Flying with your pet

Originally published in the Clarion-Ledger on 6/6/2015.

PDF: Flying with your pet

You may have been following the saga of actor Johnny Depp’s dogs and their harrowing escape from  Australia. For those unfamiliar with the story, Depp and his wife Amber Heard took their two Yorkshire Terriers Boo Radley and Pistol to Australia on a private jet back in April. However, no one declared the canines to Australian customs officials, thereby breaking Australian customs law. After seeing photos of the Yorkies on Facebook, authorities threatened to slap the Pirates of the Caribbean actor with hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of fines and a possible prison term.

Most disturbingly to animal lovers, Australia’s agriculture minister Barnaby Joyce discussed having the dogs killed if they didn’t leave the country post-haste. Since then, the pups have been spirited out of the country (just barely before the deadline had passed), but Depp must still deal with the issues raised by taking the dogs into the Land Down Under to begin with. That could include $340,000 in fines and up to 10 years’ jail time.

As this saga demonstrates, traveling with your pets can complicate your trip. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, more than two million pets and other live animals are transported by plane every year in the U.S. Many hotels and travel destinations are becoming more pet-friendly, but getting them there in the first place can be complicated.

Increasingly, Americans are taking their pets with them as they travel internationally, too. But travelers sometimes forget to check to ensure their pet is welcome. Due to diseases and pests, animal importation is taken very seriously across the globe. And although some consider Australia’s reaction extreme, in many countries the response to violation of importation laws would likely be swift and severe, and likely wouldn’t have a happy ending for the pets (or their owners).

Here in the U.S., animal plane transport is generally covered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USAPHIS). Here are some rules you need to know if you plan to take your pet on a commercial airline (

  • Dogs and cats must be at least eight weeks old and must have been weaned for at least five days.
  • Cages and other shipping containers must meet minimum standard for size, ventilation, strength, sanitation and design for safe handling. (Sky kennels furnished by the airlines meet these requirements.)
  • Dogs and cats must not be brought to the airline for shipping more than four hours before departure. (Six hours is permitted if shipping arrangements are made in advance.)
  • If puppies or kittens less than 16 weeks of age are in transit more than 12 hours, food and water must be provided.
  • Older animals must have food at least every 24 hours and water at least every 12 hours. Written instructions for food and water must accompany all animals shipped regardless of the scheduled time in transit.
  • Animals may not be exposed to temperatures less than 45 degrees (F) unless they are accompanied by a certificate signed by a veterinarian stating that they are acclimated to lower temperatures.
  • Animals cannot be shipped COD unless the shipper guarantees the return freight should the animals be refused at destination.

Airlines have their own differing rules about pet travel. Most airlines charge a hefty fee for taking your pet along (Southwest charges $95.00 each way). Depending on the airline, you may be able to “carry-on” your pet, but may have to ship your animal as cargo. Many airlines require that you provide a certificate from your veterinarian that Fido or Fluffy is in good health. Delta requires that you have a vet sign a health certificate no more than 10 days before your trip. (These rules might not apply in the case of service animals, such as guide dogs for the blind.)

If you do carry-on a pet carrier, make sure it’s approved. Generally, it must fit under the seat in front of you, and the door must latch securely. Most airlines will make you keep the pet in the carrier the entire time. Keep in mind that pet carriers are subject to inspection by TSA agents, so make sure they are empty of anything but Fido and his essentials. And, since airport and airline officials frown on having animals running through their planes and airports, carry a leash.

If you’re planning to take your pet into another country (or Hawaii), plan well ahead. Do your homework on whether your pet is allowed, and under what conditions. And plan to adhere thoroughly to those regulations; some countries will make you quarantine your pet. Even though Hawaii is a U.S. state, it’s considered “rabies-free”, and has a strict quarantine policy. Pets generally are subject to an expensive 120-day quarantine, but your pet might qualify for a “5-day-or-less” program. (Visit for more information.)

While many people think pets should be sedated before traveling, check with your vet to get his or her advice. Experts advise against giving your pet any solid food for six hours before flying, but exercise and water are a good idea. And if your pet is traveling in the cargo hold, be sure to advise the flight attendant.

Your pet is counting on you to consider his or her needs. Travel is stressful; a little planning can help you avoid problems later.


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