is your pet ready to take wing?

You’ve packed your clothes and printed your boarding pass. You’ve even cocooned travel-sized toiletries in clear plastic bags to ensure the nation is safe from your toothpaste. You’re ready to depart! But if you’re traveling with Fido or Fluffy, one question remains: Is your pet ready to take to the skies?

While flying with furry friends is nothing new, the number of people opting to take pets on planes is skyrocketing. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, an estimated 2 million pets are transported by air each year — that’s a number to bark about! But before your pet starts accumulating his own frequent flier miles, it’s important to know whether cruising at 30,000 feet is right for your furry friend.

take to the skies if your pet:

  • Is comfortable with new places and experiences.
  • Gets along well with strangers and other pets.
  • Is a cat or small dog who can fit in a carrier below the seat in front of you — most airlines allow dogs up to 20 lbs., but always call ahead to check.
  • Is a dog weighing over 20 lbs. and is comfortable being left alone for multiple hours.

consider keeping four paws on the ground if your pet:

  • Is a brachycephalic or snub-nosed breed like a Persian, Pug or Pekingese.
  • Is prone to anxiety or claustrophobia, so may not do well on flights or may need medication to relax for the duration.
  • Is a dog weighing over 70 lbs. — some airlines have caps on weight, even for pets who fly as cargo.
  • Is from 20–70 lbs. but suffers from separation anxiety or doesn’t like being left alone for long periods of time.

vet before you jet

Both physical health and personality can have a huge impact on your pet’s wellbeing during a flight, so a complete health check belongs at the top of your pre-flight checklist. While you’re there, remember to:

  • Ask if your dog is physically fit to fly. Overweight dogs, smoosh-faced breeds and pets with certain health conditions can experience in-flight complications.
  • Ask how you can keep your pet calm for the flight. Dogs and cats prone to stress, fear, aggression, separation anxiety or claustrophobia can have a turbulent time in the sky. Your veterinarian may recommend holistic remedies, physical aides (like a Thundershirt® or Mutt Muffs) or even an anti-anxiety medication to keep your pup feeling fine.
  • Ask for a copy of your pet’s health records to take with you.
  • Make sure your pet is up to date on all heartworm prevention and vaccines. Different countries have different vaccination requirements, so doing your research before you go is essential.
  • Have a microchip implanted if you haven’t already done so. Some countries won’t let your pet in without one.
  • Stock up on prescription meds — it could be hard to find refills once you reach your destination.
  • Get all your pet’s travel documents in order, including signatures from the vet as needed.

fetching the paper(s): proper documentation

Just as you wouldn’t leave the country without your passport, your pet shouldn’t leave home without his papers. Unfortunately, there’s no neat little billfold for your pet — four-legged friends require several elements that make up their “passport.” Well before boarding your flight, put together a travel folder for your furry friend containing the following:

  • a pet health certificate: Also known as a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection, this document is required by many states and countries. It typically not only shows your pet’s information (e.g. name, age, microchip status) but also certifies that he has received recommended vaccinations, is not showing signs of infectious, contagious or communicable disease, and is healthy for travel. Your vet may be able to provide this form, or you can save a little time by downloading and printing a copy from the AVMA’s website and bringing it to your pet’s pre-trip visit. Generally it must be signed and dated within 30 days of your departure.
  • vaccination records: Some states and countries also require vaccination records. You can find the regulations for each individual state on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s website. To be on the safe side, ask your vet for copies of all health records to include in your folder — you don’t want to show up short-pawed if officials ask for something specific.
  • international health certificate: If you’re going to be leaving the U.S. with a four-legged travel companion, you’ll need to look into the regulations of your destination country. Many countries, including European Union countries, have their own specific health certificates, but there are countries that do not. If that’s the case, you should use a U.S. Interstate and International Certificate of Health Examination for Small Animals, which you can download here. This will need to be issued by your veterinarian within 21 days of departure.

calling the shots: a note on rabies + quarantine

Before you pack your pooch’s bags for exotic lands, know that if you visit a country with a high incidence of rabies, your pet may have to be quarantined when you return. There are three rabies classifications for nations:

rabies-free countries: These countries have no incidence of rabies. If you’re traveling to one of these countries from a place with a higher incidence of rabies, your pet will likely require a blood titer test, a microchip and a pet passport and be subject to a quarantine period when he arrives. Countries Include:

  • UK
  • Australia
  • Guam
  • Iceland
  • Japan
  • Singapore
  • Tahiti
  • Antigua
  • Turks & Caicos

third countries: These countries have a low, but not non-existent, incidence of rabies. Pets traveling to these countries generally need blood titer tests and microchips and may require a quarantine period when entering. Countries Include:

  • United States
  • most of the EU
  • Canada
  • Russia
  • Taiwan
  • United Arab Emirates

high incidence of rabies countries: Most of these countries require only a pet passport and sometimes an import permit. They tend not to require a blood titer or microchip. However, if you travel from these countries to a nation with a lower incidence of rabies, your pet is likely to be subjected to blood titer tests and quarantine upon arrival. Countries Include:

  • Bahamas
  • China
  • Costa Rica
  • India
  • most (but not all) countries in the Middle East
  • most (but not all) countries in Southeast Asia

Quarantine rules and terms can be extremely detailed and vary depending on country of origin and country traveled to. For more information, visit this comprehensive Rabies and Quarantine Guide from

press paws: flying with snub-nosed pets

If you’re pet parent to a brachycephalic breed, you’re probably used to their adorable snores and snorts. That’s because their adorably squishy faces can also mean smaller nostrils, elongated soft palates and shortened tracheas ― all of which mean they have a harder time breathing than their non-snub-nosed cousins. Brachycephalic dog breeds include:

  • Boston Terriers
  • English Bulldogs
  • French Bulldogs
  • Himalayans
  • Lhasa Apsos
  • Pekingese
  • Pugs
  • Shar-Peis

Your veterinarian — as well as the American Veterinary Medical Association — may advise you not to bring your short-nosed best friend on an airplane, especially if he has to fly as cargo, due to his increased risk of respiratory distress. Be sure to talk to your vet about her recommendations and ways to reduce risk before booking your pet’s ticket!

pet-friendly airlines: who wags for your pet?

Many airlines now welcome pets, but some really roll out the red carpet for Fido and Fluffy! These pup-ular picks deserve extra treats for being so good:

  • Alaska Air has a Fur-st Class™ care policy and PetStreak™ Animal Express experts trained to take care of furry fliers.
  • JetBlue’s PetPaws program includes a special tag for your carrier, a handy Petiquette guide and extra TrueBlue points for flying with a dog or cat.
  • Frontier Airlines allows up to 10 small dogs in the cabin – great if your kennel club wants to travel together!
  • Delta’s Pet First service allows you to ship pets in the cabin, in cargo or as baggage, although size restrictions apply.
  • Southwest has their own branded carry-on kennels, which you canpurchase for a nominal fee before your flight.
  • Air Canada has professionally trained animal specialists aboard select flights.
  • KLM lets small dogs and cats fly in the economy cabin on international flights and even extends the invitation to business class for flights within Europe.
  • Lufthansa allows small dogs and cats in the cabin; for larger canines, there’s a special, air-conditioned section of the cargo hold.

quizzing the carriers

Many pet-friendly airlines have room on board for your four-legged friend, but that doesn’t mean they all have the same policies on pet travel. Always call the airline to book a flight for Fido or Fluffy (most online reservation systems don’t have a place for pets), and while you’re on the line, ask these questions:

  • Do you allow cats or dogs on planes?

    sniff out: If the answer is no, move on to another airline!

  • Can my pet fly in the cabin with me? (Have your pet’s current weight handy, as this determination is generally made by size.)

    sniff out: Many airlines will allow cat and dogs weighing less than 20 lbs. to fly, or those who will fit into a carrier that can fit under the seat in front of you. If your pet gets nervous without you, cross any airlines that make small dogs fly cargo off your list.

  • Which documents does your airline require for pets?

    sniff out: This can vary by airline and your destination, so make sure you have all of these ready to go when it’s time to fly.

  • Which documents does my destination state/country require for pets?

    sniff out: Most airlines should be able to give you an idea of what’s required for entry. At the very least, they can tell you where to start!

  • What brands and models of carrier or crate are acceptable on your airline?

    sniff out: Will your pet’s tried and true carrier be allowed on board, or will you have to spend more money on a special brand?

  • Will my pet be subject to quarantine at our destination or on the way home?

    sniff out: If the quarantine period is longer than your trip, it may make more sense to find alternative arrangements for Fido or Fluffy.

  • Can I bring my pet’s food and medications on board?

    sniff out: The airline should allow this. Some have special requirements for liquid or injectable medications, though – find out what they are and make sure that you’re able to comply.

  • What additional fees do you charge for pets?

    sniff out: Pet charges can range from $50 to over $250 — but some airlines, such as JetBlue, will also offer reward points for bringing your friendly fur-ball.

the cargo club

If your pet weighs over 20 lbs., he likely will not be able to travel with you in the cabin — he definitely won’t fit under your seat! This likely means he’ll need to travel in the plane’s cargo area. What does that mean for you and your furry flier?

  • The cargo area sits below the cabin and is not accessible during the flight.
  • Animals flying cargo must be crated, and crates must comply with the airline’s regulations.
  • In most newer planes, the cargo hold is separate from the baggage hold.
  • In most newer planes, the cargo hold is climate and pressure controlled. (In some older ones it isn’t; this can mean exposure to extreme temperatures and should generally be avoided.)

When you call the airline, they should be able to answer these questions about traveling with dogs and cats in cargo:

  • Is your cargo area separate from your baggage area?

    sniff out: If the cargo area is the same as the baggage area, it’s less likely to be pressurized and climate controlled. Try to avoid this scenario; it can lead to extreme temperatures, provoke health issues and in some rare instances even result in death.

  • Is your cargo area climate controlled?

    sniff out: If the temperature is expected to go either below 45°F or above 85°F (75°F for snub-nosed pets), it is generally not advisable for pets to fly.

  • Do you require a Cold Weather Acclimation Certificate?

    sniff out: If the cargo hold is not climate controlled, the airline may ask you to provide a certificate stating that your pet is approved to travel if the temperature falls below 45°F. This may not be safe for your pet and you may want to consider selecting another airline.

managing a cargo flight

If your furry darling must fly cargo, take these precautions to make the trip as safe as possible:

  • Choose a direct flight; they’re shorter and generally less stressful to pets.
  • Make sure cargo areas are climate and pressure controlled before you book your flight, so you can relax, knowing your furry friend is comfortable.
  • Avoid flying in mid-summer or winter when temperatures are most extreme — especially if the cargo area is not climate controlled, this can be dangerous for pets.
  • Offer your pet water and a snack before you fly, but not a full meal (it could make him uncomfortable during the flight if he has to hold it).
  • Pack a blanket or towel that smells like home, as well as a favorite toy, in your pet’s crate, so he doesn’t get bored.
  • Ask to watch your pet being boarded onto the plane for your own peace of mind.
  • Ask your flight attendant to inform the captain that there is an animal in the cargo hold, so that he can adjust the temperature and pressure there accordingly.

Traveling with your best friend takes a little effort and a lot of planning, but when you put your pet’s safety first and do your homework, you and your four-legged friend can pass from point A to point B with — ahem — flying colors.