A bad situation ended happily after a woman was reunited with her dog after the dog became lost on a cross-country flight. The incident occurred when the woman was planning to take a flight from San Francisco to Raleigh, with a layover in Chicago. An American Airlines staffer told her that the flight to Chicago would not accommodate her dog. To keep her and her pet on the same flight, the airline staffer re-routed her to Dallas, where they would catch a connecting flight to Raleigh. The dog was to ride in the cargo hold.
When the woman arrived in Raleigh, she realized that the dog was no longer traveling with her. The airline called, several hours later, to inform her that the dog had somehow ended up on the initial flight to Chicago. Then, the plane traveled on to Philadelphia—13 hours away from Raleigh—where the dog had been boarded at an overnight pet motel. The following day, the airline flew the dog to Raleigh, and a staffer drove him to Roanoke to be reunited at home with his owner.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, over two million pets and other animals are transported by airplane each year. While the vast majority of these animals arrive at their destination alive and healthy, there are two to three dozen incidents each year in which the animal dies on the flight. Additional situations involve injured animals, or animals like the dog in the story above, that become separated from their owners while traveling. Read on for more information about how to travel safely with your pet by air, car, or train.
Before Traveling With Your Pet
Generally, home is the safest and most comfortable place for your pet to be. However, there are some circumstances in which traveling with your pet is necessary.
If you are in a situation where you must travel with your pet, there are several things you should do in advance of your trip to ensure a safer journey, including:
- Prepare a travel kit for your pet that includes up-to-date proof of vaccination, food and water bowls, any medication your pet requires, and other necessary items that your pet will need, such as a litter box.
- Make sure your pet has proper identification. Do not travel with your pet unless he or she has a microchip implant and updated external tags. If he or she becomes separated from you, these forms of identification could help you reunite.
- If you are planning to fly with your pet, do not assume that he or she will be riding in the cabin with you. Airlines have restrictions on carrying animals inside the cabin and which type of animals are permitted to travel in the cargo hold. You need to know what these rules are before booking a flight for you and your pet. Some restrictions include breed restrictions for brachycephalic dogs, such as boxers, bulldogs, and pugs. Brachycephaly refers to the snubbed nose present in certain breeds that make it more difficult for the dog to breathe in hot or humid conditions.
- Check to see what the vaccination requirements are for the mode of travel you are using and for your destination. Airlines typically require a health certificate issued by a veterinarian.
- Take time to get your animal used to riding in a hard or soft carrier. Having an animal who is acclimated to and comfortable with his or her carrier often eliminates the need for sedation, which can be harmful to the animal. Do not make the animal’s first time riding on a plane also the first time he or she has been confined in a carrier, as this adds undue stress to your pet.
- Do not feed your animal for four-to-six hours before traveling, to avoid him or her getting sick. However, you should still give your pet small amounts of water during that time, and also ensure that he or she walks around immediately before you place him or her in the carrier.
If Traveling by Airline
It is important to remember that airlines have federal and state regulations regarding the live animals that they are permitted to transport. This includes the Animal Welfare Act, which is overseen by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Some provisions include:
- Age limits that prohibit the transport of very young animals. Dogs and cats traveling by plane must be at least 8 weeks old and must have been weaned for at least five days.
- Carrier restrictions. All carriers that animals are being transported in must meet size requirements, as well as requirements that ensure the animal is getting adequate ventilation.
- Time. Animals cannot be brought to the airport for shipping more than four hours before departure. Animals that are less than 16 weeks old must receive food and water if they are going to be in transit for at least 12 hours. Older animals must be fed every 24 hours in transit and provided with water every 12 hours. Written instructions for food and water should be provided with animals that are being shipped, regardless of the time of transit.
- Temperature. Animals cannot be exposed to temperatures below 45 degrees Fahrenheit without a certificate from a veterinarian stating that they are acclimated to lower temperatures.
If you are traveling by plane, the safest place for your pet is in the cabin with you. However, many airlines require animals to ride in the cargo hold during transport. While most animals arrive at their destination safely, some animals die, become injured, or lost each year. If your pet is required to ride in the cargo hold, be aware that he or she may be subject to extremely hot or cold temperatures.
Here are some tips that may help increase your pet’s safety while riding in the cargo hold:
- Take direct flights to reduce the risk of losing the animal in the transition from one plane to another. This will also reduce the amount of time that he or she must stay in a carrier.
- When you board your flight, let the captain and at least one flight attendant know that your pet is in the cargo hold. If they are aware of your pet’s presence, they may take extra precautions to keep the animal safe.
- Choose flight times that could subject your pet to fewer temperature extremes in the cargo hold. Early morning or evening flights are better in the summer months, while afternoon is a better time to fly with your pet during the winter.
- Be sure that your pet’s collar does not get caught on the carrier door, and trim his or her nails to help prevent them from getting snagged on the carrier door, holes, or other crevices in the carrier.
- Make sure that your pet has a collar with up-to-date contact information and that your contact information is also affixed on the outside of the carrier in case the airline needs to locate you to reunite you with your pet.
- Avoid traveling with your pet during busy periods such as holidays or over summer vacation. Airline workers are especially busy during these times and may be more likely to subject your pet to rough handling.
- When you arrive at your destination, be sure to take your pet from his or her carrier and carefully examine the animal to ensure that he or she has not been injured during transport.
If Traveling by Train
Major passenger rail carrier, Amtrak, allows small pets to travel on most routes. This includes cats and dogs weighing up to 20 pounds. Because the carrier only allows a maximum of five pets on the train at a time, it is important to reserve space for your pet as soon as possible, rather than merely showing up at the station with your animal.
Here are some of the other provisions that Amtrak requires for you to take your pet on the train.
- Only one pet can travel per passenger. And, pets are only permitted to ride in coach class, not in sleeper cars, first class, business class, or on the food service cars.
- Pets are only allowed on trains that are traveling for less than seven hours. This includes transfer time between trains.
- Pets cannot be transported by unaccompanied minors.
- Pets can travel in a hard or soft carrier, but the combination of the pet and the carrier must not weigh more than 20 pounds, and the carrier must be large enough that the pet can lay inside it without touching the sides. The carrier counts as one piece of carry-on luggage.
- You must keep your pet with you at all times, inside the carrier, when onboard the train or at the station.
- To ride the train, your pet must be at least eight weeks old, and must be odorless, harmless, and non-disruptive. You must sign a document certifying that your pet is up-to-date on his or her vaccinations, and you must accept liability for his or her health and safety on the train.
If Traveling by Car
The most frequent way for people to transport their pets is by car. You should transport your dog or cat in a hard- or soft-sided carrier to help ensure their safety and comfort. The carrier should be placed in the back seat, as the airbag could cause injuries to your pet if they are riding in the front seat in the event of an accident. The crate should be anchored to the vehicle by a seat belt adaptor or by other means. Never let an animal roam loose in your vehicle, as doing so can distract you and make you more likely to be involved in an accident.
Other tips for safe car travel for your pet include:
- Never place a dog in the bed of a pickup truck and do not allow your pet to hang his or her head out the window. Doing so risks injury from flying debris and from cold air entering the animal’s lungs.
- Bring a human friend to help share in the responsibility of driving and ensuring your pet’s comfort. This can keep you from becoming distracted by your pet’s needs while driving.
- Plan to take regular breaks from driving to provide your pet with exercise and allow him or her the chance to eat, drink, and eliminate. Make sure you have a collar with an ID tag containing updated information in case your pet gets away from you. Also, never let your pet out of the car without being on a leash.
- Never leave your pet alone in the car. On a comfortable day with temperatures in the low 70s, the inside of your car can heat up to 116 degrees Fahrenheit within an hour. On an 85-degree day, the temperature inside your car can soar to over 100 degrees within 10 minutes. Never assume that you are just going to be “a few minutes” inside the store when your pet is in the car. Anything could extend your absence and, in warm weather, this could cause your pet to suffer irreversible organ damage or even death within a half-hour. The signs of heat stress in dogs and cats include panting, glazed eyes, a rapid pulse, unsteadiness, vomiting, or a deep red or purple tongue.
- Hot weather is not the only danger that your pet can suffer by being left alone in the car. Your pet is also at the risk of being stolen from your car.
- If you are taking a trip that will require you to stay at a motel for the night, look for pet-friendly accommodations that will allow your pet to sleep in the room with you.
Traveling with your pet can make for a fun adventure for both you and your animal if you make appropriate preparations and take proper precautions. Take those precautions in consultation with your vet, and travel safely.