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Navigating Air Travel with Dogs and Cats | Vet Organics

Navigating Air Travel with Dogs and Cats


Pets on planes are becoming more common these days. To make travel hassle- and stress-free for both ourselves and our pets, as well as our co-travelers, here are the most important preparations and regulations you’ll need to be familiar with.

The Transport Security Administration (TSA) website has a lot of helpful info about traveling with pets, including service and therapy animals. TSA Federal Security Director, Jeff Holmgren, says, "TSA recognizes that for many pet owners, their animals are an extension of their family and they want to travel together. Becoming familiar with the procedures of how to clear security quickly and easily is the first step to a great trip."

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Navigating Air Travel with Dogs and Cats | Vet Organics

Preparing for Our Flight

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has guidelines for air transportation of pets that need to be strictly followed. Individual airlines also often have their pet travel policies. That means it’s critical that we not only familiarize ourselves with airport policy but with the policies of each individual airline we plan to travel on. Making advance arrangements for our pets is important, and should include the following:


  • When booking a flight, we should inform the airline that we will be traveling with our pet, and get confirmation that the flight has a fur-baby-friendly space available. It’s also a good idea to call the airline again 24-48 hours prior to the scheduled flight to reconfirm that our pet will be traveling with us.
  • Our cat- and-canine companions may not end up on the same flight as ours, depending on a variety of circumstances. Airlines reserve the right to refuse transportation of our dogs or cats if they are showing signs of illness or aggressive behavior, if we do not use the proper carrier, or if extreme weather or temperatures are predicted.
  • The USDA only allows air travel to pets that are at least eight weeks old, fully weaned, and in good health.
  • Except for guide dogs, the USDA requires all pets traveling to another state “to have a rabies immunization and a valid health certificate issued by a licensed veterinarian within 30 days of travel.” The vaccination due-date should be no more than 10 days before the travel date if our pet is traveling via cargo.
  • We should get our pet accustomed to being inside his carrier for a prolonged period so he won’t be stressed during the flight itself. We can get him used to his carrier by taking him in it when we go on errands.
  • We should exercise our dog or cat before leaving for the airport and while waiting for our flight so he will be less agitated when he has to stay in his carrier for a prolonged period.
  • It is a USDA requirement that our pet is given food and water within four hours of check-in for our flight. However, we can give him water right up until it’s time to board. Our pet’s water bowl should be emptied before boarding.
  • If our pet will be checked in, we should provide food, bowls, and feeding instructions so he can be fed by an airline employee in case of a delayed flight or extended airport stay.
  • Travelers with pets are advised to arrive two hours before the flight schedule to lessen the pet’s stay inside his carrier.


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Navigating Air Travel with Dogs and Cats | Vet Organics

Choosing the Right Pet Carrier

  • The carrier should not allow any part of our pet to protrude. That means carriers made of soft material such as fabric, may be allowed only in the cabin. We should remember to check with each of our airlines about their restrictions regarding the types of pet carriers they allow.
  • Our pet should have enough space inside the carrier to stand, turn around, and lie down comfortably.  
  • Only one adult dog, or two puppies that are eight weeks to six months old, at least 20 pounds each, and are fully weaned, are allowed inside a carrier.
  • Our pet’s carrier should have a leak-proof floor, and it should be lined with an absorbent cover. It should also have grips or handles to minimize contact of airline employees with our pet when the carrier needs to be moved.
  • At least 14% of the carrier’s wall space should have holes for ventilation. And at least 33% of these should be located on top of the carrier. Projecting rims should line the middle or top portion of the carrier so the openings will not be blocked by other cargo.
  • The carrier should be labeled with “Live Animal,” and marked with our pet’s name. Plus, our fur-baby and the carrier should both have an ID tag with our name, home address, and contact number, as well as the emergency contact information of someone at our destination.
  • Our pet should not be leashed or muzzled while inside the carrier.
Navigating Air Travel with Dogs and Cats | Vet Organics

Breezing Through Airport Security

Here’s the TSA’s step-by-step guide to clearing the security checkpoint with our pet.

  • Our dog or cat must be inside his carrier when he is brought to the security checkpoint.
  • Our pet can be removed from the carrier at the beginning of the screening process.
  • Only the empty carrier is to be placed on the x-ray tunnel belt.
  • If our pet is on a leash, he can walk while being processed. Otherwise, he should be carried throughout the security procedure.
  • Our hands will be swabbed by a TSA officer to check for explosive residue.
  • Once we have completed the screening process, we should immediately put our pet back inside his carrier at the re-composure area.

Additional important reminders:

  • We should avoid areas of the airport where working K9s patrol.
  • We should make sure beforehand that our pet can stay relaxed in a busy and crowded environment.
  • If traveling with a service or therapy animal, we should contact TSA for more information and guidelines.  

You might look at major airport websites to see if they have anything to add to TSA’s guidelines. And maybe take a look at some travel advice blogs or travel articles on major news outlets for helpful tips and advice about traveling with pets in a way that is healthy and the least stressful for the traveler, our furry friends, and fellow-passengers.


Further Reading:

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