Vacations for pet-owners can be quite stressful with the added layer of figuring out what to do with your furbaby. So…why not take them with you? Taking your pets with you on vacation can be a great option. However, there’s a few tips you should know before flying with pets.
There are two options for flying with pets depending on the size of your animal. So, we’ve broken this list down into three categories: small, large and both.
Flying with Small Pets (Under 20 lbs)
Many airlines allow you to take your small pet with you as a carry-on item. Each airline has specific rules you’ll need to verify, but we’ve compiled a list of general guidelines
Carriers should be soft-sided and able to fit under the seat in front of you. Generally, the dimensions should be about 18 inches long by 11 inches high and 12 inches wide. There is also usually a weight restriction where your pet and carrier can’t weigh more than about 22 lbs. Additionally, your pet needs to have enough room to stand up and turn around inside the carrier. Since the carrier counts as one piece of carry-on, we recommend a carrier that has extra pockets for your belongings and treats, as well as reliable straps to carry your precious cargo – you can even find carriers that are backpacks so you can carry your pet hands-free.
Book in-person or on the phone
Airlines usually have rules about how many pets can be on board at once. Unfortunately, most online bookings don’t allow you to register your pet, so you’ll need to talk to a real person to make sure the flight isn’t already at their pet capacity. We also recommend booking a window seat when possible because sometimes the carrier can stick out a little, so if you’re in the aisle seat, your neighbour could trip over your pet on their way to the bathroom.
You can expect to carry your small pet through security. The carrier will go through the scanner and you will have to walk or carry your pet with you through the metal detectors. Then, you will have to put your pet back in the carrier once all has been cleared. Most airports don’t mind you walking your pet during check-in but once you’re past security they want the pet inside the carrier.
If you have a layover, try to make it at least two hours so you can take your pet outside for a walk and bathroom break with enough time to get back in through security. It’s also no fun running to your gate with your 20 lbs pet jostling around in their carrier. Give yourself time.
What to Bring
Bring an empty water dish. You can fill it with water on the plane or at the gate as needed. Water bowls always spill, so add a little and offer it to your pet. If they finish it, you can refill it. Leaving full dishes in the carrier always leads to a spill, so just bring an empty one and fill sparingly.
Bring treats. Travelling can be stressful for pets, so rewarding them for good behaviour is a must. If you have a long flight, you should also bring some food for them.
Don’t forget their leash. Just like you, your pet will be a little stiff after a long flight. It’s a good idea to let your pet walk once you’ve landed. However, busy airports and even busier pick-up areas are no safe place for an off-leash animal. As long as your pet is non-aggressive, leash-trained, and won’t pee inside the airport, it’s a good idea to let them stretch their legs once you’ve landed. If you don’t trust your pet to hold their bladder, you’ll still want the leash ready as soon as you get outside. Many people pack or forget the leash since their pet is in the carrier. However, you never know when you’ll need it. If you miss your connection and get stuck waiting on a layover, your pet will thank you for the opportunity to stretch.
Flying with Large Dogs (over 20 lbs)
If you have a very fat cat or a medium to large-sized dog, they will need to fly in the cargo section. Again, each airline has different rules that you’ll have to verify, but here are a few things to keep in mind.
Carriers usually must be hard-sided, plastic crates with a lock. The animal should be able to stand up and turn around easily.
It is unsafe to transport an animal in extreme heat or cold and airlines have rules regarding temperatures. Typically, your pet cannot fly in the cargo if it is colder than two degrees Celsius or hotter than 28 degrees in their departure or arrival city.
Your pet will go through security in their crate like your luggage. You will drop them off, answer questions or provide medical information, and that’s that! In some airports, the cargo terminal for pets may be out of the way, so, don’t be afraid to ask for directions! We advise staying with your pet as long as possible and walking them as long as possible – no need to keep them cooped up longer than necessary. However, since you drop your pet off before going through security yourself, make sure you give yourself enough time.
What to Bring
We recommend filling the crate with comfort items to help your pet relax. Since hard-sided crates are hard, you should have your pet’s bed line the bottom, as well as your pets favourite toy and blanket.
Food and water. You don’t want to overload on the food or water because bowls almost always spill and your pet may not even have an appetite. However, a little of both is a good idea. A great (yet unconventional) option for water is a rodent water bottle. For this, you’ll need to train your pet to use it well ahead of time.
Treats. You can hide some treats in the bedding of the crate as a surprise for your pet to find. You can also include a baggy taped to the top of the crate with a note for any airline employee handling your pet. This only works if you’re sure your pet is friendly and if you happen to have a cat/dog lover working that day. Sometimes, at the end of a flight, the baggy is empty – other times it’s untouched.
You should include some basic info on your pet’s crate. This could be in the form of a tag or written right on the plastic in black marker. You should include your pet’s name, your name, phone number, and address. You could also include which languages your dog speaks. Without notes, many airline workers don’t know how to calm your pet down if they’re upset and will even try different languages. So, any information to help them help your furbaby is great! Here’s an example of what you can write:
Hello/Bonjour! My name is Charlie. My Mom’s name is Megan and you can call her at (XXX)-XXX-XXXX. We are heading to Toronto, ON.
P.S. Treats calm me down → *arrow towards treat baggy*
For both cargo and carry-on, most airlines require that your pet be older than 12 weeks old (older if you’re flying out of the country). Additionally, you must also prove your pet has been vaccinated for rabies and up to date on shots.
Although prices vary depending on airlines, most charge about $50.00 per one-way to bring your small pet and $100.00 for large pets with you. Depending on how long your vacation is, bringing your pet along is probably cheaper than paying for a kennel (which usually costs at least $30 a night).
Although breed restrictions are more common for cargo-travelling animals, most airlines have a few breed restrictions to double check before booking your ticket. Additionally, you’ll want to check if there are any breed restrictions in the destination you’re travelling to. Some commonly restricted breeds are wolf-hybrids and some short-snouted breeds that would have too much trouble breathing (like pugs).
Whether flying in a hard or soft-sided crate, your animal should be used to the space. You should spend several weeks getting your pet comfortable in the crate. Some animals are more comfortable than others. For instance, dogs are typically more comfortable in a crate than cats. But some dogs like it better than others. So, we advise spending a lot of time training your animal and figuring out what they need to be comfortable. Once your pet is comfortable in their crate, you can take them on a little test-run road trip, to see if they’re still comfortable when in motion.
Keep in mind, you get to read, watch a movie, socialize, and keep yourself stimulated the entire flight, but your pet only has a small space. Your best bet is to make sure your pet is so comfortable that they sleep for most of the trip.
If your pet gets loose or lost, you’ll be thankful for identification tags. While microchips are great, ID tags with the pet’s name and your number make getting them home a lot faster and easier.
Talk to your vet
Many veterinarians used to prescribe sedatives for travelling pets so you may find your older family members recommending this. However, most vets will NOT do this anymore (for safety reasons). You should still discuss options with your vet, though. If your pet is anxious, they may recommend anti-anxiety medication or pheromones to help comfort your pet and offer helpful tips. Since many airlines require proof of vaccinations and/or certificates of health, you’ll need to visit your vet to obtain these documents anyway
Know your Pet
If your small dog barks at children, make sure to have a blanket to cover their window. If your dog stress eats, make sure to have kibble on-hand. If your cat hates the crate and won’t sit still, investigate other travel arrangements or options. We don’t want you to put your pet through unnecessary stress.
Stay informed. Stay Current.