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Your Guide to Flying with Your Pet...What You Need to Know

The transportation of live animals is restricted by the federal and state governments. Furthermore, each airline has its own company policy for the proper handling of the animals it transports. You have a responsibility as a shipper or owner to take the appropriate procedures to safeguard the well-being of the animal that is traveling. 

Animal Welfare Act

The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) enforces the federal Animal Welfare Act. Here are a few of the more mandatory requirements to think about. 

  • More than four hours before departure, dogs and cats must be brought to the airline for shipping. (Six hours is allowed if shipping arrangements are established ahead of time.)

  • Food and drink must be provided if puppies or kittens under the age of 16 weeks are in transit for more than 12 hours.

  • Older animals must be fed every 24 hours and given water every 12 hours. Written food and water instructions must accompany all animals exported, regardless of transit time.

  • Animals may not be exposed to temperatures below 45°F unless accompanied by a veterinarian-signed certificate certifying that they are adapted to lower temperatures.

  • COD shipping of animals is not permitted unless the shipper guarantees the return freight if the animals are refused at destination.

  • Visit the US Department of Agriculture's "Pet Travel" website at

Airline Regulations

In addition to the USDA regulations, each airline has its own set of policies. As a result, it is critical to check with the airline you intend to use. However, the following provisions are likely to be found on most airlines:

  • Airlines must provide health certificates to airlines. So, a licensed veterinarian should evaluate animals within ten days of travel and produce a certificate certifying that the animal is in excellent health. Airlines may not need health certificates for service animals used by disabled passengers.

  • If accompanied on the same trip to the same destination, a pet may be transported as baggage. Some airlines may charge a surcharge or "excess baggage" fee for this service.

  • Pets may be carried as cargo if they are unaccompanied, and many airline cargo departments employ animal transportation specialists. Animals must always be transported in pressurized containers. Some airlines allow the kennel to be taken as carry-on luggage in the passenger cabin if it fits under the seat.

Advice for Pet Owners

In addition to complying with federal requirements and airline company policy, the owner/shipper can take a number of safeguards to ensure the welfare of a shipped pet.

  • Accustom your pet to the kennel where it will be delivered before traveling. Check that the door latches tightly.

  • Do not feed your pet solid food for six hours before the flight, however a moderate amount of water and a walk before and after the flight are recommended.

  • Do not provide sedation to your pet unless a physician has approved it and give a test dose before the trip to see how the pet will react.

  • Make a reservation for your pet ahead of time and ask about drop-off and pick-up times and locations.

  • Avoid connecting flights and the excessive crowds of a holiday or weekend flight by booking a nonstop flight.

  • When you board, make an attempt to inform the pilot and flight attendant that there is a pet in the cargo hold. The airlines have a system in place to provide such notice, but it never hurts to mention it yourself.

  • Inquire about any particular health restrictions, such as quarantine, for international travel (including Hawaii).

  • Make a kennel with your name, address, and phone number, and make sure your pet wears a tag with the same information. Consider getting a temporary tag with your destination address and phone number on it. Bring a photo of your pet in case of separation.

  • Your pet will reach safely at its destination if you plan ahead of time.

Reporting an Incident

To report animal mistreatment by airline personnel please complete the U.S. Department of Agriculture, animal welfare online complaint form, or contact:

U.S. Department of Agriculture, APHIS, Animal Care

2150 Centre Ave.

Building B, Mailstop 3W11

Fort Collins, CO 80525-8117


Phone: (970) 494-7478

Fax: (970) 494-7461

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