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The essentials

  • Know before you go — Certain destinations and airlines may have travel restrictions and additional health requirements for your pet. Your pet may need a veterinarian exam within ten days of your departure — or sooner, depending on your destination.
  • Flying with pets means you have choices to make — Cats and dogs under 20 pounds may qualify to ride in an airline passenger cabin for an extra fee. Larger animals must be checked as baggage or secure a separate cargo flight.
  • Help them rest easy on their travels— Finding a comfortable pet carrier and harness allows your pet to have a safe, less stressful experience.

Plenty of pet parents like to bring their furry friends wherever they go, including on vacation. After all, they’re with us while we’re working at home, so why not reward them with a holiday? Whether you’re bringing your furry BFF along on a road trip or taking to the skies in an airplane, it’s important to have a travel to-do list for your pup or kitty to keep them safe and comfortable. 

Before making plans for you and your pet, it’s important to visit the veterinarian to check for any underlying health issues that could make travel dangerous. Additionally, many rules and regulations have shifted after the COVID-19 pandemic. Many airlines no longer allow pets to fly as cargo, so check your particular airline information before booking your seat.

Read on to learn about everything else you should consider if you’re planning to take your pet with you on your next travel adventure.

Planning for your trip

Before hitting the road or going up in the air, pet parents should include a pre-travel to-do list for their furry friends, especially for long-distance trips. Just like a packing list, your canine or feline friend will need to be prepared to go on vacation, and prepping your pets in advance is a good idea even for short trips. 

Check with your vet

If you’re nervous about how well your pet will handle air or car travel, ask your veterinarian if they recommend using any medications to help with stress or even motion sickness. However, it’s important to know when flying with your pet that the International Air Transport Association no longer recommends sedatives or tranquilizers as a good option. There’s a risk they can put added stress on your animal’s breathing.

Don’t wait until the last minute to call your vet — it may take their office some time to gather the necessary paperwork for your pet’s travel health certificate. You might also ask them about any holistic methods or products available to calm your pet that are safe for travel and your pet’s specific needs.

Research travel guidelines

Although we wish we could bring our furry friends everywhere we go, there are restrictions for traveling with pets. Some airlines, such as Delta and Southwest, no longer provide cargo shipping or checked baggage as an option for pets. They only allow animals in the cabin, generally ruling out larger dogs (excluding service animals). American Airlines does allow pets to fly as cargo. If you want to take a train, Amtrak only allows dogs up to 20 lbs., and they must be in a carrier. Not all hotels are pet-friendly either, so be sure to research which hotels allow pets in the room before booking. 

As always, check before you go. Guidelines about traveling with animals have remained constantly in flux, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic. We also recommend calling any airlines, hotels, or other travel accommodations separately to verify any published information on their website, giving you extra peace of mind before takeoff.

Make sure your pet is safe and secure

Whatever way you choose to travel, your dog will need a well-ventilated dog or cat carrier in the appropriate size. Many pet parents make the transport device as comfortable as possible, lining it with a light mat. Keeping a toy in the pet carrier to help comfort your pet is also a good idea. Just make sure if you’re traveling on an airplane, the toy won’t disrupt the other passengers! 

When traveling, keep your pet leashed at all times unless they’re in their carrier or another secure area. Making sure your pet is properly leash-trained will make the long periods on a leash easier for everyone. If you’re traveling by car, you may want to take some time pre-trip to train your pet on riding in the car with a pet-friendly seatbelt. 

It’s also important to keep your pet identifiable in the worst-case scenario if you both get separated. In addition to microchipping your pet, you should make sure they have an ID tag with your information on it to contact you.

Choosing the right pet carrier

Pets who are going to be constrained in a carrier for an extended period of time should be as comfortable as possible. The ideal pet carrier should be well-ventilated and the correct size for your pet. The best way to gauge the appropriate size? If your furry friend can stand up and turn around without touching the top or sides, the carrier is a good fit. 

Cat owners who are traveling with their kitties will also want to choose a carrier with both a top and side opening. Giving your cat options and being able to lift them up out of the carrier is less stressful for them. If you’re traveling by car, keep the carrier or cat backpack level in the vehicle to help ease stress and prevent nausea for your cat. If you’re traveling by plane, make sure your cat wears a leash or harness, as they’ll need to get out of the carrier during the TSA pre-check. 

👉 If you’re flying with your pet, airlines may have rules about the type of carrier they can travel in, such as hard-sided or wooden. It’s always best to check in with your airline of choice to make sure your transportation tool is in line with their specific standards.

Training your pet to wear a harness

Many dogs are already trained to wear a harness before they go on a big trip with their humans. All those walks and outdoor playtimes mean your pup is pretty used to their dog harness. Cats, however, are less commonly harness-trained, and it may take them a little time to get used to it. Because it’s essential to keep your pet harnessed and leashed while out traveling, if your pet isn’t harness trained you’ll want to take care of that before your trip.

Preparing your big dog for traveling

It’s naturally much easier to travel with a smaller dog than some bigger breeds. But if you want to have your large dog with you at all times, you’ll probably want to stick with road trips . Dogs larger than 20 lbs. are typically not allowed in the main cabin of an airplane or train unless they’re certified service animals.

Larger dogs can travel by plane, but will often need to be shipped on a special pet cargo freight flight, and only certain airlines (such as Delta) offer this service. Pet parents will have to make sure the flight times of the pet cargo plane align with their own travel itinerary, which can make things a little more difficult.

When traveling with your big dog in the car, get them set up with a kennel or a doggie seatbelt that is comfortable for them. Make sure your larger-sized pup has room to stretch their paws and turn around. It’s OK to let your pup enjoy some fresh air out of an open window, but always make sure they’re secured when doing so.

Traveling with anxious pets

Some pets are more susceptible to stress than others, and this can cause potential issues when traveling. It’s a good idea to set up an appointment with your veterinarian if your pet gets tense when traveling. Your vet can recommend supplements or medications to help make the travel more pleasant for your pup or kitty when bringing them out of their comfort zone. 

Per Dr. Dwight Alleyne, “Pets that are too anxious may not be able to travel because of increased risk to health, especially if they have underlying health conditions such as heart or respiratory disease. Anxiety medications can help with traveling, but there are some airlines that may not allow you to travel with any type of medication that can cause sedation. Your veterinarian can help assist you to determine what is best for your pet based on their circumstances.” 

👉 Consider if your pet should be traveling with you. We love having our furbabies with us, but there are times where it may be better to leave your pet at home with a trusted pet sitter or at a boarding facility.

Traveling with pets by plane

Pet owners who want to take to the skies with their dog or cat have a lot to think about when planning their trip.

  • Generally speaking, all dogs and cats must be at least eight weeks old before going on their first flight, and they must be fully weaned for at least five days for their comfort (and your sanity!) Typically pets must be 20 lbs. or less to fit in an airline-approved pet carrier.
  • All airlines will ask for a health certificate from your veterinarian before your pet is allowed onboard. Ideally, it should be written within ten days of your departure, stating that your pet is up to date on core vaccines (especially rabies!) It’ll also outline your animal’s overall health, listing any medical conditions and whether they seem fit to fly, which is determined by your pet’s veterinarian.

When pets are allowed in the main cabin

When possible, arrange for your pet to fly with you in the main cabin. Small pets, like cats and dogs under 20 pounds, are often considered carry-on pets and are generally allowed for an additional pet fee if they remain in their dog carrier or cat carrier.

Airlines must accommodate certified service dogs at no extra charge. However, airlines are no longer required to give emotional support animals the same level of accommodations even if they are certified. If accepted, they’re considered pets and must still follow the 20-pound rule. You can expect to pay around $200 or less for your pet to ride in the cabin with you versus the $1,000 average for a cargo ticket.

Traveling with your pet in the domestic United States

Flying within the country usually isn’t as big of a hassle as international travel. For example, your pet probably won’t have to undergo quarantine unless you’re traveling to Hawaii, where your pet will be required to quarantine for 120 days if they haven’t received a rabies vaccination within the last 30 days. If they have, they still must remain under watch for five days once they arrive. Hawaii is 100% rabies-free, so it maintains stringent preventative measures.

Individual states may have rules that differ from where you live, so you should contact a veterinarian in your destination state before you travel.

Traveling with your pet overseas

International flights pose extra challenges when it comes to traveling with pets. Some foreign countries have strict limits, such as not allowing your pet to arrive in-cabin. A commercial shipping company may be a better option or even required by your destination country. 

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, most airlines no longer allow live animals as checked baggage or to be shipped as cargo on a separate flight, which means they’ll have to ride with you or get shipped commercially through a third party.

In addition to the health certificate we mentioned earlier, your pet may require additional certificates plus an International Organization for Standardization (ISO) microchip. Certain locations outside the continental United States may also require a quarantine for your pet once they reach the country.

Check with your airline and destination country before you book your pet’s flight so you know what to expect. Ask about necessary vaccines, certifications, and quarantines.

Other tips for traveling by plane

Here are some other factors to consider beyond your pet’s comfort level and social skills:

  • Pets prone to anxiety or aggression shouldn’t fly. The added stress of flying will exacerbate these issues, and make the experience unpleasant for all involved.
  • Never fly with any animal with cardiac or respiratory issues. Stressful situations elevate your dog’s body temperature. Panting cools them down, but flat-faced brachycephalic breeds can’t pant efficiently, which makes them susceptible to heatstroke, even if it isn’t that hot outside. It is not recommended to fly with these breeds under any conditions, due to the risk of respiratory distress .
  • Elderly or pregnant animals are high-risk passengers. Certain airlines won’t allow them on board, and health complications are more prone to arise in these animals.

Risks of traveling with pets

U.S. airlines transported more than 256,114 dogs and cats in 2021, according to our analysis of the Department of Transportation’s Air Travel Consumer Reports. While the vast majority arrived safely at their destination, 21 died, another 7 were injured, and 14 lost.

When examining several years’ worth of reports, large dogs such as labrador retrievers and Siberian huskies were most at risk for chewing through their kennel in the cargo hold, which often resulted in injury but rarely death. Owners of brachycephalic breeds such as the English bulldog reported instances of suffocation, and the few cats that flew as checked pets and reported fatalities experienced cardiac failure amidst other underlying health conditions.

Flying can stress your pet’s heart and lungs, which can have fatal consequences if they’re in poor health. This is another reason your pet needs a thorough exam by a veterinarian before traveling.

Cost of flying with a pet*

Airline Cost
Southwest $95 per pet each way
United Airline $125 per pet each way
JetBlue $125 per pet each way
Delta $125 domestic, $200 international, $75 to Brazil
American $200 for a checked pet in the western hemisphere ($150 to/from Brazil); $125 for carry-on

Consider the time of year

Some cargo holds aren’t climate-controlled in the same way as airplane cabins. As a result, many pet parents avoid booking their flights during the hottest or coldest times of the year.

If that’s not possible, you can take as many steps as you can to keep you and your pet comfortable. For example, if you must fly in January, secure a flight in the middle of the day when it’s warmer. In July, travel at night when the summer sun won’t be as scorching. Whenever possible, try to book a direct flight to avoid unnecessary exertion. 

Airlines will probably have temperature guidelines as well — and you can always bring plane-safe temperature devices (like personal fans or heaters) as is allowed by your airline and the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA).

Traveling with pets by train

Some good news for pet owners who live to travel by train is that Amtrak does offer pet-friendly travel options. Similarly to airplanes, your pet must be in a pet carrier and must remain in the carrier throughout the trip. Amtrak only allows pets to travel on trips up to seven hours – any longer and they’d definitely need a potty break! Only certain routes allow pets, and pets are only permitted to ride in coach or Acela business class compartments. 

The fees for pet travel via train are very reasonable and anywhere between $29 – $39 depending on the route. One important thing to note with Amtrak travel is that the pet carrier and pet must be no heavier than twenty pounds put together. 

Pet carriers can be hard or soft, but must be leakproof and well-ventilated. The maximum size for pet carriers is 19″ long x 14″ wide x 10.5″ high. All pets need to be at least eight weeks old and up to date on all vaccinations. Be sure to get to the train station at least 45 minutes before departing so that your dog or cat’s paperwork can be checked.

Traveling with pets by car

Taking your pet on the open road can be a lot of fun if you’re well-prepared. Many dogs love car rides, so for some pet parents, this will be an easy feat. Other dogs and cats aren’t always so keen to be in a car for long.

  • If you cat or dog are highly anxious travelers, they may need anxiety supplements or medication that your veterinarian can provide. 
  • Pack a go-back for your dog or cat with their food, toys, bowls, fresh water, and any medicine or supplements. It’s also a good idea to have a pet first aid bundle to plan for all possible contingencies. Be sure to keep treats and a favorite toy or two close at hand to keep your pet happy and entertained during the long drive. 
  • Time your bathroom breaks with your pets’ potty breaks. While dogs can do their business anywhere outside, a cat will need access to their litter box. Keep a litter box in the back or trunk of your car, then harness and leash your cat and bring them to their litter box when it’s time for a bathroom break. The leash will prevent them from running out of the car while still giving them space to take care of business.
  • Choose how you want your pets to travel – Cats will probably do best in a pet carrier, and many dogs will feel most comfortable in their crates or carriers. If pets are used to riding in the car with a pet-friendly seat belt and harness, there’s no reason to switch it up for a longer trip.

Cruises and boating with pets

While taking your dog on the open waters sounds like a fun adventure, there aren’t too many options available. Cunard Cruise Lines does allow dogs 20 lbs. or less on their ships, though pups must be in a kennel at all times they’re not in your cabin. If you have your own boat, boating with your dog can be a ton of fun. Just be sure to pack plenty of fresh water and a doggy life jacket!

Traveling internationally with your pet

Traveling internationally can be trickier than domestically. If you’re traveling to any part of Europe, all pets must be microchipped and up to date on all vaccinations. Pets also require a health certificate that is countersigned and stamped by Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). Your veterinarian must be USDA accredited in order for APHIS to accept their certificate. 

Travel to Mexico from the United States is much less restrictive in regard to pets. Pets don’t need to be microchipped or have a health certificate. Upon entering the border or going through airport customs, your pet will be inspected to ensure they are healthy and not visibly wounded upon arrival. 

No matter where you’re going, make sure you carry copies of your pet’s vaccination documents and health certificate and have them handy to present if asked by local authorities.

Lodging with pets

Once you get to your destination, you’ll want to make sure your pet is safe and comfortable in their home away from home. Set up any litter boxes right away, or doggy pee pads if you use them. Figure out the route your dog will take to go potty and try to take the same route each time to get your dog comfortable with a routine.

Set up your pet’s carrier or bed in a place they’ll be comfortable. Leave out some toys to make the space more fun. If you have to leave your pet in your hotel room, take steps to ensure they’ll be calm and quiet so as not to disturb other guests. You may need to give them a calming supplement to help reduce the stress of being alone in a foreign place. 

👉  It’s a good idea to bring cleaning supplies with you on your trip. In the chance a pup or kitty has an accident, travelers shouldn’t rely on the cleaning staff to clean up after those messes. 

Traveling with pets has a lot of steps involved to ensure a smooth experience. Plenty of pre-planning and preparations are involved to keep your dog or cat safe and as comfortable as possible on their trip. But getting to share in your adventures with your furry best friend can make all the legwork worth it.

Frequently asked questions

Can I fly with my newborn kitten or puppy?

For their safety, all dogs and cats must be at least 8 weeks old and fully weaned before they can fly. In practicality, they might need to be even older than that since most puppies and kittens don’t yet have their required vaccines at such a young age. You’ll need to wait until they grow up a little more before they can join you on your airplane adventures.

How much does it cost to fly with a dog or cat?

In-cabin accommodations are much cheaper than checked baggage or cargo. The price is usually less than $200, which is usually closer to an add-on cost than an extra ticket. Checked baggage costs a little more but still stays in the economical range. Cargo can cost as much as a human plane ticket and may not be an option with many commercial airlines. You’ll probably have the choice of flying with your pet in-cabin or hiring a commercial shipping company to transport your pet. Most airlines no longer allow animals as checked baggage or on their cargo flights.

How do you travel long distances with a cat? 

Cats typically do very well in their carriers and will not mess in them as they want to avoid sitting in their own mess. While cats can hold their urine for a long time (up to 24 hours!), it’s recommended to have a litter box in the trunk of your car. Bring your cat out to it while on a leash to let your cat relieve themselves during a long drive. 

Is it safe to fly with your pet?

When taking the proper precautions, yes. While the accounts of dog and cat deaths over recent years have made us think twice about how to travel safely with our animals, these incidents account for less than 0.05% of all animals transported. Hundreds of thousands of animals fly safely every year. That said, you should always take your pet to the veterinarian within 10 days of your flight for a health assessment and refrain from flying a sick, pregnant, or elderly pet. Animals with a history of aggression, anxiety, or brachycephalic dog breeds may not make good travelers. Talk to your veterinarian if you have any concerns about traveling with your pet.