A Quick Checklist for Air Travel with Your Dog

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At some point in your dog keeping career, you may find it necessary to take your canine companion with you while you travel, which will often involve an airplane at some point. This can be a complicated and unnerving process for both you and your friend, but you don’t have to take a shot completely in the dark here. If you have a good understanding of both the logistics and regulations surrounding the procedure you can make things a lot smoother for both of you.

Take your time reading these simple points, if you keep all of these in mind you can ensure yourself a peaceful mind and successful travels.

The Method

Funny DogYou’ll find that for a smaller canine you may be able to bring your animal with your carry-on luggage if the airline allows it. Doing so is preferable in most cases where it can be done, but not all dogs are quite so conveniently sized. You may need to check larger dogs or have them transported as cargo which can be rather inconvenient.

What options are available to you here will depend greatly upon the airline, but as a general rule, you’ll find that any dog of considerable size won’t be able to travel in the cabin with you.

The Crate

You’ll need to carefully select the crate for your trip. Regulations will require it to be well constructed, leak-proof, and ventilated on at least three sides. In addition to being leak-proof, you’ll also need to lay down some kind of absorbent bedding like a towel to keep the mess to a minimum. It should also have adequate room for your pet to stand up, turn around, and lie down.Plastic Dog Carrier

If you’ve chosen wisely for your dog at home you may be able to use their crate, but it is generally a wise idea to purchase a separate crate for travel. There are both soft and hard options available, and your choice will be a major factor in your dog’s comfort on a potentially long trip.

Toy & Small Dog Breeds:

Snoozer Wheel Around 4-In-1 Pet Travel Carrier
Check the convenient Snoozer Wheel Around 4-In-1 Pet Travel Carrier with collapsible grip and casters.

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Feeding and Watering

You’ll need to have a couple of bowls for your dog, these shouldn’t have sharp edges and should be non-toxic, so your normal food and water dish may be perfectly adequate. You’ll have to make arrangements before the flight in order to give instructions to the workers on feeding and watering your animal once airborne.

The USDA requires pets to be fed and watered within the four hours proceeding the flight, so be sure to do so.

You’ll want to feed your dog roughly three to four hours beforehand, as a full stomach can make for an uncomfortable situation. That said, be sure to offer your pet water until just before they are loaded so that they can be adequately hydrated during takeoff.

Health Certificate

Your canine will need to have a clean bill of health in order to travel, so a check-up is absolutely necessary before you depart or your friend may not be able to go with you.

Sick and unhealthy animals will not be able to travel with you, so keep that in mind if your friend is ill or nearing the end of his lifespan. If that is the case you’ll have to find a dog sitter who will be able to care for your animal while you’re away.

The certificate should come from a veterinarian and in order to comply with regulations you’ll want to have it done within the ten days leading up to the flight. This is also a good time to discuss with your vet any specific issues and seek further advice on your canine’s portion of the adventure.

We Recommend:

Top Dog Travel Bag - Airline Approved Travel Set for Dogsthe Top Dog Travel Bag for convenient trips with your pup.
This airline approved travel set for dogs contains all supplies your pet needs during an air flight, a long car trip, hiking or camping. There are collapsible bowls for feeding and watering, along with containers for kibble and treats. You can also store toys, medicine, and grooming tools in its pockets. All in one place!


Tranquilizers don’t exactly come highly recommended, but if your dog is particularly high-strung but healthy the decision to sedate your animal should be made with your veterinarian. They will have the best advice for you and if you come to a joint conclusion in favor of some sort of doggy downer arrangements can be made.

Snub-nosed dogs are particularly susceptible to the combination of high-altitude and depressants. Your pug or bulldog will most likely have to remain fully conscious on the flight, and in general, there are some restrictions on moving these lovable breeds around that vary per airline.

Your Destination

Different countries and even states within the U.S. will have different policies regarding your pet. You’ll want to sort all of this out beforehand, make sure you do a little bit of research. Even the temperature may affect how and when you can take your dog somewhere. This may require a bit of study on your part, but you’ll be glad you did it in most cases.

Chosen Airline

You’ll find out that different airlines have different policies regarding your pet’s travel options. Some won’t allow dogs in the cabin at all while others will have much looser policies regarding the matter. Generally speaking, an animal much bigger than fifteen pounds is probably going to have to travel as cargo. Make sure that you select your flight with your canine in mind, this factor can make all of the difference.

You’ll also want to make sure you keep in mind that there is almost always a fee for transporting your pet, so shop around for the best policies and prices. As a general rule, Delta is generally considered the best for your pets but carries high fees, and Southwest Airlines will usually have the lowest fees, but you may be able to offset the cost by shopping.

A Must-Have:

RC Pet Products Pet First Aid Kit
While taking a first-class flight or hiking in the woods, every pet parent should be ready for emergency medical care. Take the compact Pet First Aid Kit with you everywhere you go with your pet. This one pictured includes the First Aid Manual showing how to take care of injured animals properly.


One final thing to keep in mind is that you’ll want to arrive at least two hours before you board in order to ensure time for preparations. It’s extremely helpful to have your dog already fed at this point, but you may want to offer water up until the time of boarding.

While air travel may at times be a bit stressful for both you and your canine, you can make things much more easily manageable by taking your time to go over this checklist. With proper preparation, you can make things as easy as possible, and ensure happy travels for both you and your favored companion.


Find more info at:
USDA Pet Travel

Images credits: Amazon.com & photo stocks


Susan Cropper

As a veterinarian practicing for 48 years, Dr. Cropper brings her priceless experience to all our readers. She is currently taking care of her two rescues, Ollie the Greyhound and Bryce the Pitbull mix, that is why she always sees things as a veterinarian and a pet owner simultaneously.

View all posts by Susan Cropper | DogsRecommend.com