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

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Flying with Fido

Pet Column for the week of May 19, 2008

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

As the dog days of summer approach, many of us will be planning vacations that may include a tailed family member. Dr. Melissa Riensche is a former small animal medicine resident at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana. She has had her fair share of traveling with pets as she moved from place to place for her education. When she relocates to Phoenix later this summer for a new job, her cats will of course be tagging along.

Since there is an airline embargo on animals from June 1 to September 15 to warm-weather states like Arizona and Florida, she won't be flying with her fuzz balls in the cargo hold this time, and for good reason. According to Northwest Airlines, no pet can fly in the cargo area when the destination temperature is above 85 degrees.

Interestingly, the airlines have a special place in their hearts, as do many people, for what veterinarians call the brachiocephalic breeds. These pets, such as pugs, bulldogs, and Himalayans, have what non-veterinarians call "smushed" noses. The airline regulations give them yet another name, "snub-nosed breeds," and because they are more prone to respiratory problems they can only fly as cargo when the temperature is under 75 degrees.

But before you buy a plane ticket for your pooch (about $80 to fly as a passenger or $200 to fly as cargo depending on weight) Dr. Riensche says "check with your veterinarian to make sure the animal has had a recent exam, is up to date on all vaccines, and if you are considering sedation you can discuss that as well." She also stresses the importance of researching travel requirements for both the airline and destination via Web sites.

For example, many states require a health certificate signed by your veterinarian within 30 days of travel, and most airlines require a very specific kind of carrier. However, don't expect your veterinarian to be up on travel regulations--that's your job. Guidelines vary from state to state, and international travel can get quite hairy, even if you are trying to import a Sphynx (hairless cat breed).

If you choose to fly your precious, fifteen pound- or less pooch with you in first class, "be prepared to go through airport security" cautions Dr. Riensche. Yes, that's right, even Fido could be smuggling drugs or carrying a weapon underneath that cute designer sweater. His carrier must go through the baggage screener and the animal must walk through the metal detector with you.

"Some dogs and cats freak out when they are pulled out of their carrier at airport security," says Dr. Riensche. In order to prevent a security breach, and a swarm of Federal Marshals chasing your bichon frise down the airport halls, she has this recommendation. "Put a halter and leash on your pet before you put it in its carrier," so if they escape you have something other than a fluffy tail to grab.

For more information on traveling with your pet, contact your local veterinarian.