My first-hand experience with shipping our dog Sadie from San Diego to Texas
When we decided to move to Texas, one of the first things we thought about was what to do with Sadie. Sadie is our adorable, extra loving beagle. Like many beagles, she gets anxious when she is away from her family. So, how were we going to transport Sadie to Texas? We were flying and, as uneasy as it made me, I understood that Sadie was going to have to get on that plane too. The first thing I thought of was all the horror stories I've heard about pets dying in airplane cargo from heat exhaustion. Did I mention we were moving to Texas at the hottest time of the year, mid-summer? So now we had an anxious dog and an anxious owner.
Before I continue, let me ease your mind by telling you that Sadie made it to Texas just fine, but here are some helpful facts and tips for preparing when your pet simply must travel by plane.
A little-advanced planning pays off big for you and your pet
No more than 10 days before your pet is to fly, they have to have a health check with accompanying certificate from a Veterinarian. When we shipped Sadie, she actually traveled a few days after us because we wanted to get settled into our new home before introducing her to it. My sister took Sadie to her vet before her travel date and she said it was a very simple procedure. We did have to send Sadie's records from her vet to my sister's vet, so if you are thinking of having a friend or family member help, be sure to plan in advance.
As I mentioned, Sadie traveled a few days after us. I would highly recommend this strategy. Why add one more stress factor to what could already be a stressful family situation. Your pet will most likely not get the regular attention it craves during a busy move. Unfamiliar places and lots of activity can lead to disaster. A mover could accidentally leave a door open and your anxious pup could flee the scene, winding up in an even less familiar territory. And that brings me to the ID tag... get a second tag for your pet with your new address and contact information or contact information for someone who knows how to reach you in an emergency. It is an inexpensive safeguard and is easily purchased at your local pet supply store.
Your pet will need their own appropriately sized crate, two empty dishes - one for food and one for water, plus an accompanying ziplock bag with food. Generally, the airline staff is not going to feed your dog unless there is an issue with the flight like an emergency layover or something of that nature. Your pet's information gets taped to the outside of the crate along with "live animal" stickers. If your pet isn't crate-trained, I would highly recommend purchasing the crate well in advance, so your pet has time to get comfortable with the idea. Dogs are den animals and as such should love the idea of their own "cave" to dwell in. However, you don't want to find yourself shoving your resistant dog into a crate three hours before the flight - not fun for anyone.
To sedate or not sedate, that is the question... or is it?
Even if you have a nervous breed like our Beagle Sadie, it's not allowed or advised to sedate your pet. The airlines clearly state they will not take your pet if it has been given a sedative. I do know people who have ignored this rule because they felt it would be best for their pet to be sedated - some vets will actually prescribe sedatives. However, the sedative can do more harm than good because it can alter your pet's ability of self-regulating to heat and stress.
The most stressful part of this whole trip for your pet will be the thought of having to "take care of business" while stuck in a crate. So cut back on water and make sure they have a chance to relieve themselves right before you drop them off. It's better for them to be a little thirsty upon arrival then completely panicked over a potty accident. This is another reason not to sedate - you want your pet to pant or get up and move around. If they are sedated, they might just lay there in a daze.
The flight: booking, dropping off and picking up
Did you know that not all airlines take pets? We didn't either. We flew Sadie on Continental because they have an air-conditioned cargo and we feel that they took very good care of her. There are a lot of specialty airlines now that cater to pets only. They are expensive, but if you are flying your pet a long distance, you might consider the added cost a must. Sadie only had a few hours of flight so we went with a standard airline. In 2010, the cost of the flight was about $200.
If your pet is leaving from or traveling to an area that is very hot (like Texas), it is recommended that you book an early morning flight because if the temperature is over about 80 degrees at the time of arrival, they won't fly your pet to their destination. And when traveling to Texas in the middle of the summer you can bet the temperature is going to not only be above 80 degrees, it's going to be over 100 degrees (just in case you didn't know, like me).
You have to drop off your pet at the airport cargo area 2 hours before the flight time. Upon arrival at the new airport, you will pick up from cargo area as well. The airline/airport employees have all their procedures to follow that ensure you are the rightful owner, yadda, yadda - so plan a little extra time to get through the drop-off and pick-up process.
In the end, I was very happy how Sadie arrived at us in Texas. She seemed no worse for the ware and was, for the most part, her normal self. Hopefully, this post has provided you with a few tips for planning your pet's first flight.