Traveling by airplane can be stressful for even the most chilled pooch. He'll have to cope with lots of noise, unfamiliar handlers, confinement, changes in temperature and pressure, and separation from his owner. You can help your dog by planning your flight with his needs in mind and getting him acclimatized to his carrier.
If you have a small dog, book with an airline where your pooch can fly in the cabin with you -- the dog and carrier generally need to weigh less than 15 pounds and fit under the seat in front of you. As most dogs have to travel in the cargo hold, try to book a direct flight or a flight with a short layover so your dog isn't left on the tarmac or in a cargo hold for long periods. Also, try traveling when it's quiet, as airport staff will have more time for him. In summer go for night flights, and midday flights in winter, so temperatures at the airport -- departing and arriving -- aren't too hot or cold. This will all help to make traveling less stressful for your dog.
At least a month before you plan to travel start teaching your dog to relax in his carrier. The carrier should be the right size -- he must be able to stand, sit and turn around in it easily -- and it should be well ventilated. Place an article of your clothing, along with some of your dog's favorite treats and toys, in the carrier and leave the door open. Encourage your dog to go in on his own and, at first, stay with him. You can shut the door when he relaxes, and leave him for about 15 minutes. When you return, open the door, and let your dog come out when he wants. Play recordings of airplanes while he's in the carrier -- quietly at first, then gradually increase the volume, along with the time spent in his carrier.
When it's time to depart for the airport make sure your dog's physical needs are met. He'll be more likely to relax if he's comfortable. Don't feed him for six hours before traveling, but give him enough water to keep hydrated, and a chance to do his business as close to departure as possible. The ASPCA suggests freezing a tray of water for your dog's carrier. It won't spill when he's loaded, but it will melt so there's water when he needs a drink. Most importantly, give your dog a long walk before going to the airport so he'll be ready to rest.
You can try spraying your dog's carrier with Dog Appeasing Pheromone or putting a DAP collar on him for the flight. This pheromone can help to reduce fear and anxiety in a dog.
Giving your dog a tranquillizer before flying may seem like a good idea, but the American Veterinary Medical Association usually advises against it. Your dog's body will cope better with the high altitude and limited oxygen if he isn't sedated. Tranquilizers can also affect a dog's balance, and he could be injured when his carrier is moved. Talk to your veterinarian if you feel your dog may need sedation.
One of the most important ways to help your dog stay calm is for you to remain calm. Be positive when you put him into his carrier, and don't make a big fuss when you say goodbye. Otherwise, your dog will pick up on your anxiety.
- VCA Animal Hospitals: Air and Car Travel in Dogs - Behavior and Training
- VeterinaryPartner.com: Air Travel With Your Pet
- VeterinaryPartner.com: Air Travel Tips Help Make Your Pet's Trip Safe
- The Humane Society of the United States: Travel Safely With Your Pet by Car, Airplane, Ship or Train
- AVMA: Traveling With Your Pet FAQ
- Cesar's Way: Cesar's Best Dog Travel Tips
- ASPCA: Top 10 Tips for Safe Air Travel with Your Pet
- Kei Uesugi/Digital Vision/Getty Images