Shifting home base with pets is always hard. But when you’re shifting between countries, the Great Move requires a whole different level of management. Especially with pets like dogs, who don’t handle moving base very well. Their acceptance of the move, however, is a hurdle for the future. Taking them along can be a huge undertaking in the first place.
Statistics from the US Travel Industry Association of America show that an approximate 29.1 million Americans have traveled by air with their pets over the last three years. 78% of these were dog owners. That’s a ballpark figure of more than 7.5 million dogs traveling by air per year.
A number like that confirms that air travel for pets is no longer the outlandish or exaggerated idea it would have been, say, fifteen years ago. But at the same time, websites and newspapers still frequently report incidents like pets being separated from owners or being neglected. Or, like a dog aboard United Airlines, being shipped off to JAPAN instead of Kansas City, where the owner was headed.
So: theoretically and statistically, it can be done. You can move with your dog over distances as wide as the Pond between the US of A, and the UK- or even farther. But should you? And how can you? Read on for the ultimate guide for every dog owner planning a flight, but first check out a few interesting flight facts!
When Should You Consider It – and When Not?
No dog owner wants to seriously consider selling their beloved dog or giving him up for adoption, when faced with an imminent move. Even if it’s for the span of a summer vacation, some dogs can be taken along, and some not. Air travel is inherently not safe for dogs. Only with maximum precautions can you improve that estimate.
While the best person to confirm this for you is your vet, there are some basics you can use. There are more than 44 breeds of dogs who have been banned from flying by major airlines in the USA. These include dogs with snub-noses or short noses, and strong jaws.
The reason is that these dogs have much shorter nasal passages, and are much more prone to going into respiratory distress in the middle of the flight. An attack like this, in the middle of a flight, when no one is likely to check on them more than a couple of times, is often fatal for dogs.
So if you have pugs, bull dogs, boxers, Pekingese, Shih Tzus, or any of the listed breeds of spaniels, your dog will likely not be approved to fly to the UK by most American airlines.
Bet On Your Vet
Whether you have a puppy or an older dog, it’s always recommended that you take your dog to the vet for a full check up. Getting an all-clear from your vet is the ultimate decision maker for whether your dog can even fly safely, or not.
Your dog’s vaccinations need to be up to date, to be on the safer side. Also, in the case of dogs who are older than 7 years, confirming the status of their liver and kidneys is a good idea.
This is because flying and the journey itself pose a burden for your dog’s system. Should his liver and renal function be compromised already, it can wreak irreparable damage on them.
For people in the US who are planning a long trip with their dogs, a visit to a USDA Accredited Veterinarian is the first item on the list. You may have another regular vet, but it is obligatory to have a certificate from a USDA Accredited vet, before your pet will be allowed to travel.
Your second consideration is: does your dog have a Microchip? Because dogs, cats, and ferrets are required to have an ISO compliant (11784 and 11785) microchip. These chips have a 15 digit serial number. (More on this later!)
With regards to vaccinations: if your dog has not already been vaccinated for Rabies, he will receive ‘Primary’ vaccinations. But this means that there is an obligatory waiting period of 21 days after the primary dose, before he can travel.
Other vaccinations are also essential. Also, you have to show proof that your dog has undergone treatment for Echinococcus (dog tapeworms), whether as treatment or prophylaxis, in the last 24 hours – 120 days before entering the EU. This also applies to many other countries outside the EU.
In some places, you need to have proof that the tapeworm treatment contained Praziquantel or a drug with equivalent efficacy. Lastly, depending on your intended country of travel, you may need to have your dog’s health certificate translated and attested.
And That’s The Law! – What Is? US/UK regulations
US/UK regulations for dog transport can seem like an unending maze of conditions and loopholes. However, for the sake of simplicity, the main points are listed here below:
EU Pet passport: EU Pet passports are required for dogs traveling by air within the EU. So if you’re going from USA to UK, you won’t need one. It’s not possible to get one while in the US either, because it has to be issued by a vet in the EU. But for further travel between EU member countries, it’ll be needed.
In case your pet already has a passport from previous EU travel, you may be able to travel with it if his vaccinations are up to date and tapeworm treatment has been updated. Important to know though: US vets cannot enter data into an EU passport. It has to be done by an EU accredited vet.
Microchips: As mentioned, your pet needs to have a Microchip that is ISO11784 and ISO 11785 compliant. If he is already chipped with an older microchip, you can either bring your own Microchip reader with you, or have an additional, newer chip implanted with the new one.
Make sure you have one of the two solutions, though. Otherwise your pet can end up being quarantined for >21 days on arrival. Or, even worse, refused entry altogether. Also, the microchip numbers need to be recorded in the pet passport. Even if a new chip is placed, both old and new numbers should be on record.
Blood tests may also be necessary, depending on your country of travel. In case of new or very recent vaccinations, the vaccination batch, date of administration, and date of validity have to be recorded. The most important, as always, is the Rabies vaccination.
Last but not the least: in the event you’re traveling with more than 5 pets, the entire procedure will be completely different. Traveling with more than 5 pets requires you to follow commercial rules for importing animals. Even if you’re attending a competition or dog show, you need to show paperwork from the respective authorities.
The Fox, No Wait, The Airline Say?
In 2016, there was a rate of 0.5 deaths per 10,000 animals transported, which isn’t a very scary figure. But, one-third of all of these happened on the same airline.
Moral? One leg of your travel depends entirely on your airline. If you don’t want your trip to turn into one of the nightmarish pet scenarios that are often reported in the news, here’s some things you should keep an eye on.
There are three ways in which your pet can travel with you via commercial airlines
- Checked Cabin Baggage: your pet flies with you in the cabin. The prerequisites are that there must be an adult passenger as companion, and the pet must be in an airline compliant carrier, that can be stowed away under a seat without blocking the passageway or the aisle. These passengers usually do not get seats in the exit aisle, because of the potential flight risks.
- Checked Baggage Cargo: your pet is in a carrier but in the cargo hold. This is usually for pets who are too large (<10kg) for the cabin or do not meet other requirements. Some airlines make it necessary that pets fly in the baggage cargo regardless of size. Some permit dogs only in Economy class.
- Manifest Cargo: pets who are very large, or in case of unaccompanied dogs, can travel as manifest cargo in the hold.
There are also service animals, commonly service dogs, who can travel with the passenger in the cabin. However, the rules for service animals are very different than those for pets.
Regardless of which way you transport your dog, the first step is: inform the airline. Airlines have a limit to the number of pets per flight. Also, when your airline knows you have a pet with, they will often help you and give you particulars to their rules for pets on board.
Try to book a window seat. If your pet is flying in the cabin with you, a window seat helps you minimise his distractions. He can focus on you and on being with you, which will make a long flight go much smoother.
Do your homework on crate and carrier regulations. Most airlines make it necessary that your pet is able to stand up inside his carrier. He must be able to move himself around and turn around inside. More on crate preparation and carrier training further on! Bear in mind also, that the pet carrier is an ‘extra’ piece of baggage for most airlines, that you’ll have to pay extra for.
The airports themselves can have their own rules. Most airports in mainland USA are pet-friendly and have more experience with dogs. Even so, you may be required to bring all your pet’s documentation to the airport 1-5 days before the flight. The original health certificate and vaccination record may also need to be recorded and “registered” and sent to the destination airport for approval from customs.
When you take into account the time difference, the whole process can take quite some time. Which is why, fore-warned is fore-armed!
Oh, All The Places You’ll Go!
When traveling with your dog, it’s always best to find yourself a direct flight. Although most airlines these days offer ‘pet handling programs’, the equation becomes more complicated with a layover in the middle. Boarding, takeoff, and landing, are the most stressful parts of the journey for dogs. The risk of a respiratory or cardiac arrest happening during these times is higher than any other point in the journey.
Some countries require no paperwork from dogs who are just ‘passing through’. Other countries, like England, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, require you to have transit permits.
‘Transit’ is when you switch planes in the middle of a continuous journey. While you shuttle between arrival and departure terminals, your pet is taken with baggage, when he’s traveling in the cargo hold. That can mean an interminable (pun intended) wait time for him.
In most cases, if a layover is less than three hours long, your pet will be shuttled without much ado. However, if it’s a long layover, and if you’re switching airlines, you will have to personally collect your pet from one terminal and take him to the next one. Bear in mind, that the Customs and Import regulations of the country you’re in, will apply.
If you have a very long layover, it may be possible to collect your pet and take him through customs and for a small walk. Or, if you’ve pre-arranged a licensed pet transport agent, he/she will transfer your dog between the terminals and the airlines for you. They are not always available, though. Which is why it’s a good idea to arrange with them well before your date of travel.
Try to book your tickets as well in advance as you can, to avoid the last-minute fare spike. But make sure to talk to your airline about their pet transport arrangements before you book the tickets. Another small piece of advice: try to fly off season. That will help you save a little money on what the extra baggage costs for your pet will be.
Almost every single authority, including the American Veterinary Medical Association, recommends NOT sedating your dog during a flight. Sedation and high pressure, air restricted containers make for a disastrous combination. Most sedatives slow down breathing as a side effect. In a closed container in cargo, that can be lethal. Especially since often there’s no one to monitor the situation.
Additionally, most airlines will not permit animals to be sedated, for the same reason. It has often happened that dogs have needed to be medically revived at the end of a flight. Some dogs respond unusually to the sedative’s effects. Some don’t survive at all.
This holds doubly true for brachycephalic dogs, which are dogs with a small head/snub nose. This is why they are not allowed to fly at all, by so many airlines. Dogs may go into respiratory arrest, throw up and aspirate their vomit into their lungs, or even go into cardiac arrest.
Instead of sedatives, talk to your vet about anti-anxiety medications like Trazodone, Alprazolam, or Diazepam. Or even calming nutritional supplements like Solliquin or Zylkene, two non-prescription nutritional supplements. These are milder and good for dogs who are more independent in temperament and can manage being in a crate for the flight better. As an example there are options like calming dog treats which help keep your dog calm and settle their stomach which could be a good option.
In any case, it’s best to have your vet choose your pet’s medication before the flight. Also, make sure you do a small test run before the flight itself, so that you know how your pet is going to respond.
Be A Pest. No, Seriously.
It’s the opposite of what you’d otherwise want to be on a flight. No one wants to be the typical, annoying passenger who rings every two minutes for a Coke.
But when you need them to check up on your pet – ask. Make sure every airline employee you interact with knows that you have a pet traveling with you, that is going into the cargo hold. You can even ask if you can talk to the baggage handlers, and check up on your dog before loading.
If your dog is flying in the cabin with you, stock up on puppy training sheets, like Piddle Pads. Your dog will need to use the bathroom at least once during a nine hour flight. You need to be prepared for the situation. You can talk to your flight attendant and set up a mini Relief station in a bathroom for your dog, for a few minutes.
Additionally, you can use mobile apps to keep track of any dog tracker you’ve put on your pet. You can’t physically check up on your pet in the cargo hold yourself. But that comes close.
What’s The Weather Like?
It sounds banal, but the weather outside can have a huge influence on what your dog must endure during the flight. Although the plane itself is air conditioned and temperature regulated, every other part of the journey puts him at a much higher risk. Especially if your dog is traveling in the cargo hold.
Dogs are warm blooded and can regulate their temperature within a certain range. They process excess heat by panting, and through sweat glands on the pads of their feet. They handle the cold by increasing body temperature by boosting their metabolism and body heat production – but only to a certain extent. After a point, these mechanisms fail to regulate your pet’s temperature. And he can very quickly go into hyperthermia, or hypothermia.
Depending on their size, age, breed, coat, and climate of origin, dogs handle temperature differently. However, as a rule of thumb: make sure your dog has a cooling pad or self warming pad, depending on the ambient temperature. Pet warming and cooling pads can be placed in their crates to make them more comfortable.
Especially if your dog is flying in cargo the temperature variations are significant. These areas are often not as well conditioned as the cabin. Make sure your dog has enough padding to keep him warm in the high pressure, high altitude conditions.
Some airlines have climate controlled holding areas, which minimizes the temperature fluctuation before loading. Most airlines also load pets last, so that they get fresh air as long as possible before going on. But in busy airports, especially in the summer, tarmac temperatures can make the hold boiling hot, well before your pet goes in.
In many airlines, live animals are not permitted in the cargo hold when temperatures on the tarmac are below 7 degrees celsius or higher than 29 degrees celsius anywhere on the flight plan. If you can get an Acclimate certificate from a vet that your dog is used to low temperatures, you may be allowed on. However, no such certificate is accepted for high temperatures, and for good reason.
So! What can you do?
- Try to travel in spring or fall, when temperatures are moderate.
- Try to travel off season, to minimize wait times.
- As mentioned, try to get a direct flight.
- Make sure that your pet is used to traveling in a crate or used to traveling at all. A pet who has never left the house is likely to go into full blown panic mode, if the first trip he ever has is by air.
Home On The Way Home, Away From Home
Now that you’re done thinking about your pet’s travel arrangements, let’s take a look at what he’ll be traveling in, and how you can make it better.
Most airlines offer pet travel crates, but often they are simple wire cages with very little to offer in the way of comfort. It’s better to arrange your own crate and deck it out with some home comforts for your dog.
Make sure your crate fits the regulations. Your dog should be able to stand up fully and turn around inside it, with a little moving room for him to be able to stretch himself out a little.
Place a cooling or heating mat inside the crate, as well as some of your dog’s personal items, favorite toys, stuffed toys, etc. Get your dog acclimated to using this crate as home base at home, so to speak.
Your pet should be able to consider the crate a safe place. The process starts well before the flight. When your pet gets used to staying in the crate, the flight will go all the easier for him.
One major tip is: leave the crate with the door open. Your dog should be able to come and go as he pleases. This way, he won’t consider it a cage, and you’ll be able to get him in it without issues, before the flight. Reinforce going inside with positive reinforcement.
Use the crate when you take your dog to the park or for a play date, so that he associates the crate with a fun activity. The plane ride will come to him as a shock, but at least you won’t have to force him into the crate.
Before the flight, leave a t shirt you’ve worn in the crate. When your dog can smell ‘you’, he’ll be much calmer.
Make sure the upper and lower halves of the crate are fastened together with sturdy hardware, so that it doesn’t come apart during the flight.
The crate should be marked with stickers saying that there’s a live animal inside. Tape or fix an envelope with your pet’s health documents to the top of the crate, for easy reference. It’s also a good idea to mark the envelope with a marker saying :ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS – DO NOT REMOVE.
Line the bottom of your dog’s crate with absorbent puppy training pads. This will help mop up any ‘accidents’.
Most crates come with plastic bowls for water that can be fixed inside. Fill these bowls with water and freeze them, so that your dog has water during the flight, once the ice has melted.
You can also fix a small packet with treats for your dog inside the crate. But avoid putting food in there. Unless your dog has a medical condition, he can manage a few hours without food. For the best crates available in the UK check this article – best dog crates.
Goin’ Pro and Embargos
A very good shortcut is to hire a professional pet travel agent. They facilitate pet transport and basically micro-organize your pet’s trip for you. A quick search could throw up some reasonably priced agents in your area.
Lastly, there are some health and legal conditions which will make it impossible for your dog to fly. But everything else is manageable. Flying with dogs is not easy, but is definitely worth it. At the end, you have your dog with you, which is all that counts.
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