak-proof, escape-proof, claw-proof and well ventilated on 4 sides. 

In all cases, you must comply with International Air Transport Association (IATA) guidelines. These 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).

2. Get your dog used to confined spaces.

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 work 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. 

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 with your dog’s carrier. Take your dog out for a walk around the block, or to the cafe. The more practice runs you do, the less stressful flying will be for dogs. 

3. Exercise and Bathroom Breaks.

Provide ample exercise before the journey to help your dog burn off excess energy. Dogs will often get anxious and stressed when they have not had adequate exercise. Additionally, a tired dog is more likely to sleep through the stress of flying. It’s also important to plan for bathroom breaks to ensure they are comfortable and have relieved themselves before boarding. Many airports have special areas for pets and service animals to go potty. 

4. Calming Techniques.

Some pet owners think that using sedatives will make flying less stressful for dogs. However, at the recommendation of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), many airlines will not accept household dogs that have been sedated or tranquilized. This is because dogs that have been given sedatives or tranquilizers are at a higher risk of respiratory and cardiovascular problems at high altitudes.

However, some veterinarians recommend herbal stress relievers, like lavender and chamomile, to ease your dog’s travel anxiety. Please be sure to ask your veterinarian if using these natural alternatives is safe for your pet.

Related post: Dog Sedatives for Flying: Should I use them?

5. Select a reputable airline.

It’s important for dog owners to choose reputable airlines that have experience transporting pets. Some airlines have specialized programs for pet air travel that prioritize the safety and well-being of animals.

Before booking a flight for a dog, it’s a good idea to research the airline’s policies and procedures for pet travel. This can help owners make an informed decision about whether air travel is the best option for their dog and what steps they can take to ensure their pet’s safety and comfort during the flight.

6. Fly direct whenever possible.

Flight transfers may create a lot of potential problems for your dog. A transfer means more time in the cargo hold and more variation in the climate. For example, you may take off from a cold climate and land in a hot climate, causing stress for your dog.

Not to mention that a pet carrier can get misplaced just like a piece of luggage, meaning there’s a possibility that your dog may miss the connecting flight.

7. Acclimation to Noise.

Gradually expose your dog to loud noises, such as the sound of aircraft engines, to desensitize them and reduce their anxiety levels. Taking your dog to the airport before your trip may be unfeasible, however you can play your dog videos of planes taking off. 

8. Reassurance and Comfort.

Providing your dog with a familiar blanket or toy that carries your scent, can make flying less stressful for dogs. 

Seek professional guidance.

Before deciding to take a dog on a plane, it is advisable to consult with a veterinarian. A professional can help to decide how stressful flying will be for dogs by assessing their health and temperament. They may also provide advice on calming techniques or suggest appropriate sedation if necessary. Veterinarians are well-versed in understanding the needs of dogs and can provide valuable guidance on making the journey as comfortable and stress-free as possible.

Bottom Line

While flying can be stressful for dogs, it is essential to acknowledge that measures are in place to ensure their safety and well-being during the journey. By following airline guidelines, preparing your dog adequately, and seeking professional advice, pet owners can minimize stress and discomfort for their feline companions. Ultimately, the decision to travel with a dog should be made with careful consideration of their individual needs and capabilities. 

Related posts:
Flying Dogs in Cargo: How Safe is it?
Flying with Dogs in Cabin? [12 Top Tips!]
15 Airlines That Allow Flying With Dogs In-Cabin [Prices & Policies]
Dog Sedatives for Flying: Should I use them?
21 Dog Breeds That Can Fly in Cabin

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