Flying with Dogs

Something that has been on my mind a lot lately is the topic of flying with dogs, and how to make it the best experience for both human and animal. I’ve flown with my dog on a number of occasions, and have often wondered how the altitude changes and flying sensations translated to my four-legged friend. I’ve done some researching into what to consider when flying with your dog, and if maybe they should be left on the ground.

I’ve found that taking your dog flying is a bucket list item for many private pilots. Being able to take your dog on flying trips with you can be very appealing, but please consider the following before heading to the airport.

Legally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has the final say in the transportation of pets by aircraft. The general requirements say the pet must be at least 8 weeks old and have a clean bill of health. Further, if a pet is going to cross state borders it must have a rabies immunization and a valid health certificate issued by a licensed veterinarian within 30 days of travel. Additional considerations must be made if you plan to fly outside of the country, so contact the foreign office of your destination country to get more information.

The health of your dog is the next thing to consider. It is a good idea to take them to a veterinarian within 30 days of the flight, and specifically ask if there are any issues that may make it unsafe for your pet to fly. Certain medications may be an issue or extra stress from the flying experience may be too much for some dogs. Most veterinarians agree that it is completely unnecessary to sedate a dog for air travel, and careful planning and patience can make it a good experience for everyone.

Once you have determined your dog is legally and physically fit to fly, you must consider how to accommodate them in the aircraft. Avoid excessive amounts of food and water during the hours leading up to the flight, especially if you plan to have a long flight. An anxious dog may benefit from a walk or run shortly before the trip. Dogs can sense your levels of stress, so try to make the moments leading up to the flight fun and enjoyable so they do not get scared.

Just as humans need to be buckled in, dogs need to be secured in the aircraft as well. This can be done by putting them in a crate in the back seat or baggage compartment, or using securing straps on their harness. The worst feeling is worrying about your dog wandering around the back of the airplane on takeoff, so eliminate any undue stress by securing them.

The next step is to make your dog as comfortable during the flight as possible, by providing them with any combination of hearing protection, toys from home, water to drink, or stress-eliminators for their anxiety. You must remember that this is a very loud and strange experience, so they will likely be quite scared at first. We have found that our dog does a lot better on flights where she has her Mutt Muffs as ear protection. Not only does it help block out the noise of the engine, but it provides gentle pressure to her head that has a calming effect.

Be sure to check in on your dog every few minutes to make sure they are not too scared. This is where patience can go a long way, as the dog will likely need comforting the first few times they go flying.

After landing, be sure to take the dog on a walk to get out any stiffness they may feel after being stuck in the plane. This is also a good time for you to reflect on what went right and what could be improved on for the next time you travel with your furry friend. Our biggest challenge was getting dog hair in the plane, but we make an effort to vacuum and lint roll the whole aircraft afterwards.

Do you have any tips for flying with animals? What was your favorite flight with your animal? Let me know in the comments below!