Dealing with Pets During Transition


The following guidelines apply to dogs and cats. If you are moving with a different kind of pet (bird, turtle, rabbit, ferret, etc.), please talk to your vet about moving with your pet.


More than 100,000 pets travel by air each year. This travel takes on two forms, either accompanying the owner on a passenger flight or traveling alone on a freight flight.

Unless your pet is less than eight inches tall, you won't be able to keep it with you in the passenger compartment. The size of a carry-on kennel is restricted to 16x21x8 high and must fit under the seat in front of you. Therefore for all practical purposes, air travel for pets usually takes place in the cargo compartment of a passenger plane or in the cargo section of a freight flight. Traveling in the cargo compartment is probably the more desirable option, and there are no needs for concern. The cargo compartment is pressurized and environmentally controlled in the same way as the passenger compartment on a regular flight. The cargo compartment is also much quieter than the passenger section (no food and beverage carts rolling around!) and is dimly lit, so pets usually sleep for most of the flight.


Certain pre-flight training procedures are quite helpful to familiarize your pet with air travel. Prior preparation can greatly reduce the stress your pet experiences during the flight.

Pets should be trained to be comfortable and quiet in a standard air transport crate. This procedure, like car training, should begin when the pet is young. It is best to train your pet in its own crate. This way your pet can become familiar with this new environment and will feel comfortable and at ease. However, you should wait until your pet is full grown before purchasing a crate, or be sure to purchase a crate that will accommodate the grown animal. This will insure that your full-grown pet has the crate that is just right for its personal needs. Purchasing a crate is preferable to renting one from a carrier, since you don't know whether the animal using the crate before your pet was healthy or not. Besides, by using a crate several weeks in advance, you can accustom your pet to living in it. Take your pet with you when you buy its crate so it can "try it on" for size before you purchase it. Purchase only crates that are constructed to comply with all Federal regulations, otherwise the airlines will not accept the pet.


Scheduling the flight: You should schedule your pet's flight yourself, whether it's the same flight you will be on, or a cargo flight. Be sure to coordinate with Travel Management Office when you do this. Many air carriers have "Reserved Air Freight" shipments so you can call ahead and set up a schedule, with some certainty your pet will be shipped on the flight(s) you desire. RAF arrangements should be made at least one week ahead. Plan departures and arrivals during the cool part of the day so that your pet will not have to wait on a loading dock in the heat. Never initiate shipment over weekends or holidays, when freight offices are likely to be closed and no one is around to attend to your pet.

Health Certificate: This is a must for commercial travel. It is issued and signed by the accredited on-base Veterinarian. The certificate is only good for 10 days from the date of issuance, so you should get it as close to your departure date as possible. Another certificate may be required for the return trip should your stay exceed 10 days. However, always check the country you are going to, to make sure you have all required shots and forms required from the vet. As with car travel, if your pet is subject to motion sickness, it may be wise to get some tranquilizers from your veterinarian.

Prepare the Crate for Flight: Loose water pans in a flight crate are not recommended as they are easily spilled. Most airline approved crates come with water pans that attach to the inside of the wire door. A good way to provide water for your pet in flight is to attach a 2 lb. plastic margarine tub to your crate, or freezer bowl of water in a plastic container and then attach it to the crate prior to departure so that the pet can lick his water as he needs it. The bottom of the crate should be covered with a towel or wood shavings or coarse saw dust. This will not only absorb or cover any "accidents" your pet may have, but will also provide a little more comfortable resting surface. On the outside top surface of the shipping crate, paint or print with permanent marker your name, address, and telephone number so Transport Authorities can reach you in case of some unforeseen event, cancelled flight, etc. Also check the regulations concerning how many copies of your orders are required to be attached and where to attach them.

  • It would be wise to securely tape a 3x5 card to the top of the crate indicating the name, address and telephone number of the person who is to receive the pet at its final destination.
  • Federal regulations require that you attach an envelope to the crate containing the pet's recent health certificate. It would be wise for you to carry or mail a duplicate copy of the health certificate and copies of the freight waybill. Quite often, attached envelopes are damaged or lost in the transit of the crate.
  • If the trip will last longer than 12 hours (for young animals) or 24 hours (for grown animals), you must provide food to accompany the crate as stated by Federal law. An easy way to do this is to firmly attach a heavy cloth or plastic bag to the front door (do not obstruct air flow) of the crate. Supply only dry, or "soft-moist" food. Pet treats would be nice and these fulfill the pet's requirements.
  • Federal Law also requires freight handlers to water your pet every 12 hours. As stated previously, firmly attach a water container to the inside of the crate, preferably to the lower, inside, portion of the front door or in the corner of the front of the cage. This will assist the freight people in watering your pet easily without having to open the door. Pets have been known to escape as they were being watered and fed, if the door had to be opened to do so.
  • Words to the wise -- dont put a lock on the door of the crate! If anything should happen to your pet, accidentally or unintentionally, while in transit, no one would be able to assist the pet without tearing the door off its hinges and destroying the crate.
  • Arrival Notification: If you are not going with your pet, or will not be at the airport when it arrives, you should arrange for the person picking up the pet to contact you and let you know that the pet has arrived safely. This practice can avoid many fretful hours and lost sleep.
  • Keep in mind that airlines may not allow you to ship your pet if the weather at any stop during the trip is very hot or cold.


Hundreds of thousands of pets travel by automobile today. Some of them have perfect car manners; some of them are atrocious!  A pet with no car manners is as objectionable as any human with the same fault.

The well- mannered car pet should:

  • Never hang its head out of a moving car.
  • Never jump from one seat to another in a moving car.
  • Never bother the driver or invade the driver's space in a vehicle.
  • Never bark or become uncontrollable when other pets or people pass the car.
  • Sit quietly, waiting for the door to be opened. Pets should never jump all over the car or through a window in their enthusiasm to get in or out.
  • Dogs should sit and stay in one location on the seat, when commanded to do so.
  • Never use the floor of the back seat as a toilet area.

** It can be difficult to get cats to fulfill the above requirements! You may find it easier to keep your cat in its crate while the car is moving, stopping often to let it take "litter box" breaks!

More Car Travel Preparations:

Eating Schedules: If possible, plan your own eating times so that it will coincide with your pet's schedule. That way you can feed and water your pet at your own mealtimes. A picnic, or eating near the car, would be the best. All states have laws prohibiting pets entering eating establishments with the exception of guide dogs. If you must eat in a restaurant, try to leave someone with the pet at all times so that he will not have to be locked up in the car. Don't pack away your pet's food and water containers. Keep them some place handy for use during meal breaks and overnight stops. Other handy mealtime aids are pet treats. They'll keep your pet's appetite satisfied along the road and serve as a full meal if necessary. Some foreign countries, such as Germany, do allow WELL BEHAVED pets in restaurants, as long as they lie quietly under the table!

Car Sickness: Only occasional travelers have problems with carsickness. Dogs are much more likely than cats to be prone to carsickness, and usually only when they are puppies. If your pet is a seasoned traveler it will either not suffer from carsickness or you will have found satisfactory means of preventing it.

The first sign of carsickness is drooling, then restlessness and anxiety, followed by retching and vomiting. Following vomiting, signs often go away and the pet may lie down and go to sleep for a while. Within 15 minutes to an hour, however, the pet will probably have another attack. This pattern is likely to continue throughout the entire day's journey. If the car is stopped when drooling begins and the pet is exercised, the signs normally subside, at least for a while.

By starting your animal out with short car trips just around the block and gradually increasing the trips (two blocks, four blocks, to school to pick up the kids, to the next town, etc.) your animal may never become carsick. There are some animals, however, that have a maximum distance they can go and then something triggers their “sick button. If you have one of these, about the only hope you have is one of the anti-emetic tranquilizers available from your veterinarian. In most cases these work quite successfully, but it is important they be given about 30 minutes prior to the trip. This gives them time to get into the bloodstream and take effect. When giving sedatives, always follow the instructions given by your Veterinarian. Never overdose! If tranquilizers don't work, you are left with the alternative of leaving the pet behind or carrying lots of wet towels, a scrub brush and some car deodorizer with you on every trip.

Proper Restraint: In the event you are forced to travel by auto with an animal that is not obedient or is unruly, you should always keep the animal confined inside an appropriate-sized wire crate. These crates can be bought or made. There are no exceptions to this rule. The dangers of an uncontrollable animal, rampant in a vehicle moving at high speeds, present too great a risk.

Dogs must be restrained and protected in the uncovered bed of a pickup truck. If your animal is crated in the uncovered bed of a pickup truck, be sure it has proper shielding from wind, weather, and extreme temperatures. Also be sure the crate is securely tied down, so it won't slide around when the truck turns. If your animal is traveling in covered pickup bed, the guidelines for car travel apply.

Leaving rear windows open in station wagons. Fumes from exhaust can blow into car and poison the animal and you.

Leaving the animal in a parked car. Despite the repeated warnings, deaths due to heat prostration are all too common. Do not leave your animal in a parked car, even if the windows are "cracked" open in warm weather, or in southern climates. Even when it is only in the 70's outside, the interior of the car can reach temperatures over 100 degrees. A pet can quickly become overheated and suffer from heatstroke.

Taking pets out of the car without a leash, harness or lead rope. No matter how well trained your pet may be, unforeseen circumstances arise that can place any pet in danger.

Leaving animals unattended in campsites or motel rooms without proper safeguards for their security. Countless animals have been lost when a maid unknowingly opened a motel room on a loose animal. Also, be prepared to pay for any damage your animal may cause.

Never put your animal in the trunk of your car!

Letting pets hang their heads out of open windows in moving cars. Insects and flying debris can permanently injure eyes, lodge in the nasal passages or get sucked up into the windpipe.

Pet Travel Timeline/Checklist

The following checklist will help ensure your pet is ready for the stress of moving to your new home.

4 Weeks Before Moving Day:

  • Inquire about health certificates, vaccinations, quarantines, and crates.
  • Visit your veterinarian.
  • If possible, visit your new location. Find out about new veterinarians, kennels, and any changes needed in your new home.
  • Plan your trip. Make reservations.
  • Get a travel crate and start training your pet.

1 - 2 Days Before Moving Day:

  • Check health certificates.
  • Confirm your reservations.
  • Prepare crate labels and containers. Get an ID collar for air travel
  • Pack your pet's food.
  • Clip your pets nails.

Moving Day:

  • Label and prepare the crate.
  • Attach food and water dishes to the crate.
  • Feed your pet 6 hours before the flight.
  • Get your documents ready – including the feeding schedule for any airline.
  • Medicate your pet if recommended.
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