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Everything You Need to Know about Flying with a Dog as Cargo

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Flying with a dog as cargo is a stressful experience for both the dog and their human. While the media report tragic incidents as a result of flying, the truth is nearly half a million pets fly annually, most arriving safely to their destination.

The key is doing your homework, ensuring both you and your dog are prepared for the journey, and communicating with the airline staff. Requirements for flying with pets as cargo vary among airlines, but the content below provides detailed information for every step of the way.

Is it safe for dogs to fly in cargo?

In general, yes, flying with a dog in cargo is safe. Thousands of animals fly in cargo across the globe annually. We just hear about the unfortunate cases where something goes wrong. Think about how many shelters transport cats and dogs every day. 

Since flying with our pets isn’t something that we do on a daily basis, like say drive a car, it feels less safe.

If you do your homework and research, then chances are high that your dog will arrive to your destination safely. My post about safely flying with dogs will help you prepare both yourself and your pet for a flight.

In 2018, the United States Department of Transportation reported 0.79 deaths or injuries per 10,000 animals on US carriers. This number is down from 0.92 in 2017.

Which airlines allow pets in cargo?

Most major airlines allow pets to fly as cargo. Double check that they do before booking your flight.

How much does it cost to fly a dog in cargo?

The cost to fly your dog in cargo often depends on the size and weight of your dog, as well as the destination. Prices vary among each airlines.

This list shows the prices for some of the most popular airlines:

  • American Airlines – $200 each way within the United States, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, South America, and Central America. To/From Brazil is $150
  • Delta Airlines – $125 each way within the US, Canada, and Puerto Rico, Brazil is $75, and outside of the US the fee is $200
  • Alaska Airlines – $100 each way
  • United – To improve pet travel services, United has partnered with PetSafe. This makes the airline the most expensive of the US-based carriers. Rates vary depending on the size of the pet and can range anywhere between $201 to over $2000 for very large pets. 

See BringFido.com for a complete list of airline pet fees.

Cargo Hold Temperature and Pressure

One of the first questions to ask the airline carrier is whether the cargo hold, transportation vehicle, and holding areas are climate controlled. Most pet owners only think about the cargo hold, but your dog will be in other locations throughout the journey.

Tell every staff member you can that you are traveling with your dog: the check in staff, flight attendant, and even pilot if you see them. The more people who know that your dog is in the cargo hold, the better.

This way, they are more observant of the temperature or any other malfunctions that might happen en route.

Not all Dog Breeds are Allowed to Fly as Cargo

Many airlines will refuse to transport short and snub-nosed or strong-jawed breeds, like Boston Terriers, Pugs, and Pit Bulls in the cargo hold. 

This is on account that their nasal structure can cause shortness of breath under stress. If your dog is small enough, they can still travel in the cabin.

If your dog is too big for the cabin, you can still work with a pet relocation service. This means that your pet will not travel on the same flight as you do.

Be sure to look for a reputable brand who is a member of the International Pet and Animal Transportation Association (IPATA).

Each airline should have a list of unaccepted breeds under their pet policy on their website. This list from United Airlines should give you an idea to start.

Preparing for Your Dog for Air Travel

Your dog may require some training and/or veterinary visits prior to your departure. You want to make sure everything runs smoothly on the day of your flight. Don’t assume that your dog will just be ok with certain situations. Practice, practice, practice!

Visit your veterinarian

Most airlines will require a health certificate as well as vaccination records stating that your pet is in good enough health to travel. You will keep this on hand and present it to the  staff during check in.

Be sure to check if there is an expiration date on the health certificate. A common standard is 10 days. 

Some states have specific health requirements as well. Check with both the destination state and your departure state to ensure you have the necessary documents ahead of time. 

If you’re flying internationally with your dog, then you will require even more paperwork, including a certificate from the Department of Agriculture, an appointment you will have to make well in advance.

Anxiety

Expect your pet to experience anxiety. They will be put in a strange situation with lots of movement and loud noises that will scare them. 

Never sedate your pet during a flight. Sedatives can prevent your dog from adequately regulating their temperature, which can result in death. They can also increase the risk of heart and respiratory problems.

Instead, talk to your vet about an alternative, such as an anti-anxiety medication or experiment with CBD oil prior to the flight to see if it works on your dog. I have used HempMy Pet with a lot of success.

Whatever method you choose, practice using the CBD oil or medication prior to flight day. You want to make sure that it actually works and that there are no side effects.

Crate Training

If your dog isn’t already crate trained before deciding to take them on a flight, start working with them immediately. The crate will be their safe space and they need to love their kennel well before your departure date. 

This video offers a great introduction to the crate, explains why crate training is important, and demonstrates how to train successfully.

Trim their Nails

Long nails can result in injuries if your dog panics and attempts to escape from the kennel. Plan a nail trim a day or two before the flight. Long nails can get caught on the door or other openings of the kennel if they try to scratch their way out.

ID Tags and Contact Information

Make sure that your dog’s ID tags and microchip information are up to date and easily identifiable on both your dog and their crate. A flat tag like a Road ID that slides directly onto your dog’s collar opposed to dangling below will reduce risk of the tag getting caught on something.

You can use either a kennel door name tag like this one or write your contact information directly onto the crate with a Sharpie. You’ll want this in a second location in case your dog’s collar becomes removed during the flight.

Exercise

If time allows before your flight, take your dog for a nice long run or walk to tire them out for the long day. You can also combine a shorter walk with brain games. Mental stimulation is really tiring for dogs and can be a great way to tire them out before a long day of travel.

Food and Water

This is where things can get a little more confusing. Some airlines require that you secure a food and water bowl to the kennel. Others ask you not do so. Some ask you to attach food to the outside of the kennel, so it can just be poured in without having to open the door.

As with all requirements, check the rules with the airline well in advance of your departure date to make sure you have all the accessories you need.

The USDA requires that you give your dog food and water within four hours of check-in, but not fewer than four hours before the flight.

Just before checking in for the flight, allow your dog to go potty outside the terminal. It can be tough to find grass at airports, so you may want to stop at a nearby park if your dog isn’t used to peeing on cement.

Planning Your Flight

Whether you plan to travel with your dog as cargo or in the cabin, start planning as early as possible. Most airlines only permit a certain number of animals per flight.

Further, you will need to prepare paperwork and potential vaccinations in order to fly, so starting early will reduce headache in the long run.

Long Flight vs Layover

I am often asked whether it is better to book a long flight or break up the flight with a layover. 

Most of the time, a longer flight is best, but try to keep it no longer than 12 hours. It’s still a long time to not go to the bathroom, but layovers run the risk of misplacement during the shuffle.

Call the airline prior to booking to inquire if they offer layover services for animals. Lufthansa, for example, takes pets out during a layover to offer food and water and take them for a potty break.

Weather

Further, check the temperature of your destination before you leave. Many airlines will not fly to certain destinations like Phoenix and Las Vegas over the summer because the temperatures well exceed the standard 85 degrees Fahrenheit standard set by most airlines.

If you are flying to a hot destination, plan your arrival for the evening or early morning when the temperatures are coolest. Morning is best since the sun has been away for a longer period of time.

Similarly, winter flights can cause pets to freeze. Airlines typically put a hold on live animal transport when temperatures  fall below 45°F.

Plan your flight accordingly and keep an eye on the temperatures leading up to your departure date. Ask the airline what you can do if the temperatures exceed the limits on the date of your flight.

Packing List for Flying with a Dog as Cargo

Your dog cargo travel kit should include the items listed below. Some are required by the airlines, while others will bring comfort to your pet.

In addition to the items below, carry on your person other accessories, including:

IATA Compliant Pet Crate

Before purchasing a kennel for your flight, double check with airline sizing requirements. These are very specific and you will not be permitted to fly if they do not match the standards. The IATA is a great place to start.

Common pet crate regulations dictate that your pet must be able to:

  • Turn around freely in a standing position
  • Stand and sit upright
  • Fully lie down in a comfortable position

If you need guidance selecting a dog kennel for flying, you can check out the list we put together.

Crate Pad

This is something you should already have at home for your dog’s crate. You’re looking for a rectangular bed that is comfortable for long periods of time. Any of the beds below are ideal.

WestPaw Design Montana Nap

This eco-friendly dog bed fits perfectly inside most crates and is made from recycled plastic.

It is lightweight for travel and can easily double as a travel bed for use when you arrive in your destination.


P.L.A.Y Crate Pad

P.L.A.Y. Crate pad

Designed specifically for crates, this lightweight portable dog bed is tough and durable and filled with a soft loft.

The bed is machine washable for easy cleaning in case of an accident.


Carlson Pet Products Fleece Pet Bed

Carlson Pet Products fleece pet bed offers a cozy bedding for a kennel.

Your dog will be super comfortable on this cozy fleece bed. This crate pad is machine washable and lined with a 2-inch thick bolster border to add additional comfort.


Puppy Pads

Training pads will tidy any accidents your dog may have during the flight.

In case of a potty accident, a puppy pad will help absorb any liquid and keep your pet a bit more comfortable. Place this on top of their bed, so they can keep their bed dry if they do pee mid-flight.

Look for super absorbent training pads, like these from Amazon. They are leak proof and have a quick-dry surface.


Water/Food Bowls

Look for stainless steel bowls that attach to the outside of the kennel for a flight.

As mentioned earlier, different airlines have different rules for food and water dishes.

For those who do require food and water bowls, look for those that mount to either the inside or outside of the kennel with wing nuts.

A water bottle dispenser that attaches to the outside of the kennel will keep your dog hydrated during a flight.

For a water dispenser, look for one like those used for hamsters that attach to the outside of the kennel and have a straw directed into the inside of the kennel.

You’ll have to teach your dog how to use this kind of dispenser before departure.


Zip Ties

Airlines may require zip ties for dogs traveling as cargo.

This may seem like a random piece of gear you’ll need to fly with your dog, but many airlines require that dog owners zip tie the kennel door shut.

Some will provide zip ties at check in, but prefer that travelers bring their own.


Live Animal Stickers and Tag

Live animal stickers to place on a dog kennel for flying.

While not always necessary, kennel stickers indicating a live animal will caution handlers to be more gentle with your dog as they are shuffled around.

This kit also includes a pouch for anyone traveling with a pet passport, handy if you frequently go back and forth between the US and Europe.

Should You Even Bring Your Dog?

I rarely go anywhere without my dogs, however I do leave them at home with a pet sitter on occasion. Sometimes, bringing them along with me on a flight just isn’t worth the hassle and stress to them.

My general rule of thumb for transporting my dog as cargo goes as such: if I will be traveling longer than, say a month, then I’ll probably bring my dog. If I’m only going for a few weeks, then I’ll probably choose to leave them at home.

Only you know your dog and what they can handle. If flying in the cargo hold will cause more stress than you being away for a few weeks, then consider their well being over your desire to have them along on the adventure.

Have you flown with your dog in cargo? What tips do you have to offer fellow travelers?

What has been your experience flying with your dog?

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Flying with a Large Dog as Cargo Pinterest Image


Jen Sotolongo

Hello! I'm Jen. I'm a writer, photographer, dog mom, and outdoor enthusiast. When I'm not writing about awesome ways to get outside with your dog, I'm probably out for a long trail run. I also fancy myself a pretty decent vegan cook, and am always happy to whip up a batch of cookies for friends. I am based in the Pacific Northwest and I never leave home without my dogs.

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