Tips for Air Travel with Cats and Dogs


I need to fly with my pets (a dog and 2 cats).  What should I do to prepare?


Over the years it has become progressively more difficult and expensive to fly with pets.  Charges usually vary depending on whether the pet flies under your seat or as checked baggage/cargo.  Major airlines typically charge $250 round trip for pets in the cabin and as much as $250-$500 round trip to fly as checked baggage.

Many owners are also concerned about their pet’s safety while traveling.  The incidence of lost pets, pet injury and even death has recently risen.  In 2010 there were 39 animal incidents reported while flying domestic commercial flights versus 22 in 2009.  Of these, 13 were injured and five were lost.   While these are only a small percentage of the hundreds of thousands of pets travelling each year, they represent a reality that needs to be considered before flying with your pet.

To reduce these risks, airlines generally will not transport pets when temperatures are expected to be above 85 F or below 20 F on any part of the route.  Additionally, many bracheocephalic breeds (such as Bulldogs, Pugs, Persian cats, etc) are not allowed as cargo since they are more prone to heat exhaustion and other breathing issues.

Here are some tip for preparing to fly with your pet:

Check your equipment.  Requirements vary by airline, so research the specific pet carrier criteria for your flight.  Usually the kennel must provide for the ability of the pet to stand up, turn around, and lie down in a natural position.  Maximum dimensions must not be exceeded.

Get your ticket early.  There are usually limitations of the number of pets permitted per flight, so get your ticket as early as possible to make sure you can book space.   Also, verify that there is no breed or weight restriction that will affect your pet’s travel.  You will also need to check on what papers are needed for your pet.  Most domestic airlines minimally require a veterinarian signed health certificate.  Many international and certain domestic destinations require additional criteria that may take months of planning to complete (with the help of your veterinarian).   Some airlines may offer pet frequent flyer miles and certain flights may even offer climate controlled pet-friendly cargo areas.  There is even an airline that caters to pets (Pet Airways) that offers flights from a limited number of airports.

Prepare your pet.  Get your pet acclimated for what is in store.  One way to do this is to get your pet used to in-kennel travel in your car.  This process should be gradual, starting with short drives around the block and working up to a longer drives that include the highway to acclimate your pet to the extra road noise.  Additionally, place the kennel on the floor of your car so your pet gets used to the vibrations (similar to what is experienced in a plane).  Your veterinarian may recommend a sedative or anti-anxiety medication in certain situations and for certain pets, although this could increase the health risk.  Immediately prior to the trip, try to give your pet plenty of exercise, the opportunity for urination and defecation, and a chance to eat and drink.

Check in with your pet while on the trip.   Checking on your pet is easy if it is flying with you in the cabin, but may be difficult if your pet is in cargo.  During layovers or any plane stoppage don’t hesitate to ask the attendant to check on your pet.  This is particularly important if your pet is not in a climate controlled environment.  Sometimes the airline personnel can offer water to your pet during plane stoppage.

If you have a veterinary question that you would like to propose for an upcoming edition, please send it to with “ask the vet” in the subject line.

Max Conn, DVM is the owner of Cat & Exotic Care of the CentralCoast, a full service veterinary hospital dedicated to the special needs of cats, birds, reptiles and small mammals.  Cat & Exotic Care is located in PismoCoastPlaza, 565 Five Cities Drive, 805-773-0228.  More information can be found at


Disclaimer: The informational handouts and website links above are for informational purposes only, they are not intended to replace veterinary care.