Dog is said to be a man’s best friend, but are we being good pals when we put a dog through the stress of being stowed in a metal tin can that’s hurtling across the sky? Travelling with pets can be stressful for animal and owner alike, and it is not without risk. A report using US Department of Transportation (DOT) statistics found that 278 dogs and 56 cats died in transit from May 2005 to October 2018.
In 2017, of the 24 animal deaths that were reported, 18 occurred on United flights. Not all the deaths have been resolved, but of the ones that have, common fatal factors included temperature-control failure, poor ventilation or rough handling. PETA warns, “Flying an animal in the cargo compartment can be extremely dangerous – even fatal.”
Amy Nichols, vice president of companion animals at the Humane Society of the United States, recommends weighing carefully the necessity of taking an animal aboard a 747.
“Families should choose what is safest and most comfortable for their pet,” she writes. “For instance, unless the trip will provide opportunities to spend a lot of time with your dog, they may be happier at home with a sitter, as opposed to tagging along on the trip. Cats are almost always better off in their own home.”
If you’ve decided poochie must come along with you, do your due diligence: research ahead of time each airline’s rules for traveling with pets. “If you must travel by plane, it’s always ideal to have your pet travel in the cabin with you if possible,” Nichols says. Most airlines stipulate that a domesticated cat or dog that can fit into a carrier stowed beneath the seat in front of you, can fly in the cabin. United doesn’t allow pit bulls in the cabin, though. Speak to your veterinarian about any considerations specific to your pet, such as breed or health history, and consider your pet’s temperament and how they handle unfamiliar and potentially stressful situations.
“Even when they are flying with you in the cabin, [your pet] will typically be required to remain in a carrier throughout the flight and as you navigate the airport,” Nichols said. “Is your pet toilet-trained to a level that will make for a comfortable flight for them and you? How might they react to crowded spaces and the sensation of the airplane changing altitude?”
Air travel can be particularly dangerous for animals with pushed-in faces (the medical term is brachycephalic). Their short nasal passages leave them especially vulnerable to oxygen deprivation and heat stroke, a factor that often goes overlooked.
Nichols recommends looking into alternatives forms of travel. Trains and cars are safer options. If you choose the car, make sure to always securely fasten your pet in the vehicle to ensure their safety and to reduce distractions to the driver.
Additionally, Nichols shares these helpful tips:
Consumers should put their pet’s safety and well-being first. If owners are planning to bring their pet on vacation, driving is often a better option. But there are times when that isn’t possible, and you’ll have to determine whether the benefits of flying outweigh the risks. If flying is necessary and a pet cannot travel in the airline cabin, owners should consider a few things before travel:
Use direct flights. You will avoid the mistakes that occur during airline transfers and possible delays in getting your pet off the plane.
Travel on the same flight as your pet when possible. Ask the airline if you can watch your pet being loaded and unloaded into the cargo hold.
When you board the plane, notify the captain and at least one flight attendant that your pet is traveling in the cargo hold. If the captain knows that pets are on board, they may take special precautions.
Don’t ever ship brachycephalic animals such as Pekingese dogs, bulldogs or Persian cats in cargo holds.
If travelling during the summer or winter months, choose flights that will reduce temperature extremes. Early morning or late evening flights are better in the summer; afternoon flights are better in the winter.
Fit your pet with a collar that can’t get caught in carrier doors. Affix two pieces of identification on the collar: a permanent ID with your name and home address and telephone number, and a temporary travel ID with the address and telephone number where you or a contact person can be reached.
Affix a travel label to the carrier on which you’ve written your name, permanent address and telephone number, final destination and where you or a contact person can be reached as soon as the flight arrives.
Make sure that your pet’s nails have been clipped to protect against them getting hooked in the carrier’s door, holes or other crevices.
Give your pet at least a month before your flight to become familiar with the travel carrier. This will minimise their stress during travel.
Do not give your pet tranquilisers unless they are prescribed by your veterinarian. Make sure your veterinarian understands that the prescription is for air travel.
Do not feed your pet for four to six hours before the trip. However, you can give them small amounts of water. If possible, put ice cubes in the water tray attached to the inside of your pet’s crate or kennel. (A full water bowl will only spill and cause discomfort.)
Try not to fly with your pet during busy travel times such as holidays and the summer. Your pet is more likely to undergo rough handling during hectic travel periods.
Carry a current photograph of your pet. If your pet is lost during the trip, a clear photograph showing any special markings will make it much easier for airline employees to search effectively.
When you arrive at your destination, open the carrier as soon as you are in a safe place and examine your pet. If anything seems wrong, take your pet to a veterinarian immediately. Get the results of the examination in writing, including the date and time.