No one want to fly internationally with a dog. It’s not fun. It’s a lot of work and it’s stressful for both human and the dog. Different airlines have different requirements for pet travel. Plus, it can be pricey, depending on the size of your dog.
I’ll never understand why the sub-two-year-old behind me screaming itself into exorcism can travel for free, yet I have to pay $300 to put my dog in a box and travel at the bottom of a plane, but that’s the way it is.
Sora has flown with us on three separate occasions on two different airlines (Lufthansa and LAN). Since each airline has different rules, we are unable to provide universal information, but the guidelines below should help get you started.
Talk to Your Vet
Before taking your dog on a plane, check with your vet to ensure that your dog is in good enough health to fly. Also know that some dog breeds, like pugs and other snub-nosed breed are not permitted to fly due to their body mechanics that cause respiratory failures.
The most frequently asked question we receive from people about traveling internationally with a dog is whether we had to place her in quarantine, and for how long. It seems a common misconception that when one travels with a dog that it must face a quarantine period.
Fortunately, for those of us who wish to take their pups along on their travels, only a handful countries require quarantine. Rabies-free nations generally impose the quarantine period. Depending on the origin of the country (meaning the country from which your dog enters, not the country where your dog resides with you pre-travel), rabies-free nations may deny entry if you enter from a nation with high incidents of rabies.
Many, but not all countries require the following:
- ISO microchip (which is a different frequency than the chips used in the United States)
- Recent rabies vaccination (where rabies vaccinations last 3 years in the US, we’ve found that most countries require annual shots)
- Blood titer test in some cases
- Tick and tapeworm treatments administered a certain number of hours prior to entry
- Health certificates administered by your veterinarian no more than 10 days prior to entry
- Government Export Paperwork from the country of origin (Department of Agriculture or USDA equivalent)
- Pet Passport, if available otherwise paper certificates
This all sounds like a lot, and initially it is, but once you’ve gone through the process once, you have most of what you need to take your pup to other countries. The most important thing to remember is to look ahead at where you will be traveling and understand the entry requirements for each individual country. Pet Travel is a great place to start, but always supplement the information by going to the destination country’s pet import policies and emailing the right contacts.
You will be given a phone and fax number to call and fax your notice of entry to the airport veterinarians who will check your dog’s credentials after the flight. Make this phone call 24 hours before you land.
Working with the Airline
Call your airline before booking your flight to understand their rules about pets and ensure that your dog will be allowed on that particular flight. Airlines can only accommodate a few animals per flight, so you want to get your request in early. Ask if the cargo area is air-conditioned. This is essential to your dog’s health.
Lufthansa requires a minimum three-hour layover with those traveling with dogs as cargo. Be sure to check your individual airline’s rules about dogs and layovers. During the layover, the staff take animals to a dog area where they are walked, fed, given water, and go to the bathroom in between flights.
Also keep in mind that airlines enforce temperature restrictions and will not fly with a dog if the forecasted temperature exceeds 85℉ or drops below 45℉. It’s best to find a flight that arrives early in the morning or late at night.
Once you’ve booked your flight, call again and make sure they know that you will be bringing a dog on board. You can never call them too often.
Airlines have very specific requirements for kennels, depending on the size of your dog. Make sure to follow these guidelines exactly. They can refuse your dog if the kennel does not meet their guidelines. Lufthansa has a great PDF that specifies the exact rules for flying with your dog. Make sure to go over this a few times before and leading up to your departure.
Lufthansa and LAN required water and feeding bowls attached to the inside of the kennel. These can purchased online or at your local pet store and secure to the kennel with hooks or bolts.
We also ensured Sora felt safe in her kennel leading up to our flight. We purchased the kennel a week before departure, and fed her inside the kennel so she would associate the kennel with being a positive place. It’s not much different than crate training. We also lined the kennel with her favorite dog bed and topped her bed with puppy pads in case she needed to relieve herself during the flight.
As for the kennel itself, make sure to purchase one that is International Air Transport Association (IATA) certified. These kennels are designed for flying and met all the criteria. Don’t purchase a random kennel off Craigslist and think you can fly with it. The kennel must meet specific rules to ensure the dog’s safety. We found IATA to be the best place for helpful information on kennels and country-specific rules.
When purchasing the kennel, measure your dog according to the IATA sizes and choose the kennel size that best fits your dog. The kennel sizes run in 4 categories and are standardized based on size. You can find the size needed by using the Guidance for Dimensions of Container at IATA.
Kennels can be expensive, we won’t sugar coat it. It seems a waste to purchase a one-time use kennel, but finding a rental is tough, especially if you’re only flying one-way We found that buying one in advance on Ebay or Craigslist saved nearly 50% than going to the corner pet store. Just make sure to measure your pet in advance to know the correct size.
Food and Water
Flying on a full stomach might upset your pup, so it is recommended not to feed your pet more than four hours prior to the flight. Continue to give your dog water leading up to takeoff, and make sure to give him a walk outside the terminal before heading through security to make sure he’s eliminated as much as possible.
Don’t be afraid to ask the staff at the gate to check on the status of your dog. We asked before each flight to ensure Sora made it onto the plane, as well as after we landed in Frankfurt for a layover.
Be sure to let the captain and the flight attendants know that you are traveling with your dog in cargo, so they are aware in case anything goes wrong with equipment like air conditioning or cabin pressure during the flight.
On our particular flight, Sora came out on the conveyor belt with the rest of the luggage. Resist the urge to let your dog out until you have cleared customs, airport staff will tell you to just put her back in the kennel. Your dog will likely be scared, overwhelmed, and disoriented. Give the dog some calming verbal praise and if your dog is food motivated, a few dog treats through their kennel.
At customs, they will ask for all of your paperwork, stamp it all, and then hopefully you’ll be on your way. Once outside of the airport doors, let that pup out to go potty and do some down dogs!