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Flying with dogs

Friday July 31st, 2009

Arriving in new locales can feel glamorous and exciting, but let's face it, getting there is rarely half the fun.

Even on domestic flights, airport lines, security checks, airplane air and noise, and delayed connections are stressful enough for people. For pets--who can't check the departure monitors or talk to the gate agent--it can be even more confusing and anxiety-provoking. And long international flights add extra burdens.

Because air travel can be so unsettling for dogs, and especially puppies, the ASPCA advises owners to find alternatives to commercial airline travel for their pets--certainly for animals checked in as cargo, but even for small dogs who could go in the airplane cabin.

But sometimes traveling by air is inevitable. For those occasions, a little advance planning is the key to your dog's comfort.

Preparing your dog for cargo travel

These tips will help you make sure your pup will be cared for during every phase of the journey:

  • Your dog's age and size determines where she sits. Every U.S. airline lets you carry small pets at least eight weeks old in the cabin for less than $100 each way. Dogs must be in an approved carrier (ask the airline for its recommendations) and fit under the seat in front of you. For most airlines, this will count as your one piece of carry-on luggage. Some airlines limit your canine passenger's weight to 15 to 20 pounds.
  • Short-nosed dogs need special consideration. Some airlines have special restrictions for dogs, like Pugs or Bulldogs, who have more trouble breathing in certain conditions.
  • Weather matters. Many airlines won't take pets during hot or cold spells because the risk your dog may die if the plane gets stranded on the tarmac is just too high.
  • Book a direct flight when possible. This will cut down on the chance that your dog will get stuck in a holding area or be left sitting on the tarmac while cargo's being swapped from one plane to another.
  • Book ahead. Most airlines limit the number of pets they'll take per flight.
  • Get a checkup and a health certificate from your veterinarian. This is required by airlines and is also a good idea for making sure your dog is healthy enough for the trip. You'll also need proof of a rabies vaccine. Keep in mind that the health certificate must be issued within 10 days before you fly.
  • Make sure your dog is wearing a collar with an identification tag. Attach your destination information as well, either by making up an extra tag or securely taping a packet of information onto the collar.
  • Take photos of your dog with you. Securely tape one to the outside of his carrier, and carry another with you onto the plane. If the pet becomes lost in transit, the photos will make it much easier for baggage claim personnel and others to find him.
  • Talk with your vet about the pros and cons of giving your dog a sedative. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, most pets shouldn't be sedated before flying because it can cause nausea. Also, the pressure of increased altitude could create respiratory or cardiovascular problems in sedated dogs, even if the dog's in the main cabin. Still, if you've got an anxious dog, those risks may well be offset by the chance to help her feel a little calmer about the flight.

Bottom line: Careful preparation is vital in making the airplane ride a smoother one for you and your dog. Consider worst-case scenarios, such as your dog getting lost en route, and be sure you know all of the airline's requirements for your traveling dog.

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