Air Travel with Your Pets

Summer and holiday seasons turn into USDA health certificate seasons at animal hospitals nationwide. If you are planning air travel with your pet, here are some things you need to know.

Travel is stressful enough without having to worry about how the pet will fare in a carrier surrounded by noise and unfamiliar people. Horror stories abound. Still, most travel disasters stem from one of three issues, all of which are readily preventable. Do not open the carrier for a final pet or hug before travel because the pet can escape. Do not use a low-quality carrier that can open or break. Do get your pet used to being inside the carrier prior to travel to minimize anxiety. Keep in mind that brachycephalic (short-faced) dog breeds may have difficulty breathing when agitated. Proper planning makes for a fun excursion for every member of the family, even the furry ones.

Flying your Pet in the Cabin with you

  • Most airlines require pets to be 15 pounds or less to fly in the cabin with their owners (this weight includes both the pet and the carrier). This also means the carrier must fit under the seat in front of you. Check with the airline about the carrier size and dimensions. Most airlines sell carriers or you can buy one from a pet supply store.
  • Be sure to confirm with the airline the day before travel that your pet is coming with you.
  • Remember that in most cases you will need a USDA health certificate in most cases. Check with the airline as to how many days before travel the certificate must be issued. The USDA considers a health certificate to be valid for 30 days, but many airlines and states have their own ideas about how long a health certificate should be valid and 10 days is typical for domestic travel. Some states require specific vaccinations. Travel to foreign countries now requires notarization of the certificate beyond the veterinarian's signature. Always be sure to check with the country's consulate regarding what you need.
  • Some animals may be stressed or frightened by travel. Consider tranquilizers. If your pet is traveling in the cabin with you, you may just want to have some on hand in case of unexpected anxiety.

Your Pet as Checked Luggage

Some airlines have maximum weight requirements. Be sure to check, particularly if you have a big dog.

Most states will not accept animals younger than 8 weeks of age. Such youngsters will not be allowed to travel by air.

Federal regulations require that each kennel be properly marked as follows:

  • Display a "Live Animals" label with letters at least 1 inch high, on top and on at least one side of the kennel.
  • Indicate the top with arrows or "This End Up" markings on at least two sides.
  • Feeding instructions label: If food is necessary, it must be attached to the outside of the kennel.
  • Feeding certification attached: Certification must be attached to the kennel stating that the animal has been offered food and water within four hours prior to drop off at the airline. IMPORTANT: Do not feed your animal in the two (2) hours prior to departure, as a full stomach can cause discomfort for a traveling pet.
  • Contact information label: Label it with your name, address and phone number at origin and destination cities. It is also a good idea to include your pet's name on the label (in case of escape, it may help to call the animal by name).
  • Include two empty dishes: One for food and one for water, securely attached to the container and accessible from the outside.
  • Absorbent material: The kennel must contain absorbent material or litter. (Black and white printed newspaper is a good choice). Please note that the use of straw, hay or wood shavings is prohibited for international shipments.

United Airlines has a number of restrictions on flying dogs, including a "no fly list" of certain breeds. If you plan on flying United or on one of its related airlines, review United Airlines’ list of restrictions.

According to the Animal Welfare Act, there are specific temperature guidelines to which airlines must adhere. Ambient temperatures in holding areas for cats and dogs must not fall below 45F for more than 45 minutes when being moved to or from a holding area.

Animals transported in a carry-on are not protected under the Animal Welfare Act, so it is up to the person carrying them to see that they do not become too cold or overheated.

Consider implanting a microchip ID for any pet who travels.

We wish easy travel and a pleasant journey to everyone transporting their pets.

For international destinations, each country has specific requirements for animal travel. To see international requirements, check with the USDA database. See information about DEFRA requirements for travel to the UK .

See domestic requirements.

See the AVMA's FAQ on short-nosed dogs and air travel.

Find a dog park in the area where you are traveling.

For some additional information on pet travel, including a pet travel newsletter and pet travel discounts, sign up to be a member (for free) at Take Your Pet.

For pet friendly lodging and/or recreational activities, see Pets Welcome or Dog Friendly.

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