Let’s face it, a long flight is not easy for anyone, especially your dog. This is even true for experienced air travellers! There is undoubtedly much anxiety and stress for dogs and dog owners during long-haul flights.
Taking a long flight requires more forethought and careful planning than a short-hop flight. The idea of putting your furry pal onto a long flight feels daunting at first. The more you prepare your dog for long flights, the smoother the journey will be.
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15 Tips on traveling with your dog on long flights:
1. Ease their way in
Unless your dog is already a highly experienced air traveller, chances are your fur baby needs to be eased into air travel. Road trips are great ways to get dogs comfortable with travelling. If possible, it would be great to also take some quick domestic flights to get acquainted with the airplane and airport, before embarking on a long/international flight. This will make your dog familiar and comfortable with the entire process.
2. Choose the right dog carrier
Choosing the right dog carrier is very important. Your dog should feel safe and secure in its carrier. Dog carriers are available in many types and sizes. The choice has to be made based on your requirements. Make sure there’s enough space for your fur buddy to turn around completely, sit, and lay down in it.
If your pet appears anxious and tense, it is very likely uncomfortable. Don’t try to make your dpg fit in a carrier that is too small, it could stress your dog out even more.
The dog carrier is a one-time purchase so you must get the right one. You should do your homework to find the right fit for your dog.
3. Look up your airline’s requirements
Airlines have tons of rules and guidelines for flying with your dogs. These will vary depending on if your dog will be coming onto the flight with you, or going into the cargo hold. This will likely depend on the size of your dog as most airlines have a maximum allowable size for dogs in the cabin (with exceptions for certified guide dogs). Remember that airlines may differ in acceptable dog carrier size, both for the cargo hold and for in the cabin. So, always check the airlines’ requirements for dog carrier dimensions in terms of the size and type of carrier. Most airlines require the carrier to be between 16 and 19 inches long or less, and about 10 inches tall.
4. Start dog carrier training early
Start carrier training your dog as early as possible. This will ensure that your dog feels familiar with and comfortable in it long before your scheduled flight.
Make the dog carrier comfortable and interesting for your fur buddy. You can place your dog’s favourite blanket, chews, toy, and treats inside. Take dog carrier training slowly and make the whole experience pleasant for your pet.
Your fur buddy should associate the carrier with a relaxed mindset. Show patience and praise your dog while doing your carrier training. Your dog will soon be happy staying in its carrier. This will help them to ultimately enjoy staying there.
5. Book early
Most airlines limit the number of pets allowed in the cabin and cargo. Generally, airlines only allow one or two dogs on each flight. So, it’s important to book your dog’s flight as soon as possible. Call ahead to reserve a space for your dog. Don’t buy your ticket until you speak to the airline and make sure there is a space available for your dog on the flight.
6. Book an evening flight
The experience of long flights can easily cause stress on your dog. One easy way to help your furry pal through a long flight is to opt for an evening flight. Booking a flight near or during your dog’s typical bedtime will likely help your dog sleep through the flight. This will help your dog to stay on its usual sleeping schedule. The longer a dog sleeps on the flight, the smoother the flight will be for it.
7. Exercise before your flight takes off
A tired travelling dog is a happy travelling dog. Make sure your dog gets exercise to wipe its pent up energy out. Feeling tired during the flight normally equates to good sleep. Exercise helps to get some of its energy out before the dog is cooped up in its carrier for long flights. The more a dog sleeps, the shorter and smoother the flight will seem.
Exercising your dog before your flight takes off doesn’t mean extreme physical activity. It’s just adding a couple of extra minutes of walk, exercise, or playtime. We recommend a 30-60 minute walk right before heading to the airport. Ideally, this will leave your fur buddy tired enough to take an in-flight nap! It will help ease your dog’s way into long air travel.
8. Limit water intake right before and during your flight
Give your dog food or water two hours before the flight. Some people skip heavy meals the morning of flying. This may seem cruel but dogs are fine without water for a few hours.
Limiting food and water intake right before and during your flight helps avoid accidents on the flight and keep your dog comfortable. It may lead to fewer bathroom breaks for dogs and prevent stomach discomfort. Most airports have areas designed for pets to relieve themselves.
During the flight, gauge the water you give your dog. There is a fine line between avoiding dehydration and giving your dog such an excessive amount of water to drink that he is “crossing all four of his legs” while trying to hold his pee. Some dog parents prefer to offer their dog an ice cube to play with during the flight. This helps to hydrate them and has the added bonus that it keeps them occupied for a few minutes.
9. Prepare the dog carrier for accidents
Don’t assume that a potty trained dog can’t have an accident in flight. No matter how potty-trained your dog is, accidents can happen in high-stress environments.
As previously mentioned, you should be strategic when providing water right before and during the flight as it’s difficult for dogs to relieve themselves on the plane. Healthy adult dogs shouldn’t have a problem holding their bladder for 8-10 hours. After all, most fully trained dogs do not pee throughout the night while you are sleeping.
You need to line your dog’s carrier with something absorbent. The dog crate pee pads can be used in case there is an in-flight accident. These linings absorb moisture to keep your furry pal comfortable.
10. Talk to your vet
Talk to your vet as soon as you decide to take your dog on a long flight. You need to be sure your fur buddy is physically fit for a long flight. Talk to your veterinarian about your dog’s digestive cycle and the length of your flight. He may help you to determine the most appropriate feeding time.
11. Do not use sedatives to tranquillize your dog
If your dog will be taking a long flight, they should not be given sedatives or tranquillizers before flying. These drugs can have negative effects on dogs.
Sedated dogs lose muscle control and cannot maintain their balance. Sedatives make them unsteady and mentally woozy too, so they become confused. Dogs become unable to control their own actions and become frightened. So, instead of helping reduce anxiety, sedatives can amplify stress.
Sedatives or tranquillizers can create respiratory and cardiovascular problems during the flight because the dog is exposed to increased altitude pressures. They can make your dog more uncomfortable than he was before the pills.
12. Make sure that your fur buddy has the right temperament to fly
Anxious dogs or dogs with high anxiety levels are not the right choices to take with you on a long plane ride. It’s simply not worth the stress for your poor buddy.
You know your dog best! So, it’s better to be honest with yourself. Dogs with high barking potential might not be the best choice for a small aircraft. Dogs who are scared by taking flight for a short domestic trip should not be taken on long flights.
If you think the long-haul flight experience will be too traumatizing for your fur buddy, do him a favour and keep all four paws on the ground. You consider a responsible doggy nanny, wonderful doggy resorts, or dog sitters. They can take great care of your dog while you are away.
13. Be prepared for the plane’s environmental conditions
If you are travelling during the summer or winter months, choose flights that will accommodate the temperature extremes.
If your dog is flying in the cargo hold, ask if the cargo area is air-conditioned. This is essential to your dog’s health. Some planes have floor air conditioners, in which case your dog might get cold. Pack a blanket to keep your dog warm and comfortable during the long-haul flight.
14. Affix a travel label to the carrier
Attach a travel label or tag to the dog carrier. Write your name, permanent address, contact number, and final destination/location you will be staying on your trip.
15. Carry your dog’s health certificate
Make sure that you have a health certificate for your dog from the vet. Even if your airline doesn’t specifically call for one, go ahead and get a health certificate from your vet just in case. It’s always better to be safe. This certificate will show that your pup has had all his shots and vaccinations. You should always research vets and pet emergency hospitals at the location you will be staying ahead of time; in case of emergency it is always best to be prepared. It is always a good idea to have Pet Insurance ahead of time to avoid unexpected bills, travelling is no exception!
Other Things to be Aware of For Long Flights With Dogs
Taking a dog on a long flight can be a somewhat traumatic experience for them. Whatever the circumstance surrounding this long plane ride, the planning needs to be perfect. Here are few more things you should be aware of for long flights with dogs:
- Don’t ever take any brachycephalic dogs like Pugs or Bulldogs in the cargo holds.
- Be sure to let the captain and the flight attendants know that you are travelling with your dog in cargo.
- Make sure that your dog’s nails have been clipped. This will protect them from scratches or getting hooked in the carrier’s door or holes.
- Don’t be alarmed if your dog doesn’t touch its favourite treats that it usually eats. This could just be due to air travel anxiety.
- Pick your dog up immediately upon arrival at your destination. Most airlines make dogs available two hours after the flight’s arrival. They must be picked up within four hours.
- Try to use direct flights. This will help you to avoid the mistakes that occur during airline transfers. You will also avoid possible delays in getting your dog off the plane.
- Be prepared to not allow your dog out in the airport, except when going through security. Most airports do not allow dogs at all within the airport unless they are in their dog carrier. Again, there are exceptions for guide dogs.
- Carry a current picture of your dog. If your furry pal is lost during the trip, a picture will make it much easier for airline workers to search effectively.
- When you arrive at your destination, open the carrier as soon as you are in a safe place and examine your pet. If anything seems wrong, take your pet to a veterinarian immediately.
Pack all your dog’s essential items for the air trip. It’s important to make sure you have enough food, toys and treats to get your fur buddy through a few days when you land.
Don’t forget these items when packing your dog’s suitcase:
- Health certificate and vaccination records
- Non-spill water carrier
- Contact information for your vet and an emergency vet contact at your destination
- Any special medication your dog might need
- Leash and spare collar with ID tag
- Dog wipes and paper towels
- Comb, brush, and grooming products
- Adequate dog food and treats for the entire trip
- Plenty of bottled water
- Food and water bowls
- Poop bags
- A bone to keep your dog occupied during the long flight
- Few of your dog’s favourite toys
- A comfy blanket
Travelling with your pup can be totally worth it! Not only will you have your whole family with you on vacation or a long trip to see family, but dogs are excellent companions for exploring new places.
We often hear stories about unpleasant incidents occurring during dog air travel. Many of them could have been prevented if the dog owner had taken the necessary precautions for their fur buddy’s safety.
With excellent planning, you and your dog can have an incredible flying experience. If you follow these tips, you can give your dog the best chance to travel safely and comfortably on long flights.
Be a savvy traveller! Enjoy your journey, make it comfy for your pet, and remember to have fun!
Family Dog Expert Author
Hi there! I’m Stuart, a devoted dog lover and family dog expert with over a decade of experience working with our furry companions. My passion for dogs drives me to share my knowledge and expertise, helping families build strong, loving bonds with their four-legged friends. When I’m not writing for SirDoggie, you’ll find me hiking, playing with my beautiful dog, or studying music.