Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Tips for Flying with Your Pet


Pet Column for the week of June 21, 1999


Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
By Sarah Probst
Information Specialist

Last year I had to figure out how to fly myself and my boyfriend's dog Feynmann (yes, my
somewhat nerdy boyfriend named his dog after physicist Dr. Richard Feynmann) to Seattle.
I learned that the basic principles of flying with your pet are generally the same across
airlines, but a few have different rules, so be sure to call and make sure your needs and
your pet's can be met. Along with calling airlines, you'll have to make a call on your
veterinarian before the flight.

Every airline requires a bill of health issued by a veterinarian within 10 days of the flight.
After examining your pet, the veterinarian has to sign an official certificate saying that the
animal is healthy and able to fly. You may also want to ask your veterinarian about sedating
your pet for the flight.

Feynmann was shaken by the flight. Not only did he wet his bedding (something he's never
done inside his crate), but he was shaking a bit when we finally collected him. The next time
he has to fly, I'll consider a tranquilizer. "Flying can be a stressful ordeal for pets as well as
humans," says Dr. Kurt Grimm, veterinarian at the University of Illinois College of
Veterinary Medicine. "In some instances, tranquilization will help reduce anxiety and stress
associated with traveling. Most animals can be safely tranquilized with the help of your
veterinarian. It may be advisable to 'test' the selected drug and dose to be administered
several days before the flight to assess whether your pet responds well," he suggests.

In general, airlines charge about $50 each way for your pet to fly with you to a location in
the continental United States. For pets to fly alone via cargo costs between $100 and
$300, depending on size. One airline quoted $202 for a large Lab to fly alone from St.
Louis to Seattle.

You may take a small pet in the cabin with you if its crate fits under the seat in front of you.
Your pet must be able to stand and turn around inside the kennel. And it still costs $50.

Be sure to reserve a spot for your pet when you make your reservation. Many airlines have
limited space for live cargo. Generally two large dogs is the maximum allowed on one flight.
Many airlines request follow-up calls three days before the flight and the day of the flight to
confirm that your pet is coming. Arrive at the airport an hour and a half before your flight.

Most airlines require that your pet be flown in an airline-approved kennel. Inside the crate
your pet should have enough room to stand up and turn around without its head touching
the top of the kennel. Believe it or not, it is important to put stickers on the kennel directing
which way is up. Also, make sure the phone number and address at your home and your
destination are posted on the kennel in a prominent spot.

Inside the kennel send bedding, food, water, and a small leash. Shredded newspaper
makes an absorbent bedding, whereas cat litter might spill and make a mess. Food and
water dishes must be attached to the kennel's door. A fellow passenger gave me a good tip:
freeze the water you send with your pet so it doesn't spill while your pet is being loaded.
Provide some food and a feeding schedule, even if your flight will last only a few hours.
Flights can be delayed, and it is important that the people who take care of your pet have
instructions.

The time of year raises concerns about temperature. American Airlines, for example, does
not send pets in cargo between May 15 and September 15. Other airlines decide the day
of the flight whether it is OK for your pet to fly. If temperatures above 85 degrees F or
below 10 degrees F are forecast at any of the airports on your itinerary, your pet will not be
loaded on the plane because it may be exposed to harsh temperatures for more than 45
minutes during layovers. Snub-nosed pets, such as shar-peis and Persian cats, are not
allowed to fly if the temperature is expected to be greater than 75 degrees F because they
have greater difficulty breathing in hot weather. Use your common sense; the stress of heat
and the flight could be life-threatening.

Feynmann and I needed to fly in July, so I booked an overnight flight to avoid the heat.
Before the flight took off, an attendant brought me a note to let me know that my dog had
been loaded in cargo successfully. That airline's thoughtfulness was reassuring. We had a
connection at 4 a.m., and I received another note saying that my dog had been transferred
successfully and was fine. Thus, I successfully delivered my boyfriend's "bestest" friend. I'm
still not sure if that's me or Feynmann.

For more information about flying with your pet, contact your veterinarian and your airline.