With our ever more internationally mobile lifestyles more of us than ever before are flying with our dogs. However, the process is far from easy for first-time flyers. In this article we’re going to discuss the more important points to consider before taking your pet on a long-distance flight.
One of the most onerous aspects of flying long distance with your dog are the many (and regularly changing) restrictions put on pet owners. In general, you will have to navigate a range of regulatory requirements in order to pass effortlessly through Customs.
The first step in flying with your dog should be gathering the necessary information from both your departure and arrival countries. This is generally most easily gathered from official government sites, as many articles on third-party sites can be significantly outdated.
Countries differ regarding the legality of different breeds. Those considered fighting or protection dogs are the most commonly-affected, such as Pitbulls or the Dogo Argentino. If you own such a breed, be certain that it can be landed legally in your chosen destination.
Most countries will require a “fitness to fly” certificate, as issued by your veterinarian. Such a document aims to assure the airline that your dog is neither too young or old to travel, and is not a mothering bitch. Additionally, your vet will make a professional judgement about how able your dog is to cope with the inevitable stress of the journey. In many cases, your arrival country will also demand a veterinary visit on arrival.
Each country has specific rules regarding not just your dog’s vaccination record, but also the period of time over which these have been given. Australia is a good example, where rabies vaccines must have been given months before arrival in the country. As a result, pay great attention to not just the jabs – but also the timeline of medication – so you can be certain to meet the requirements before take-off.
If your pet is taking any regular medications (for example, if they are diabetic) then be certain to check that such drugs are legal in your destination country, and what volume may be imported. It can also be wise to ask your vet for the “unbranded” name of the drug, in case you need to source more at your destination, but cannot find the brand name you are familiar with.
In most cases once all the above elements have been checked off, you will also require both an export and an import permit. These must be applied for in plenty of time, and must often be accompanied by supplementary information, such as vaccination records and health certificates.
As the application process can take time, it is wise to plan well in advance to ensure your pet can fly.
Preparing to Fly
Once you have gathered all the necessary information on the legalities of taking your dog abroad, the next topic for consideration is the actual flight itself.
Cabin vs Cargo Hold
Generally speaking most airlines expect dogs to travel in the cargo hold of the plane. Note that this does not mean that your pet will spend the flight resting against someone’s luggage. Instead, animals are confined to a special area of the plane, which is pressurized and heated, for maximum comfort.
That said, a small number of airlines will allow small dogs in the cabin. Some dog owners prefer to be able to keep an eye on their pet during flight, while others find this more of an inconvenience. A good list of airlines allowing pets in the cabin may be found here.
Most commercial flights focus on human passengers for obvious reasons, so space for pets is severely limited and competition can be fierce.
In light of this, it can be wise to investigate pet flights much earlier than perhaps you may for human passengers. Also note that some airlines won’t sell pet flights direct to the public – instead they deal with a small number of specialist pet relocation companies who understand and adhere to their stringent requirements.
While most travellers opt to fly on the same plane as their dog, this doesn’t necessarily have to be so. It is important to appreciate that passing through Customs at both ends can take considerable time, and that arriving in a new and unfamiliar country with an excitable dog can be challenging.
For this reason, some dog owners opt to fly ahead of their pet. They rely on a pet travel agent or caring friend to deal with the outgoing leg. Then, on arrival, the owner is ready and waiting for their pet, with a stable home environment to take him or her to.
Direct vs. Layover
Long-haul flights often suffer from layovers. While such a flight does not necessarily have to be a deal-breaker, it can prolong the stressful situation for your dog. As a result, looking for direct flights to your destination can be worthwhile. In some cases, it can be kinder to fly direct to a major hub in your destination, then hire a car to drive the last stretch. In this way your pet will be cooped up for a shorter period of time.
Purchase a Suitable Travel Carrier
Airlines have stringent rules regarding the travel carrier into which your pet will be confined. These dictate not just the design of the carrier, but also its size in comparison to your pet. Advice on sizing may be found here. Be certain to check that your crate is suitable or to purchase a suitable alternative before the flight.
Get Your Dog Used Their Crate
On long haul flights it is likely that your dog will be contained within their crate for many hours at a time. As a result, it is kind to permit your dog to get used to their new surroundings in plenty of time.
Once you have purchased an IATA-approved travel kennel, spend some weeks letting your dog sniff around, and get used to confinement for short periods of time. By gently extending this time, and rewarding your dog afterward for their good behaviour you will make the flight far less stressful both for you and your pet.
Pet Travel Insurance
We all appreciate the benefits of pet insurance, but a question to ask yourself is whether or not your dog will be covered abroad. In many cases the answer is “no” though consult your documentation to be sure.
To help cover the costs of any veterinary treatment required while abroad it is wise to investigate international pet insurance policies and sign up well in advance.
Lastly, while we all hope that your dog’s flight is as relaxing and enjoyable as yours is, it makes sense to hope for the best but plan for the worst. Don’t leave finding a vet until your arrival; instead use forums or expat sites to find English-speaking vets in your destination country and register as soon after landing as possible. This way, if the worst does happen, at least you’re fully prepared.
A Note on Pet Travel Companies
While anyone can navigate the steps outlined above, it’s fair to say that flying long distances with your dog is not without its challenges.
There are a range of professional pet relocation firms who aim to make the process as easy as possible for both you and your pet.
That said, a number of questionable operations have arisen in the past. As a result, you should be certain to check that any company you enlist is a reputable operation. If in doubt try to focus on those registered with the International Pet and Animal Transportation Association, the professional body for pet shippers.