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Dogs Flying in Cargo: Is It Safe?

If you’re planning a flight in the near future, you may be considering bringing your dog along with you. There are two options for flying with your dog:

1. As a carry-on – Typically under a seat

2. In cargo – Below the seating area, where luggage is transported

Unfortunately, not all dogs are allowed onboard as carry-ons. If they’re too large, for example, they may not be able to fly or will have to go cargo. But you may wonder if that’s safe.

Here’s what you need to know about flying your dog in a plane’s cargo hold and what you can do to make your pet as comfortable as possible.

Only Some Companies Accept Dogs as Airline Cargo

Each commercial airline has a different pet policy, especially when it comes to dogs traveling in cargo. Some airlines don’t allow pets to fly in the cargo hold at all. It’s important to note the specific airline pet policies before booking your ticket if you’re considering bringing your pup along.

The three major commercial airlines that allow dog cargo travel are:

  • American Airlines® – Allows pups to fly in cargo (if it’s not too hot) for a $200 fee, as long as you reserve their spot 48 hours ahead of time and have the proper documentation, like a health certificate
  • Delta – Has a separate program called Delta Cargo, which may or may not put your dog on a different flight than yours
  • United Airlines® – Partners with American Humane in a program called PetSafe, which offers temperature-controlled vehicles, stress-reducing measures (such as boarding your dog last), and onsite and offsite kennels

Frontier, JetBlue®, Southwest® Airlines, and Spirit® do not allow pets to fly cargo.

Watch Out for Other Airline Restrictions

If you book on an airline that allows cargo travel, make sure you pay extra attention to the rest of their requirements. Some flights only allow specific dog breeds or sizes, while others restrict the amount of time your pet can fly. Usually pets are only allowed on flights that are 12 hours or less. Most airlines will not let you bring your dog in cargo if you have a connecting flight or are flying internationally.

Don’t forget to let the airline know in advance that you are checking your dog. Many flights have a limited number of pets allowed onboard, so the sooner you notify the company, the better.

You may encounter country restrictions if you’re flying overseas. Australia, for instance, requires pets to spend time in quarantine when they arrive. And pets traveling to Hawaii can only do so with strict documentation and during specific times of the year. It’s important to look at both your airline’s and your destination’s policies regarding pets.

What Is Flying Cargo Like for Your Dog?

When your dog flies in the airline cargo hold, they have a slightly different experience from the luggage even though they’re located in the same area. Your pup’s kennel will be secured separately from the rest of checked baggage, and it will remain there for the duration of the flight.

Each airline handles cargo differently, but in many cases, the pilot and crew can monitor or change the temperature in the cargo hold to help your pet have a more comfortable flight.

What You Need for Your Dog to Fly Cargo

There isn’t much you need to gather for your dog to fly cargo, but every airline and destination is different, so read over the guidelines. Here is a quick list of the things you will probably need to have:

  • An airline-approved kennel that fits size restrictions and is big enough for your dog to stand up and move around
  • Documentation, including ID and vaccination records
  • Food, water, and treats for before and after the flight
  • A clip-on water bottle
  • Collar and leash
  • Food for the kennel (if allowed)

dogs flying in cargo

Help Your Dog Be Comfortable and Safe

There are several things you can do before your flight to ensure your dog is safe as can be while in the airline cargo hold. Work through this list to help your pup prepare:

  • Get a checkup with your vet – Some airlines and destinations require this!
  • Groom your dog, and don’t forget to trim his nails!
  • Take his travel kennel out well before the trip, so he becomes accustomed to it.
  • Give your dog food and water within four hours of check-in time, but not within four hours of the flight (required by the USDA).
  • Ask your airline if you are allowed to put food and water in your pup’s kennel during the flight, or if they will provide some.
  • If you are including a clip-on water bottle, ensure your dog knows how to use it before the flight.
  • Do not give your pet sedatives – They can increase the chance of heart and breathing problems.
  • Consider including a favorite toy or blanket in his kennel.
  • Try to avoid flight connections – If your dog gets lost, it’s likely to be during that transition.

Tips for Flying with Your Dog Stress-Free

When Your Dog Shouldn’t Fly Cargo

Not all dogs were made for flying, especially for flying as checked baggage. Breeds with snub nosesbulldogs, pugs, and boxers—are usually banned from flights. These breeds find it difficult to breathe, and high altitudes can make it worse. Other types of dogs may be banned by specific airlines (like mastiffs, spaniels, and others), so double-check with your airline to ensure your dog meets their requirements.

Your dog probably also shouldn’t fly cargo if he is particularly anxious. Flying can be a lot even for humans, and being separated and flown cargo can be pretty scary to a pet that doesn’t know what’s going on.

Don’t check your dog if he’s very young or very old. Older dogs may have trouble dealing with the transport, while many younger dogs, especially 12 weeks or younger, may be barred from flying.

There Can Be Risks

There can be risks when flying your dog as cargo, so due diligence and research before selecting your flight are essential. Pets that fly can be more susceptible to:

  • Heat stroke
  • Respiratory problems
  • Hypothermia
  • Heart issues

A vet check-up before you fly is essential to seeing whether your furry family member is fit enough to travel as cargo.

Booking direct flights and taking a photo of your pet in case he gets lost may help you avoid more serious problems.

If your dog isn’t up for flying cargo, you can consider other alternatives like boarding him or leaving him with a trusted pet sitter. If you do plan on checking your dog as cargo, research is the most important step you can take to ensure both a safe flight for your pup and a stress-free flight for you.

Are you planning to travel with your dog? We highly recommend a check-up before he takes off! To book your pre-flight appointment, give Cinco Ranch Veterinary Hospital a call at 281-693-7387.

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The Team @ Cinco Ranch Veterinary Hospital

Cinco Ranch Veterinary Hospital serves Katy, TX and the surrounding areas with a dedication and passion for our animal friends that is unmatched. Our veterinarians are highly trained, experienced, and compassionate when it comes to giving your pet the care they deserve. If your companion is in need of emergency care, a dental cleaning, grooming, or just a check-up, we would love to see them! Call 281-693-7387 to make an appointment quickly and easily.

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