Tips to Keep Pets Safe at 20,000 ft
“Where’s the grass around here? Why am I in this carrier? Why are my ears popping at high altitudes?”
If you think flying is stressful for people, imagine how it feels for the 2 million animals that travel each year by plane.
The recent death of a puppy flying in the cabin of a commercial airline is a reminder that pets may need special attention when being transported by air. In addition, many airlines have banned brachycephalic breeds—short-nosed animals such as pugs, bulldogs, Shih-tzus, and Persian cats—from flying in cargo holds because their unusual nose and airway anatomy make it harder for them to breathe, a condition known as Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome. This condition is made worse when the pet becomes anxious or is in high temperatures, high altitudes, or areas with poor ventilation—all stressors associated with flying. These factors can also make it difficult for any breed of dog or cat to breathe.
Here are a few tips to keeping your pets (smoosh-nosed or not!) safe at 20,000 feet:
- Discuss your travel plans with your veterinarian. Pets who are easily stressed or who have underlying health conditions may need extra care during a flight. Your veterinarian can help you teach your pet to acclimate to the carrier they will fly in, or prescribe anti-anxiety medication to make the flight less stressful for your pet—and you too!
- Contact your airline carrier in advance to confirm where your pet will be seated. Weight and height limitations for animals flying in carriers in the cabin vary, depending on the airline.
- Because the cargo hold of an airplane is separate from the cabin, and may lack proper ventilation and temperature regulation, it is recommended that pet owners avoid flying pets in the cargo hold, unless absolutely necessary. Flying in the cabin is the safest option.
- Between 2005 and 2011, 189 animals died in commercial U.S. flights. Over half of those deaths—98 dogs—were in brachycephalic breeds flying as cargo.
- Appropriate ventilation is of the utmost importance to pets when they fly, especially in brachycephalic breeds. Pick a carrier that allows as much ventilation as possible, and remember to position your pet in a way that air can always flow in and out of the carrier.
- Animals should never be placed in the overhead compartment during air travel. Doing so may quickly deprive them of oxygen, and the lack of temperature regulation in this compartment may exacerbate breathing problems.
For more advice on how to safely fly with your pet, please contact your local veterinarian.
—Ashley Mitek, DVM