How to Prepare Your Pet for Airplane Travel

Medically Reviewed by Will Draper, DVM on March 10, 2014
3 min read

It's spring and your thoughts turn to summer vacation. While you search the Internet for flights and hotels, Fido watches you with his big puppy-dog eyes. Ever thought of taking him with you? Before you print boarding passes for your dog (or cat), get a few tips to ensure the trip is a tail-wagger for you both.

First, get your pet used to his carrier. "Make the carrier part of the furniture, not something that only comes out once a year," says Elizabeth J. Colleran, DVM. She's the owner of Chico Hospital for Cats in California and Cat Hospital of Portland in Oregon. Leave the carrier out by the dog bed or the scratching post, so your pet will explore it and be comfortable with it.

Take your pet for car rides in the carrier. Maybe the ride ends at the park, or with treats, or just back at home. Show your pet that trips in the carrier end well, says Douglas G. Aspros, DVM, a partner at Bond Animal Hospital in White Plains, N.Y.

Now that your kitty or pup is an experienced carrier passenger, it's time to book your flight. You can learn about pet policies on airline web sites. Pets that fit in a carrier under the seat are allowed in the cabin but in limited numbers, so book early. Pet fares are about $100, and pets count as one of your allotted carry-ons. Bigger pets, or those beyond the number allowed in the cabin, can fly cargo, but not in extreme temperatures.

You'll most likely need to bring a certificate of health from your vet to the airport. Aspros recommends your pet wear a tag with your cell phone number on it, as well as have an embedded microchip.

Check the airport's web site to know what you should expect when you arrive. Some Transportation Security Administration officers require pets to come out of carriers at security. If so, reach in the carrier and put a leash on your pet before you pull him out.

You're finally on board with the pet carrier tucked under the seat in front of you. These tips from Dr. Aspros will help ensure a safe, pleasant flight.

Prepare. Don't leave food or water in the carrier. Your pet will end up flying in a puddle of spilled water. Just pack some food in your carry-on in case of an unexpected delay. Otherwise, pets travel best on an empty stomach, to avoid accidents and vomiting. If your pet is prone to motion sickness, ask the vet for medication your dog or cat can take before the flight.

Calm. Give nervous kitties and canines the smell of home. Toss one of your dirty T-shirts or their usual bedding into the carrier. You can also spray bedding with Feliway or Adaptil, man-made feline and canine scents, to try to soothe anxious pets.

Engage. If your pet will stay still, you might be able to hold him on your lap after the plane has taken off. Or just reach in the carrier to pet him.

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