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Traveling with your favorite, furry companion may sound like a blast. And for some people, it may even be a necessity. But every animal is an individual with its own unique ways of responding to situations — and they’re not all born to be world travelers.
While we can’t speak for all pets, there are a handful of things you should consider before flying with your pet for the first time.
Has Your Pet Traveled Before?
Taking a dog who has never flown before on a cross-country adventure may not be ideal. “The biggest mistake that pet owners could make is expecting too much too soon,” pet behaviorist and owner of School For The Dogs, Annie Grossman, told TPG. Test the waters by taking your pet on a short commuter flight to see if they’re fit for a longer journey. If possible, it’s best to introduce travel to your pet while they’re still a puppy, preferably when he or she is still under 12-weeks old, before the socialization window closes.
How Old Is Your Pet?
Though you want to put the training wings on early, the USDA requires that pets must be older than 8-weeks old to fly. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you won’t want to fly with an animal that is too old, either. The burden of flying on a senior animal could be too much for them to handle.
Does Your Pet Have Health Issues?
Animals with existing conditions can have serious complications during plane travel. According to Air Travel Consumer Reports from the Department of Transportation (DOT), heart and respiratory issues are the most common causes of animal deaths in the air. If your pet has an existing medical issue, a temporary illness or an injury, leave them on the ground if you can.
Is Your Pet Easily Stressed?
If your dog hides in the bathtub every time it thunders, a trip on a noisy airplane — especially in cargo — will not be a pleasant experience for him or her. There are a few ways you can deal with a nervous dog when flying, but if travel isn’t necessary, it’s best to just leave them at home. Even adults get nervous during take off, so just imagine what it’s like for an animal with heightened senses, experiencing an unfamiliar pressure change without warning. Dr. Jeffrey Kaplan, a Massachusetts-based veterinarian, recommended stress-relieving pheromone products (like Feliway for cats) that can be sprayed in the carrier if travel is a must.
What Breed Is Your Pet?
Snub-nosed (also known as brachycephalic) animals are susceptible to respiratory difficulties while flying. These breeds include pugs, Boston terriers and boxers, and some felines are included in this list as well, like Burmese, Himalayan and Persian cats. Most airlines do not allow brachycephalic breeds in the cargo hold.
How Large Is Your Pet?
If your pet is too big to fit in a carrier under a seat, you’ll have to put them in cargo — something that is strongly discouraged unless absolutely necessary. “Unless your animal is small enough to fit under your seat and you can bring him or her in the cabin, the ASPCA [advises] pet owners to not fly their animal,” said Lisa Weisberg, ASPCA senior vice president of government affairs and public policy.
How Long Is the Trip?
“If the trip is less than a week, I wouldn’t recommend pet travel unless it had to be done,” Kaplan said. It can take cats and dogs a few weeks to get acclimated to a new environment, Kaplan said, which is an additional stressor on top of air travel.
Is Your Pet Comfortable in a Carrier?
An injury to the paw or nail while trying to make a grand escape from the crate is one of the top causes of injuries for dogs held in cargo, according to the DOT. The best way to get your pet familiar with a carrier is to let them lay in it at home. Give them treats while they’re inside and make the carrier feel like a positive place.
In addition to asking yourself these important questions, it’s always best to check with your veterinarian before bringing your pet on a plane. He or she will be able to give you an expert opinion based on your individual pet.
Feature photo by Richard Atrero de Guzman/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
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