Flying With a Dog or a Cat – Tips

Flying with Dogs

Flying With a Dog or a Cat: Domestic Travel

Anyone who plans to travel while flying with dogs to another state with her pet needs to have a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (CVI).  This official document is a health Certificate signed by a licensed and accredited veterinarian.  It guarantees that the pet shows no signs of communicable disease and gives a date that the inspection (examination) took place.  This document should include rabies vaccination information with the date the rabies shot was given.  Rabies vaccination documentation is required by all states for dogs and by most states for cats.  I recommend you contact the particular state’s agricultural or veterinary department directly for updated information before you travel.  In addition to your CVI certificate, for travel within the United States, your pet needs to have a health certificate from your veterinarian dated within ten days of departure stating that your pet is fit to travel.  The health certificate and your pet’s vaccination certificates should be attached to the kennel.  Always carry extra copies on your person, in case you are asked to produce them.  If your pet is tranquilized before travel, your veterinarian must supply the name of the drug, the dosage, and how the drug was administered.  This information should be included with the pet’s health certificate and other veterinary paperwork, and a copy of this information should also be attached to the kennel.

There are a wide variety of airlines now that accept pets, always be sure to call the airlines and ask about their pet policies before you purchase a ticket.  While small dogs and cats are generally allowed in the cabin, large dogs are often required to be checked as baggage.  Baggage holds can become hazardous if pets are exposed to extreme heat or cold for extended periods because they miss flights or planes are delayed.  There is no way for owners to assist baggage-checked pets during flight.  For this reason, the United States government recently required better training in pet handling for airline employees, and airlines must now notify the Department of Transportation about incidents involving animals.

Flying With a Dog or a Cat: International Travel

Before flying with dogs to another country, always contact that country’s consulate or embassy for information concerning their requirements.  Every country has specific health requirements for the entry of animals and most countries, including those of the European Union, have a veterinary certificate specific to their country.  If foreign countries do not have written policies specifically addressing your species of pet, I strong advise that you obtain something in writing from both the country’s embassy and your chosen airline carrier to avoid potential problems. 

If the country you are visiting does not have its own health certificate, you should use the International Health Certificate USDA-APHIS 7001 form, known as the United States Interstate and International Certificate of Health Examination for Small Animals.  Some countries require that it be certified by the USDA.  The certification should include a description of the pet, state that she is healthy and free of parasites, and list the inoculations she has received, including the type, the manufacturer, and the batch number, if possible.  The rabies shot must be given at least thirty days before travel and not more than twelve months before travel.  Some countries require that the certificate be translated into the language of that country.  Your area veterinarian-in-charge can provide you with current regulations, test, and inspections required.

When traveling with your pet to any of the countries of the European Union, you must use the new EU Form 998 Veterinary Certificate.  Your vet will complete and sign the form, confirming vaccination information and that the pet is parasite-free and in good health.  You must then take or mail the original form to the APHIS area office- Called a Veterinary Service (VS) Area Office- in your state so they can endorse and stamp it.  This office can also assist you with questions relating to traveling with your pet, help you locate an accredited veterinarian, and inform you of the fees for the USDA endorsements and current export requirements.

Flying With Dogs

Airport Etiquette

When traveling through the airport it is always best to keep a low profile when accompanying your pet at the airport.  Do not let him or her out of the carrier once you enter the airport terminal.  If they are traveling with you in the passenger cabin, never take him out of their carrier during the flight.

Be sure to take your dog outside before walking them through an airport.  Some airports provide dog-walking areas, but to be safe, have plenty of wee-wee pads on hand. Even if you are a responsible pet parent and don’t give your pet food for six hours before a flight or water within two hours of takeoff, sometimes your little friend still has to relieve himself.  If your pooch is sending you signals that this is the case, you can use the wee-wee pads in the airplane rest room, allowing your dog to relieve himself quickly, calmly, and discreetly.  Your dog will be very grateful.

If he must travel in the cargo hold, fasten a water bowl filled with frozen water to the door or carrier.  If you are carrying your pet through baggage check, politely and quietly inform the TSA agent at the security checkpoint that a pet is in the carrier, so he is not exposed to x-rays.  If you are asked to take your pet out of the carrier as you pass through security on your way to the gate, make sure that he is wearing a collar and a leash or, better yet, a harness.

Cabin vs Cargo

I recommend that you bring your pet with you in the passenger cabin when you are flying with dogs.  But if your pet exceeds the size or weight limit, then this simply is not possible.  Airlines usually accept a limited number of animals in the cabin- generally one pet per passenger and two to four animals total on the flight.  A member of the airline’s corporate staff can grant permission for two cats or two puppies from the same litter to travel in a single carry-on bag.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) allows each airline to adopt a policy regarding the acceptance or non-acceptance of pets in the passenger cabin. The FAA does mandate that if a pet is accepted in the passenger cabin, the pet and carrier must fit securely under the seat in front of the passenger and that the complete floor area in the section is accessible in the event of an emergency.  Additionally, passengers with pets are not permitted in the bulkhead or the emergency exit rows.  Check with an airline before purchasing a ticket to see if they accept pets in the cabin.

Most pets fly in the cargo hold as checked baggage when traveling with their owners or when they are being shipped unaccompanied.  Some airlines do not ship pets as checked baggage at all, while others will accept them only as air cargo and only from a “known shipper”- licensed pet breeders, commercial shippers, or freight forwarders.  The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) was enacted to ensure that animals traveling as cargo are treated humanely and not subjected to dangerous conditions.

Plane Sense

In the cargo hold, air space must be calculated for the number of live animals on the flight, so reserve space for your pet as checked baggage well before the flight.  Live animals, whether in the cabin, as checked baggage, or as air cargo will be taken on a first-come first-serve basis.  Once you have obtained a hard-sided container with ventilation on three sides that meets the requirements of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), be sure to make your pet reservation early and then confirm the reservation forty-eight hours before travel.

Inquire whether your pet can be hand-carried on and off the plane rather than being loaded on a conveyor belt, which is stressful for the pet and could also lead to accidental release or injury should the container fall off the belt (this is rare, but it does happen).  Ask about “counter-to-counter” shipping, in which the animal is loaded immediately before departure and unloaded immediately after arrival.  Be certain that the ground personnel are aware of your pet in the cargo hold so that actions can be taken if necessary (as in the case of a layover or long delay).  Inform the captain and the flight crew that your pet is aboard.  The flight crew must activate the temperature control for the cargo compartment as soon as the pet is loaded.  If you experience long layovers or delays, do not be shy about asking the flight crew whether your pet has adequate shelter and ventilation.  Tell the flight attendant that your pet is in the cargo hold.  Ask to be told when your pet is safely on board so you can relax (don’t forget to ask again if you change planes).

An airline cannot guarantee that it will accept a pet that it has not seen.  Considerations for acceptance of pets include the pet’s health and disposition.  A health certificate from your vet will help address any concerns.  An airline must also determine that all the paperwork is in order and that the crate meets all requirements.  Remember, the pet owner is responsible to ensure that all the proper paperwork is in order.

Making sure the travel experience is stress-free for your pet is extremely important, so remember to leave extra time for checking in and paperwork, so that you are not rushing through the airport.


Flying With Dogs as Emotional Support Animals  


1 reply
  1. Ronald
    Ronald says:

    I really appreciated this post, as I am about to embark on my own pet plane journey. I’d also like to add that choosing a more pet-friendly airline can help a lot. I’ve heard great things about Alaska Airlines, for example, but Frontier and Spirit aren’t even worth considering. Thank you so much for the content.


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