How to Fly with your Dog

Written by Small Door's medical experts

Air travel with your dog can get a little complicated, with rules that vary from airline to airline and laws that depend on your destination. Flying can be anxiety-inducing for some dogs, and it can sometimes be dangerous. But safe travel is very possible, and millions of dogs do it every year. If you’re planning on flying with your dog, it’s best to know your options and be prepared.

In this article:

What are the pros and cons of flying with your dog?

Flying with your dog may be the right decision for a variety of reasons: 

  • Flying with your dog can give you peace of mind to know they’re with you.

  • Bringing your dog may be necessary if you're moving to a place that is too far away to travel by car.

  • Arranging for pet care may be too expensive.

However, there are some downsides. First off, there are several airline and destination rules and regulations to think about (you’ll learn more about these below).

In addition:

  • It’s more expensive. Most airlines charge fees for bringing a dog, generally ranging from $100 to $125. 

  • You’ll need to manage your pet through the journey, which can bring added stress. For example, once you’re past security and can no longer leave the airport, it can be difficult to find a place for your dog to go to the bathroom. Not all airports have convenient facilities for pets. 

  • You’ll also need to consider the potential dangers of flying for your dog, particularly if it’s a long flight, or they are older or have health problems. Air travel may expose your dog to injury from turbulence, lack of airflow, or extreme temperatures.

What are the rules for flying with your dog?

The rules for flying with your dog depend on many factors and differ among airlines. In general, the following rules may apply:

  • Your dog may need certain vaccinations and health certificates

  • Your dog may not be able to ride in the cabin if they are over a certain weight limit (typically around 20 pounds for dog and carrier). Large dogs must travel in the cargo hold where checked baggage is stored. 

  • Your dog will not be able to ride in the cabin if the pet carrier doesn’t fit under the seat in front of you.  

  • Your dog may not be able to ride in the cargo hold if they are a brachycephalic (short-nosed) breed, such as a bulldog, pug, or Boston terrier.  

  • Your dog may need to quarantine upon arrival if you are traveling to another country or state (such as Hawaii).  

  • Your dog may need to be 8 weeks old or older and weaned to fly. 

  • Your dog may not be able to ride in the cargo hold during parts of the winter and summer when it is too hot or cold outside. 

  • Your dog may need a microchip implanted under the skin for identification. 

  • Your dog will usually be allowed to ride in the main cabin without being contained in a carrier if you have disabilities and require the assistance of a service animal, such as a guide dog. 

  • You may or may not be allowed to travel with more than one dog, depending on the airline. Airlines may allow you to bring one, two, or more dogs in the main cabin. Sometimes you can have two dogs per carrier. What’s allowed often depends on the number of spots for pets per flight. 

Can you fly with your dog as carry-on or cargo?

Both are sometimes possible, but there are rules depending on the airline, destination and size of your dog, amongst other things. 

To fly with your dog in the cabin, airlines may require the following: 

  • A Certificate of Veterinary Inspection from your veterinarian. This tells the airline that your dog is healthy and won’t spread disease.

  • Certain weight or crate dimensions. For example, some airlines only allow dogs in the cabin if the combined weight of the dog and its crate is below 20 pounds. Each airline has its own set of rules.

It helps to book early before limited spots are full. For example, some airlines allow a maximum of 4 pets per flight on certain planes, and even less for others. 

However, if you have a large dog that cannot ride in the cabin, some airlines allow your dog to travel in the cargo hold. Keep in mind:

  • Dogs in cargo have to be a certain age and breed.

  • There may be crate and dog weight requirements.

  • Some airlines do not allow dogs in cargo, and many others have suspended this option temporarily due to the pandemic.

  • The cargo hold can get quite warm or cold, so at certain times of the year, many airlines do not allow dogs in cargo. 

Can you fly with your dog as an ESA?

As of a 2020 ruling from the U.S. Department of Transportation, airlines are not required to consider emotional support animals (ESAs) to be the same as service animals. The same rules apply to ESAs as for other non-service dogs.

While there are currently no flying advantages afforded to ESAs, an ESA is legally an ESA with certification from your healthcare provider, such as a licensed therapist or psychiatrist. A veterinarian cannot provide this service. 

Can service dogs fly in the cabin?

Service dogs can generally fly in the cabin of any plane free of extra charges, and do not need to be contained in a crate or carrier. Airlines may request documentation of your service dog's health status and training, such as a U.S. Department of Transportation form for service animals, and require that they are harnessed or leashed while on the plane or in the airport. If you are flying internationally with a service dog, it is crucial to research how your destination country regulates service dogs.

If you would like certification or guidance, consult your medical professional or an outside agency, such as Guide Dogs for the Blind. Also, while you can work with a reputable organization to train a service dog, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), if you have a need for a service dog, you may train your service dog on your own. Your veterinarian will not be able to help with certifying or training a service dog. 

Are there any breeds that can’t fly?

Owners of a brachycephalic or short-nosed dog should not let their dog fly in the cargo cabin of an airplane, where they are particularly vulnerable to stress and changes in temperature and airflow.  These dogs include: 

  • Bulldogs

  • Pugs

  • Boston terriers

  • Boxers

  • Pekingese

  • Lhasa Apsos

  • Shih Tzus

  • Some mastiffs

These dogs are more prone to breathing problems, which can lead to passing out, overheating, or even death. 

Many airlines do not allow short-nosed dog breeds to fly in the cargo cabin. The main cabin is usually OK.

Is there a weight limit for dogs?

Weight limits depend on the airline and whether your dog is riding in the main cabin or the cargo section. For many airlines, the combined carrier/dog weight limit is usually around 20 pounds for dogs traveling in the cabin. Airlines may also set crate and weight specifications for dogs flying as checked baggage in cargo, such as a combined crate/dog weight limit of up to 70 pounds. 

Some airlines do not set a specific weight limit and instead state the maximum dimensions for carriers/crates. 

What are the differences when flying domestic or internationally?

State by state rules are generally consistent. You can fly pretty freely with dogs domestically while following the airline rules. However, Hawaii is a notable outlier in the U.S. All dogs traveling to Hawaii must undergo blood tests, receive vaccinations, and have a microchip implanted. If you follow this process, your dog may only have to stay in quarantine for a maximum of 5 days. Otherwise, officials can mandate quarantine for up to 120 days.

Bringing a dog to another country comes with another set of rules entirely.

  • When traveling internationally with a dog, you will need to adhere to the destination country's laws and the U.S. laws for international travel with an animal for your return.

  • You'll need to determine what health certificates are necessary. Make an appointment with your veterinarian far before your travel date to discuss where you are going and what your dog will need. Veterinarians must be accredited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in order to provide an international health certificate. The laws and requirements of most countries can be found on the USDA’s website.

  • Some countries require a lengthy quarantine for any dogs coming from a foreign nation. Mandatory quarantines can be up to 6 months or longer, depending on the circumstances. 

  • Contact the embassy well in advance of when you plan to leave. You can find the contact information and location of every official embassy on USembassy.gov

  • Note that some countries require 6 to 9 months of preparation time in advance of travel to complete the necessary testing and vaccinations. 

If you plan to return to the U.S. with your dog after traveling abroad, you'll need to coordinate with your veterinarian. 

  • As of July 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that dogs coming from designated high-risk countries for canine rabies are only eligible to enter the country with specific health certificates or at specified airports. If your dog was not vaccinated against rabies in the U.S. or doesn’t meet other requirements, you will need to apply and be approved for a CDC Dog Import Permit before your dog can reenter the U.S. 

  • Dogs that haven’t been in a high-risk country within the last 6 months don’t need to have an import permit and can arrive at any airport, but they must be healthy and vaccination against rabies is recommended.

Be sure to look into your airline's policies before flying with your dog internationally or domestically.  

What health checks does your dog need to fly?

Health record forms may vary from state to state or country to country, but you should obtain a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection from a licensed and accredited veterinarian any time you fly with a dog. 

It shows the airlines that your dog has been examined, is free of disease that could be passed on to others, and has up-to-date vaccinations. The specific vaccinations needed vary, but a rabies vaccine is always required.

Airlines may request these documents within 10 days of your travel date.

To obtain a health certificate, make an appointment with your veterinarian 7 to 10 days before your travel date. 

Some airlines require another form from your veterinarian, called an acclimation certificate, to allow dogs to travel in the cargo hold during cold weather. Airlines are typically not allowed to carry animals as cargo if there is a chance they will be exposed to temperatures below 45°F for more than 45 minutes. Having this certificate enables the airline to waive this law. 

The same ban applies to temperatures higher than 85°F, but no acclimation certificate allows dogs to travel in these hot conditions. 

What should you pack when flying with your dog?

As a dog owner, you’re used to keeping things on hand for your dog. Here are some tips from the American Veterinary Medical Association on what to bring for flight travel: 

  • ID forms, including a photo of your dog and 2 ID tags for your dog’s collar

  • A Certificate of Veterinary Inspection 

  • Medical records that reflect your dog’s health history and medical conditions 

  • An acclimation certificate (if required) 

  • Any medications needed – be sure to bring more than you need, in case your return journey is delayed

  • A comfortable crate that adheres to the airline’s requirements 

  • Food and water 

  • A comfortable pad or absorbent bedding 

  • A blanket and toys (although these should not be placed in the crate if your dog is traveling in the cargo cabin, as they could increase the risk of breathing problems) 

  • Collar, leash, and harness 

What type of carrier is best for your dog during a flight?

Choosing the appropriate crate for air travel depends on the airline’s requirements and whether your dog will be traveling in the main cabin or the cargo hold. 

  • Carriers for use in the cabin must be small enough to fit under the seat in front of you, but big enough so that your dog can comfortably move around in it. They tend to be soft-sided. Before choosing a carrier, check the airline's size restrictions. Some of our favorite in-cabin carriers are the Away pet carrier and the Sleepypod carrier.

  • If your dog is traveling in the cargo hold, you will need a rigid crate that is well-ventilated and large enough for your dog to move around easily. The crate should be labeled with your contact information and a "Live Animals" sign indicating that an animal is inside the crate and it must stay upright.

How much does it cost to fly with your dog?

The cost of flying with a dog varies across different airlines, but most charge between $100 to $125 for in-cabin travel. Fees for shipping a dog in the cargo cabin may be higher and often depend on the size of the dog/crate and the destination. There may be kennel quarantine costs as well after arrival. You can find out the cost of quarantine in different destinations by contacting the embassy of the country or visiting the U.S. Department of Agriculture's page

How can you prepare your dog for their flight?

Once you've had your dog examined by a veterinarian, you can think about how to make sure your dog is as comfortable and calm as possible during the flight. One way to do this is to get your pet accustomed to whatever crate they will be traveling in by having them eat, drink, and sleep in the carrier in the days or weeks leading up to the flight. Choosing to fly during the night may be beneficial, as your dog will feel more sleepy and less energized. 

Consult your veterinarian about pre-flight feeding. According to the MSD Veterinary Manual, you should give your dog a light meal around 6 hours before the flight is scheduled to leave to ensure that they have time to go to the bathroom while you’re still at home. 

While you should avoid feeding your dog within 6 hours of a flight, you should provide water. Securing a water bottle or a bowl with frozen water inside your dog’s crate are options. A rabbit-style water bottle, which does not leak, may be a good option, but you will need to train your dog to use one first. 

Remember to line the carrier with a pee pad to soak up any accidents and keep your dog dry. It’s also calming to your dog to have an item that smells like you in the crate for familiarity.   

Should you sedate your dog for a flight?

Deciding whether or not to sedate your dog for a flight requires input from your dog's veterinarian. In most cases, sedation of pets for air travel is not advised. For in-cabin travel, your veterinarian may recommend anti-anxiety medications under certain circumstances. If you and your veterinarian believe that your dog would benefit from being sedated during the journey, you'll need specific directions on the proper dosage and how to sedate your dog. Sedation is never recommended for dogs travelling in cargo.

What to do at the airport before your dog’s flight

On the day you are traveling, get to the airport early to sort out any remaining logistics and allow your dog to exercise a bit. 

The check-in process can vary. For example, if you’re flying with a carry-on pet, some airlines may require you to bring your pet to a special service counter for check-in, where an agent will likely measure the size of your carrier to make sure it will fit under the seat in front of you. From there, you will head to security, where your dog will need to be taken out of the kennel. The kennel will go through the xray machine while you carry your dog through the metal detector. After security, your dog will need to remain in its carrier. 

However, take your time checking in to minimize how long your dog is contained in a carrier. If your dog is traveling in the cargo hold, make sure to tell your flight attendant when you arrive at the gate.

What to do at your destination after your dog’s flight

Upon arrival at your destination, be sure to pick up your dog as soon as possible if they traveled in the cargo cabin. Take them somewhere they can stretch their legs and do their business, and give them plenty of water to rehydrate.

Summary of flying with your dog

Each airline has its own rules for dogs. Laws differ depending on the state or country where the plane takes off and where it lands. Some airlines allow certain dogs to be placed in the plane's cargo area, where checked baggage is stored. Others permit smaller dogs to ride with you in a crate that fits below the cabin seat. Even the time of year can influence whether dogs can fly because they are typically not allowed to be transported in the cargo cabin if the temperature outside is too hot or too cold. Preparation is the most important thing to do before embarking on a journey with your dog. Make sure to do your research and make an appointment with your veterinarian for safe travels.

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