Traveling with Your Dog on an Airplane: What You Need to Know

The first thing you need to know is that traveling with your dog on an airplane is not always the safest mode of transportation for your beloved canine. If the trip can be done by car, this would be a much safer and more comfortable ride for your four-legged friend.

However, when that is not an option, you will have to learn how to travel with a dog on an airplane instead.  Below is a complete guide on how to safely travel with your dog and other helpful tips on how to make the journey easier for both you and your pet.

How to Take Your Dog on an Airplane: Plan Ahead

It may go without saying but planning ahead is paramount to a successful flight with your pooch. Some airlines may not allow pets, while others have specific policies regarding flying pets that you need to know about before you even book your flight. Still, others may offer upgraded options that allow you to fly your dog in the first-class cabin with you. Some airlines have breed and size restrictions, as well as other rules that may be pertinent to your dog.

Dogs that are a brachycephalic breed such as the Pug, Pekingese, and Shih Tzu (among others) may not be allowed to fly. These dogs are at a higher risk of developing difficulties in breathing while flying due to their pressed face and genetic makeup. Specific airlines will also have size requirements that you will need to know ahead of time so that you can purchase a pet carrier that fits their dimensions. The last thing you want to happen is to bring your dog onboard to fly, and then their carrier doesn’t fit beneath the seat.

For most airlines, your dog will have to be under 20 pounds to fit airline requirements and be allowed to fly in the cabin with you. Larger dogs would be forced to fly cargo, which is not ideal, and some airlines don’t even offer cargo flights for dogs. Your final destination may also influence whether or not your dog will be able to fly.

There are some destinations where pets will not be allowed to fly because the duration of the flight is too long. You must know these rules before departure so that you can make necessary alternate arrangements. Also, be prepared to pay more for your flight if you’re flying with a furry friend. Prices tend to increase when adding your pet.

Book Your Flight Early

Dog-Fly-2You should book your flight well in advance if you plan on flying with your dog. For cabin flights, there is often a pet limit per flight. Usually, that limit only allows for one or two dogs on board. Before you buy your ticket, you need to check with the airline and make sure there is a spot available for your dog, and then book both you and your dog at the same time.

It’s also a good idea to get a direct flight if you can, as it’s much less stressful on your pooch than dealing with layovers. Another way to help reduce your dog’s potential stress levels is to book your direct flight during a weekday when airports tend to be a lot less busy.

Not only does booking your flight early give you peace of mind knowing that your dog’s spot is secure, but it will also give you plenty of time to acquaint your dog with his new pet carrier that he will be traveling in.

Another reason to book early is you may have to get a health certificate for your dog, which you will need to get within 10 days of your scheduled flight. If you’re flying to another country, there may be specific vaccines and certificates needed. So, if you book your flight ahead of time, that gives you plenty of breathing room to schedule your dog’s vet visits and get them up-to-date on any necessary vaccines that may be required.

Find a Great Pet Carrier

You want your dog to be as comfy as possible during their flight. Check out your chosen airline’s requirements for pet carriers and purchase one that will make your dog feel comfortable. Typically, softer pet carriers with plenty of ventilation are best, because they have a bit of give to them that allows them to fit beneath the seat.

Keep in mind that your dog’s pet carrier will be considered carry-on baggage with the airline, so you will only be able to take one other bag with you. Everything else will have to go through baggage claim. This means that you might want to invest in a slightly fancier carrier than you normally would, one with extra pockets and storage areas so that you can keep other necessities nearby.

You’ll want to have a place to store food, snacks, treats, possibly a small toy or two, and some kind of collapsible water bowl or no-spill container for water. It needs to have a way for you to easily replenish your dog’s water without getting your dog all riled up or taking your dog out of the carrier.

You may want to bring along some pee pads and baggies for soiled pads too, for the sake of cleanliness, especially if your dog is a nervous, anxious type. Make sure there’s a spot to store some of your own goodies too, especially if your flight is longer than a couple of hours.

Get Your Dog a Harness and ID Collar

Even if your dog has a microchip, it’s always a good idea to make him wear an ID collar too, just in case. You should also get your dog a comfy harness and leash for when he may have to come out of his carrier, either during the boarding process or during layovers. The last thing you want is for your dog to be nervous, accidentally escape your arms, and then dart off through the airport.

Make sure you add ID tags to your dog’s pet carrier as well and include pertinent info like your name, phone number, and your mailing address. You can make a copy of a photo of your dog to keep on hand too, in the off chance something happens, and your dog gets lost. It makes it infinitely easier for staff and airline personnel to find a lost dog when they know what the dog looks like.

Talk to Your Vet Before Medicating

Some pet owners may want to sedate their dog before a flight. Especially if your dog is nervous or suffers from canine anxiety, it can be tempting to want to give him something to keep him calm that will help him sleep. However, you should always consult your vet before doing this because some experts believe it increases their risks for negative cardiac or respiratory events during flight as altitude levels increase. They are truly considered a last resort and should be administered with extreme caution.

If you’re worried your dog will be anxious and won’t rest during the flight, try taking him for a long run or walk before it’s time to fly. You can tire him out naturally and hopefully by the time the plane lifts off the tarmac, he will be too sleepy to be anxious and more than ready to get a good nap in. Also, keep in mind that dogs can pick up on your own nervous energy. Try to keep yourself calm and your dog will be more likely to follow suit.

Other Tips to Prepare Your Dog to Fly

Dog-Fly-3Make sure you prepare your dog well ahead of time by getting him used to the pet carrier he will be traveling in. You can do this by feeding him in it, giving him treats in it, letting him take naps or play with toys in it, and taking him on short car rides inside of it to somewhere fun, like the dog park.

It’s also a good idea to make sure your dog eats and drinks a few hours before flying so that their belly isn’t too full. This can help cut down on canine nausea or dog vomiting if their nerves get the best of them. Water is fine until take off, just make sure you have a pee pad in the carrier in case they really have to go, and you can’t take them out.

It’s actually good to keep your dog hydrated, as flying can make him a little thirstier than usual. However, you don’t want to give him so much water they are peeing every five minutes. You could also give him an ice cube to lick and play with, as that will help keep him hydrated (and distracted), without going overboard.

If you intend to take him on a walk to tire him out, do that just before you’re ready to leave and make sure he pees and poops before you get to the airport. Make sure you carry a few extra pee pads with you once you arrive at check-in. Usually, two hours is enough for the check-in process with a dog.

Make sure your dog has a warm blanket just in case. There are often air conditioners on the floor which can affect them and make them cold. You could also throw an item of clothing in your dog’s carrier to help keep them both warm and calm because your scent will help to ease their anxiety. If your plane is running heaters, you may have to remove a blanket or two to keep them comfortable, so they don’t overheat.

If you’re forced to take a flight with a layover, your dog will need a potty break. Look for one of the areas where service dogs relieve themselves. All airports have them. Or let them use a pee pad and then dispose of it. You should make sure they get to go potty right after disembarking once you reach your final destination as well.

Don’t forget to reward your dog once you land. Flying is stressful and if they did well with minimal fuss and mess, give them a treat with plenty of cuddles and love, so that the whole experience ends on a positive note. It will make your next flight go more smoothly because your dog will know what to expect and they will remember the positive associations they made upon landing.

And finally, consider your dog. Even though you may really want your dog to travel with you, sometimes your dog may not be a fit travel companion. If your dog is extremely high-strung and nervous, it may not be worth the stress to take them with you. Also, some airlines expect your dog to be well-trained and quiet. If your dog gets nervous or extremely vocal, they may not be allowed to fly. Be sure to train your dog not to bark before your trip. Always think of your dog, first and foremost. If you think they may suffer because of the flight, it may be kinder to leave them behind in the care of a good friend or a reputable doggie resort.


  1. Peachman, Rachel Rabkin. “Is Your Pet Safe Flying In Cargo?” Condé Nast Traveler, 28 Mar. 2018,
  2. “What You Need to Know About Flying With Your Dog.” Travel Leisure,
  3. “How to Fly with Your Dog — Safely.” CNN, 31 Mar. 2018,
  4. “Travel – Airplane Travel With Your Dog.” VCA Hospitals,
  5. Crocetti, Rachel. “16 Things You Must Know The Next Time You Fly With Your Dog.” BarkPost, 8 Jan. 2019,

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