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Preparing Your Dog for a Plane Ride

Preparing Your Dog for a Plane Ride

With travel becoming a feasible option once again, many of us are thinking aout packing our bags, hopping on a plane and going on an adventure with our faithful sidekicks.

Through time spent in the airport and on a plane, your dog can experience social health benefits as they gain confidence in new situations and bond with you. They can also experience mental health benefits as they are stimulated through exploration and physical health benefits as they join you on hikes and walks wherever you land.

If you are bringing your dog along on a plane ride, it is important to prepare properly for the adventure ahead so they can enjoy all these great benefits. Before you head to the skies, understand the logistics of traveling with a dog and use our packing guide to ensure you have all the necessities for your canine’s plane ride.

*And remember, some dogs may not have as much fun traveling as others – and that’s OK! If that’s the case, check out our guide on pet boarding and pet sitting to choose the best experience for your pet while you are away.

How to Give Your Dog the Best Experience Possible

Not all airlines have the same rules and regulations regarding traveling with a dog, nor do all destinations. For this reason, be sure to research and make sure you understand the relevant policies and regulations.

Most airlines require proof of specific vaccinations, parasite prevention and health documentation to fly your dog into certain states or countries. Check the requirements for your destination, then schedule a vet visit no more than 30 days before your departure date to ensure that all vaccinations and checkups are documented and to obtain a health certificate for your trip.

Also ask about any potential issues your pet may encounter once you've reached your destination. Different parts of the world pose different potential dangers. Heartworm and Lyme disease, for example, are more common in certain regions than others. Letting your veterinarian know where you're going can help them provide the right preventive medication or vaccinations.

Your dog's size and build will determine where in the plane they can travel. We've outlined some common policies below, but do your research on your airline's website or give them a call so you know the rules before you book your tickets.

  • Small dogs—Most airlines allow small dogs—usually up to about 20 pounds— to travel in the passenger area if they're in a carrier that fits underneath your seat.
  • Medium and large dogs—Most airlines require medium and large dogs to travel in the cargo area in USDA-approved carriers. Consult with your specific airline to determine what size carrier is allowed in the plane versus in the cargo area. Your carrier should be strong, well ventilated and big enough that your dog can stand up, lie down and turn around easily. You can make your dog feel more comfortable by placing their favorite, durable toys in their carrier as well. Be sure to check the product’s label to ensure it is safe to leave your pet unattended with it.

Taking your dog along for any flight should never be a last-minute decision. Take a look below to see how you can make flight reservations as stress-free as possible.

  • If you want your dog to ride with you in the passenger area, make your reservation well in advance because most airlines limit the number of dogs they allow on board.
  • Try to avoid taking your dog with you during heavy travel times like holidays and weekends when delays are more common.
  • If your dog will be traveling in the cargo area, try to avoid air travel during extremely hot or cold weather. The climate in the cargo area is usually not as regulated as it is in the passenger area.
  • Book a nonstop flight whenever possible to avoid having your dog shuffled around on connecting flights.
  • Traveling with a dog can include extra costs, so be sure to double-check with your airline to determine if any extra fees are associated with their travel.

Leading up to you and your pup’s big trip, use our packing list to help prepare for the adventure ahead.

How Plane Travel Can Affect Your Dog’s Health

Traveling with your dog is a great way to increase your bond together, experience new adventures and give your dog a mentally stimulating experience.

Remember, not all dogs will react the same to time spent in the air, so be sure to pay attention to your dog’s specific needs, and always consult your Petco veterinarian prior to any trip.

Because flying requires confinement and may be a brand-new experience for them, it could cause your dog to feel stressed or anxious, particularly if they're naturally shy, nervous, aggressive or hate being cooped up.

Signs that your dog is feeling stressed or anxious include whining, excessively licking their lips, drooling and shaking.

While some dogs are naturally predisposed to feeling more stress and anxiety in new situations—just like their human parents—don’t be discouraged! There are plenty of ways to help lessen their fear and distress.

  • Exposure to New Experiences: One way to help prepare your dog for air travel is to expose them to experiences that mimic a trip to the airport. While you might not be able to hire a private jet to practice flying with your dog, you can practice placing your dog in their kennel, taking them to busy places and exposing them to unfamiliar sights and sounds. Do this through positive reinforcement training, which will more likely result in them going into the crate themselves. This can all help make them feel more confident when flying.
  • Calming Aids: In some cases, a calming aid can be given to your dog to help prevent anxiety and stress when flying. However, only do so under the guidance of a veterinarian, as calming aids can interfere with your dog’s ability to regulate body temperature.

If your dog has experienced motion sickness on car rides, they might also be sensitive to time spent in the air.

To lessen the chance of air sickness during your trip, don't allow your dog to travel on a full stomach. Plan for an eight-hour gap between their last feeding and their upcoming plane ride. Additionally, a motion sickness medication might help alleviate their symptoms.

Of course, before you give your dog motion sickness medication or change their feeding plan, you should consult your vet.

Remember, no two dogs are exactly alike, and how they will react to time in an airplane can vary. The best thing to do before flying with your dog is to talk to your vet about any specific health concerns you have. This is especially important for brachycephalic dogs.

With the right help from your vet and by preparing amply, your dog can enjoy their adventure in the skies without distress.

Building a Lifetime of Adventures

Your dog’s favorite activity is time spent with you. Whether that is a beach trip or walking around the neighborhood, building a lifetime of adventures together is a great way to keep you both healthy and connected.

To learn more about caring for your dog, check out these helpful guides and resources: