Flying with Dogs: Tips for Vacationing Safely with Your Pet

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16 Minute Read
Updated June 14, 2021

Flying with your pet might seem like the ideal solution for travelling pet owners, but the process can be both dangerous and scary. Learn everything you need to know about flying with dogs so you can make the best choice for your pet. 

Flying with your dog isn't generally recommended unless it's absolutely necessary, but if you must, these tips for taking your dog on a plane can help you prepare for and navigate the complicated process of flying with your dog. 

While flying with dogs is not the easiest or cheapest way to travel with your dog, it may be your only option. Later you'll learn why flying with your dog should be a last resort, but first, let’s talk about what it takes to board a plane with your pooch and how to prepare them and yourself for this journey. 

Ways to Fly with Your Dog

There are a few options for taking your dog on a plane, but the rules are strict, so it’s important to make sure you know what you are getting into before you fork out a bunch of money for your dog’s plane ticket.

This blog will focus on flying within Canada and the specific airlines that allow pets, though many of these rules will apply to flights to the US and other international flights. 

Taking your dog on a plane is easier than it’s ever been, but you still need to know your options to understand whether flying with your dog is the best and safest choice. While each airline has slightly different rules, there are some general guidelines for flying with dogs to help you decide which method will work best for your pet. 

Taking Your Pet in the Cabin with You

Shih-tzu-puppy-in-carrier (1)

When you imagine taking your dog on a plane, you might be hoping that you have the option of taking your pooch in the cabin with you. You might feel less stressed if you can keep them by your side, and they might feel less stressed having you comfort them. 

Of course, that would be nice, but keep in mind that airplanes have limited space. Therefore pets travelling in the cabin with you need to meet specific criteria, like size and temperament.

All dogs will experience a little anxiety when boarding a flight, but if your dog is aggressive or is a barker, they are likely not well suited for riding in the cabin. Having babies crying for a whole flight is already a challenge, but if your dog is going to bark the whole time, neither you nor any other passenger is going to enjoy that flight.  

Cabin flights are usually for smaller dogs. Dogs travelling in the cabin must fit in a secure kennel under the seat in front of you. This pretty much excludes any dog that is over 15 lbs or is particularly tall for their weight. Exceptions to this rule would be service dogs and emotional support animals. 

Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals

Registered service or emotional support animals may be allowed in the cabin and not in a carrier. This doesn’t mean they have free reign of the plane, though. On the contrary, they must stay in front of you on the floor or on your lap during the flight. Check with your airline to find out the rules for flying with service animals. 

Service animals typically go through rigorous training to ensure that they can provide the necessary support for their person, but not all emotional support pets have such training. In some cases, they have no training at all. 

This means that it is your responsibility to make sure that your pet can behave themselves on the plane. Some airlines may not allow emotional support animals on planes at all. 

Pressurized Cargo Area for Pets

Mastiff-in-kennel (1)

If your pet is too big or not suited for flying in the cabin with you, there is another option. Many airlines allow pets to travel in the pressurized cargo area of the plane. 

Your dog will need an airline-approved, hard-sided kennel that is large enough for your dog to stand up, turn around, and lay down comfortably. Additionally, the kennel’s size will have to comply with the individual airline’s specifications.  

While this might be the only option for flying with your pet, it’s still not the safest for every pet. It’s generally not recommended for brachycephalic breeds, like pugs, that have short congested nasal passages. The stress and pressure changes during a flight put these breeds at a higher risk of hyperventilating or having other breathing difficulties. Many airlines have rules about the breed. 

Regardless of the rules we mentioned above, you should always double-check with your specific airline, as well as the rules and regulations applicable to your destination. Airlines can change the rules or have rules in place to deal with exceptions, so don’t assume you will be able to board the flight with your pet until you have all the facts. 

Crates & Carriers

Flying With Dogs in Canada

Whether you are flying domestically or internationally out of Canada, you might fly one of Canada’s two major airlines: Air Canada and WestJet.

Both airlines allow pets, but each has its own rules and criteria for getting your pet on board. We’ll go over some of the basic guidelines, but it’s always best to contact your airline directly to make sure you are 100% compliant before heading to the airport. 

Each airline will have their own pricing structure, rules about which dogs can and can’t travel, and strict guidelines about the types of carriers that you can either check or carry onto the plane. 

Travelling With Dogs - Air Canada

Cost 

Flying with your pooch can cost $50-$120 domestically or $100-$320 internationally. Shipping your pet via Air Canada Cargo ranges from $215-$650.

Carrier Requirements

The type and size of carrier you need will depend on how your dog is travelling. If you are taking your pet in the cabin with you, then you can use either a hard-sided or soft-sided carrier, so long as it fits under the seat in front of you. Here are the maximum dimensions for each:

Hard-sided - 9” H x 15.5” W x 21.5” L

Soft-sided - 10.5” H x 15.5” W x 21.5” L

Specific airplanes may have different dimensions under the seats, so make sure you verify these dimensions with the airline to ensure you have the right carrier. 

When checking your pet, hard-sided carriers are much safer in the pressurized cabin. This space allows for much larger breeds, so any airline-approved travel carrier under 115” in linear dimensions (Length + Width + Height) and under 100lbs (your pet’s weight included) will do the trick. 

Checked kennels should also have the following:

        • Absorbent material like a bed or towel
        • Water dish (empty) so that staff can water your dog in the case of flight delays or transfers 
        • Solid roof and bottom, non-collapsable
        • No wheels
        • Appropriate door locks to prevent the kennel from opening during flight

Other Regulations

While size is important, there are some other rules you need to consider. Here are some things that may disqualify your dog from flying:

        • Dogs under 12 weeks of age, or those not fully weaned
        • Extreme temperatures may make it too dangerous for your pet to fly in the pressurized cabin, so larger breeds may not be accepted during hot summer months and extremely cold winter months. Consider where you are flying from and to. 
        • Brachycephalic breeds can not travel in the cargo hold. Their breathing issues could be exacerbated by stress and temperature.
        • Breeds classified as strong dogs must travel in reinforced crates in the baggage compartment. These crates must be constructed of material tougher than just regular plastic to ensure they can’t break out or be accidentally opened during the flight or transportation through the airport. 
        • Dogs showing aggressive or destructive behaviour may be denied. 

Check out Air Canada’s full guidelines for travelling with pets before you book your trip. 

Travelling With Dogs - WestJet

Cost 

Flying with your pooch can cost $50-$120 domestically or $100-$240 internationally. Westjet also offers a cargo shipment option for larger pets, but you need to contact them for pricing based on the size and needs of your pet. 

Carrier

You will have the same options for travelling with your pets as Air Canada, either in the cabin with you or in the pressurized cargo area. However, the type and size of the carrier are unique to the airline, so the allowable dimensions are slightly different. 

Westjet allows only airline-approved, soft-sided carriers onboard. Here are the dimensions:

8.5" H x 10" W x 16" L

Specific airplanes may have different dimensions under the seats, so make sure you verify these dimensions with the airline to ensure you have the right carrier. 

The dimensions for the pressurized cabin are more suited to bigger dogs. The maximum kennel dimensions for the cargo hold is 30” H x 27” W x 40” L and no more than 100lbs (including your pet’s weight). 

All kennels travelling in the cargo hold must be hard-sided and airline approved. Additionally, the kennel must conform to the following standards:

        • Well-ventilated
        • No wheels
        • Be Lined with an absorbent material like a towel or kennel mat
        • Be marked with the words “LIVE ANIMALS” and directional “THIS WAY UP” on two sides and your pet’s name. 
        • Food and water containers in the kennel
        • Functioning handles for lifting the kennel
        • 3/4 “ protective rim
        • Solid, non-collapsible roof and bottom

Most airline-approved kennels will already meet many of these guidelines, but you may need to upgrade if you have an older or damaged kennel.  

Other Regulations

While size is important, there are some other rules you need to consider. Here are some things that may disqualify your dog from flying:

        • Dogs under 8 weeks of age, or those not fully weaned.
        • Extreme temperatures may make it too dangerous for your pet to fly in the pressurized cabin, so larger breeds may not be accepted during hot summer months and extremely cold winter months. Consider where you are flying from and to. 
        • Brachycephalic breeds, breeds with respiratory problems, and pregnant dogs should consult a veterinarian before flying.

Check out WestJet’s full guidelines for travelling with pets before you book your trip. 

3 Reasons Not to Fly With Your Dog

It might seem like the perfect solution for taking your pet with you on vacation, but flying with your pet has its downsides, and not every dog is going to come out of the experience unscathed.

Every year pets get injured, or even die during flights or while stuck at the airport. Airlines do everything they can to ensure your pet stays safe, but some things are uncontrollable. If you don't have to take the risk, then don't.

Make sure you know the all risks of flying with pets so that you can decide on the choice that is safest for them. Here are some of the things to consider:

1. It will be Stressful for Your Dog

Not every dog has the temperament or training to fly. Planes are loud and shaky, so nervous dogs are going to be the most at risk. Dogs flying in the cabin with you may feel a bit more at ease because they can see and hear you, but you may not be able to open the carrier to pet them during the flight.

For dogs flying in the cargo bay, it’s even scarier. It’s very loud and very dark, and no matter how much you prepare, your dog is going to be a little scared and confused. So keep this in mind before you decide to take your dog on vacation with you. 

2. Risk of Injury

Secure kennels and carriers should be large enough for your dog to lay, stand, and turn around safely, but that doesn’t leave much extra space. If your dog starts to panic and tries to escape, he could injure himself. 

If you do the proper training and your dog is well crate trained, this risk is lower, but it’s not zero. 

3. Risk of Dehydration

Dogs that are panicking are at a higher risk of dehydration. They will breathe heavier and drool more. Because water is not typically allowed in the kennel with them, they have no way to rehydrate themself. 

Additionally, the time of year that you are flying is a factor too. Hot weather means a warmer cargo bay, and this could lead to your dog dehydrating or overheating. 

Preparing your Dog for a Flight

maltese-prepping-for-a-flight (1)

Knowing the risks, if you still feel that flying with your dog is the best option, then you'll need to take some steps to get your dog ready for their flight. 

Once you have the flights booked and verified that you can meet all the airline’s rules, the next step is to start preparing your dog for the flight. We recommend planning weeks in advance for this trip. If your dog has never flown before, then you’ll want to start training your dog to be able to handle the flight as gracefully as possible. 

Training Your Dog

Your dog is unlikely to enjoy this experience, but there are some things you can do to help your dog get ready for your trip. The calmer and more relaxed they stay during the flight, the less uncomfortable they will be.

Here are some of the things you can do to train your dog for air travel:

Crate Training

Your dog needs to be comfortable with crate time. If they see their crate or kennel as a safe place, it won’t seem foreign or scary when they have to go in a kennel for the flight. Check out How to Crate Train Your Dogs to learn how to safely and effectively introduce your dog to this practice. 

If your dog is already crate trained -great! We recommend getting your dog used to travelling in his crate, kennel, or carrier. Try some short car rides to get a sense of how your dog reacts to being in a moving vehicle. 

Potty Training

Accidents can happen, but a fully potty-trained dog is much more likely to hold their bladder for the duration of the flight. This isn’t an issue for most adult dogs, but when flying with a puppy, you may need to practice a lot before your flight. 

Most airlines recommend using an absorbent material on the bottom of the carrier. This is to ensure that if your dog has an accident, it’s absorbed quickly and won’t leak out of the kennel. It will also keep your dog a little dryer. A pee pad is a great choice if your dog is still working on his potty training skills. 

Practice Down Time

This can go in line with your crate training, but teaching your dog to settle down on command can help get them ready for a long flight. Whether you use a bed, a mat, or a crate, teaching your dog to self-soothe by taking a break can be very helpful when they are stuck in their carrier on the plane. 

Teach your dog to go to his “spot” and stay. Have treats on hand to reward your dog when he listens. This may take some practice for excitable dogs, but they will eventually get it. Stick to short but easy verbal cues to signal to your dog that it’s time to chill. 

Socialization

Well-socialized dogs tend to do better when travelling in the cabin and through the airport. Socialization is best started at a young age, but even adults can learn to interact safely with strangers and in crowded and loud environments. 

Going to the dog park, taking your dog to the pet store, or even just having visitors come over to say hi helps teach your dog how to react when strangers approach them.

If your dog needs to be muzzled, then chances are the airline won’t accept them in the cargo area. In the event of flight delays or connections, airline staff may need to be able to water your pet, so they need to be comfortable enough around strangers to allow them to open the kennel and reach in. 

Flying with Dogs To-Do List

Getting your dog ready for a flight requires a few things that you might not have thought about. Read through this to-do list when you are planning out your travel. 

  1. Let your airline know you are travelling with a pet. Then, they can walk you through making the necessary arrangements. 
  2. Make sure you have a compliant carrier for your dog’s flight. 
  3. Talk to your vet to make sure your dog is in good health and able to fly safely. Ensure that required vaccinations are up to date and your dog has the correct city licenses. 
  4. Take a picture of your dog and any equipment they are travelling with. Mix-ups happen at the airport, so having proof and pictures will make it easier to get your pet and their belongings back quicker. 
  5. Feed your dog 4-6 hours before the flight. This allows your dog to digest the food and take bathroom breaks before take off. You can give your dog water right up until check-in, but more water means more pee. Airlines recommend, and some require, that you remove water from the kennel before checking them onto the flight. Spills in the kennel will be uncomfortable and cold, so just put the empty bowl in the kennel, so staff have can water your dog if needed. 
  6. Bring the right gear. Packing for your vacation and packing for your flight are different. Here’s a quick list of gear you are going to need to ensure your pet has a safe and comfortable flight:
        • Carrier (clearly labelled with your dog’s name and any other labels required by the airline)
        • Absorbent mats, like a towel, bed, or pee pad
        • Food and water bowls (preferably clip-on or spillproof bowls) 
        • Leash for bathroom breaks before and after your flight
        • Vaccination and any relevant medical records
        • Collar and appropriate ID.

Check out our Dog Collar Guide to help you find the best one for your dog. 

Free Shipping - Pet ID Tags

Dogs at the Airport

We've gone over most of the rules for taking your dog onto a plane, but what about when you are going through the airport? Most airports require your dog to stay in their carrier as you travel about the airport.

There are three possible exceptions to this though:

  1. If you are travelling with a service animal, your will not need to be kenneled.
  2. When you go through security you may be asked to remove your pet so the carrier can be checked.
  3. If you are using a designated relief area. These are small areas of the airport set up so your dog can go to the bathroom. Different airports will have different options, so speak with your airline to find out if your airport has this amenity available. Larger and international airports are more likely to have relief areas throughout the airport. 

Arriving at the Airport

When flying with a pet, you may need to be earlier than you would normally be for a flight. This is because checking your pet in with an agent and going through security with your dog may take a little more time. 

Typically, you will not be able to check-in online before your flight when you are travelling with a pet. You must go up to the service desk to get your pet checked in and have them verify that your dog is fit to fly. 

What to Do When You Land

Once you and your dog leave the airport, you are going to want to find a safe place for your dog to take a bathroom break and stretch their legs. Unfortunately, not every airport will have a spot right in front of the airport, so ask a staff member where is the appropriate place to go. 

This will also give you a chance to inspect your dog and the carrier for any messes that may need to be cleaned up. Give your pet some reassurance and some love. No matter where in the plane your dog travelled, it was a stressful and confusing experience for them. 

Once you get to your vehicle, you can feed and water your pet. Just keep in mind how long of a drive you have from the airport to your final destination. If your dog gets car sick easily, then you may want to stick to just water or a very small meal. 

What if You Can’t Take Your Dog with You

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If your dog is not well suited to flying, then you may want to consider options for safely leaving your dog behind. Choose the safest and most comfortable option for your dog, and when possible, easiest on your wallet. 

Kennels

If your dog is a social butterfly, then kenneling her might be the best option. Many kennels offer doggy hotel services combined with the benefit of doggy daycare. This will allow your dog to have daily interaction and playtime with other dogs while supervised. Your dog may not even miss you. 

Babysitters

Dog babysitting services have started growing in popularity lately. This option has many benefits, especially for dogs that might be more anxious about being left behind. You may prefer this option because it allows your dog to stay home in a familiar environment and have a doggy babysitter come to them. 

Friends and Family

If your dog doesn’t do well with strangers, then call in a favour from a family member or a friend that your dog is comfortable with. This will be comforting for both you and your dog because they will be able to maintain a more familiar routine, and you will have the peace of mind of knowing that your dog isn’t stressed.

Is your dog a frequent flyer? Let us know your tips for getting your dog ready to traverse the skies in the comments below!

Written by

Krystn Janisse

Krystn is a passionate pet nutrition enthusiast. She has worked in the pet industry for over a decade and loves to share her passion for animal welfare with others. She loves all animals but is currently channeling some crazy cat lady vibes with her four lovable, but rebellious cats.

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