• Shelby Gottschalk
  • Dog Nutrition and Member Service Specialist

  • 3 mins read time
  • Flying with Your Dog

    If you have never travelled with your dog before, it can seem daunting. There are many things to consider before flying with your dog. These will be covered below, along with some tips to make the process go even smoother.

    Please keep in mind that each airline is different and has different rules regarding flying with your dog, so please contact them for specific information.

    The first and most important thing to consider when traveling with your dog is: Is it necessary? Flying can cause undue stress on your dog and some don’t enjoy it. If you are taking a short trip, you might consider a pet sitter who can care for your dog in its own home environment. A friend or family member could also watch your dog for you, or if need be, there is always the option of boarding your pup.

    If you are traveling for a long time or moving (and not able to drive), it might be necessary to take your dog with you.

    • Not all dogs can fly in the main cabin with you, so it’s important to gather this information in advance so you can be prepared and minimize stress on yourself and your pup. In general,if your dog can fit in a carrier under the seat in front of you, they can fly with you (there are a few destination exceptions). For example, Delta will not allow your pet to fly in the main cabin if your destination is Hawaii.

    • Another thing to keep in mind is that most airlines will have a “one way fee” to travel with your pet, so make sure to find out what that is ahead of time and budget accordingly.

    • You will also need a veterinarian to sign a health certificate, so make sure your pup is up to date on all vaccines prior to travel.

    Things to Consider for Different Types of Dogs

    Small Dogs

    If your dog meets the size requirements to travel onboard the main cabin, here are some things to note:
    • Most airlines require that your dog be at least 10 weeks old prior to travel domestically. Owners should be aware of the puppies vaccines and if it is possible to contract any illnesses or diseases from the airport. The potty area might not be a safe place to take your puppy, depending on its age and vaccine status.

    • The amount of pets allowed on an aircraft at the same time is limited and is on a first come, first serve basis. Call your airline ahead and let them know about your dog as early as possible!

    • You will be asked to hold your dog when going through the x-ray machine and your pet carrier will be inspected.

    • The maxiumum size requirement for your pet carrier is 18.5” long x 8.5” high x 13.5” wide. Your dog must fit comfortably in the carrier (be able to stand up and turn around with ease). The carrier must have ventilation and you want to make sure they are comfortable.

    • Those traveling with a pet as one of their carry-ons cannot sit in an exit row.

    • In the event of an emergency, an oxygen mask may not be available for your dog. The airline is not required to administer to your dog in a case of an emergency.

    • Depending on if your dog is prone to motion sickness or anxiety, you might want to talk to your veterinarian about prescribing medication for air travel.

    What about those with big dogs?

    Those traveling with dogs that don’t fit the size requirements will be required to “ship” their pup. Here are some things to note:

    • Some airlines will not even ship your dog as cargo, so verify this is an option for your dog.

    • A separate booking for your pet is required. Your dog is not guaranteed to be on your specific flight. Also, it’s important to remember that direct flights are a safer bet when it comes to transportation for your pup. If you have a connecting flight, there could be delays in the dog getting transferred properly to the final destination.

    • Many airlines will not ship your pet if temperatures are extreme, such as over 80 degrees or below 20 degrees. Keep track of the weather and make other plans as necessary.

    • Most airlines require that you drop your dog off at a “cargo drop off station” in the airport at least 3 hours prior to your flight. Delta states, “When you check in your pet, you will be asked to complete a live animal checklist. When you sign this checklist, you are confirming that your pet has been offered food and water within 4 hours of check-in. On the checklist, you must also provide feeding and watering instructions for a 24-hour period. If in-transit feeding is necessary, you must provide food.

    • Make sure you have an appropriate crate for travel. Check with your airline for specific requirements but many of them are plastic, sturdy crates.

    • A health certificate is also required and dogs traveling in cargo are more prone to high levels of stress and risk of illness. Snub-nosed dogs (brachycephalic dogs), such as pugs or bulldogs, are not allowed to fly as they are higher risk for breathing problems.

    • You will pick up your dog at a cargo pick up location specified by the airline. Make sure to take your pup out to potty first thing and offer water as needed. Your dog might be nauseous after their day of travel, so start small when it comes to feeding again.

    Service Dogs/Emotional Support Dogs

    What is the difference? Service Dogs are dogs that are trained to mitigate a person's disability. They must know a minimum of three tasks to assist with their handlers disability and have the ability to travel onboard the aircraft with their handler, should they fit on the floor space in front of their handler’s seat or in their lap (depending on your airline, lap may not be permitted).

    Medical Service Dogs

    You are required to submit any requested veterinary forms or proof of vaccines for these types of dogs. It is best to call the disability line for your airline and them know you will be traveling with your service dog.

    *Note: Psychiatric Service Dogs (those with service dogs that have specific tasks trained to aide their psychiatric disability) are required by most airlines to submit additional materials such as a doctors note and further forms.

    Emotional Support Dogs

    These are dogs that aren’t task trained and only offer emotional support by being with their handler. Their presence helps the handler feel calm, and must be a verified need per medical professional reference.

    They are allowed to be with their handler in the main cabin as long as they fit on the floor or in the handlers lap (depending on the airline, sitting on your lap may not be allowed) without taking space from the person next to you.

    Most airlines have specific documents required, so make sure to get those ahead of time from their website and take them to your doctor to fill out. You will also need to let the airline know that you will be traveling with your Emotional Support Dog with as much notice as possible.

    It is important to note that faking a service dog or medical note for your emotional support dog is illegal. In some states, such as the state of California, when someone “knowingly and fraudulently represents himself or herself, through verbal or written notice, to be the owner or trainer of any canine licensed/qualified/identified as a guide, signal, or service dog…” (CA Penal Code § 365.7) the penalty is up to six months in jail or a fine of up to $1,000, or both. Just don’t do it.

    If you are traveling with your service/emotional support dog for the first time, make sure to give them plenty of time to use the bathroom before your flight. Many airports have “service dog bathrooms” where you can let your dog relieve themselves. My dog, personally, will not go there because it “smells like fear,'' but she will go before we arrive at the airport.

    Final Things to Remember

    Some people recommend not feeding your dog before the flight to prevent nausea or your dog needing to use the bathroom, however I do bring along treats to feed throughout the travel day. It is also recommended to restrict water up to the point of travel and before their last bathroom break prior to their flight to prevent any accidents from happening on the airplane.

    No matter if your dog is a service dog, emotional support dog, or pet, remember to PACK THEIR THINGS! Don’t forget to pack enough of your dogs food to last you the whole trip or until you can buy more. Pack a couple toys, a favorite blanket, something to make them feel more comfortable in their new environment. Make sure they get plenty of exercise after a long day of being squished on an airplane and get their “zoomies” out.

    Finally, even if you have anxiety traveling with your dog, try to stay calm. Dogs are so intuitive and can feed off of your emotional stress and get high anxiety themselves, so try to show them that it’s not a big deal and you will both have a safe, relaxing, flight.