Travelling With Pets

By Dr. Candice Chiu

It seems that we are seeing more and more pets traveling with their people. With the holidays approaching, I thought we’d do a little piece on practical things to be aware of if you plan to take your pets with you on a flight. 

Not many people would say that air travel is enjoyable. Traffic to the airport, the lines, potential delay, the paperwork and the cramped seats are probably things that everyone would like to skip and get to their vacation already. If you and I, as somewhat rational human beings, can still feel a tinge of anxiety when traveling, try explaining this situation to our trusting companions who rely on their instincts to process the vast amount of stimuli coming their way.


Carefully assess your pet’s temperament: Are they likely to get stressed out? Ideally, one should try to have a few practices run with the pet being in the carrier to acclimate them. If your pet is prone to anxiety, consider checking with us a few weeks prior to the flight. Some animals respond very well to Bach flower remedies, homeopathic or nutraceutical anxiolytics, however, you need to give them some time to monitor their response while trying out these remedies. Tranquilizers are not advised and in fact, many airlines will refuse to board pets if they have been tranquilized or heavily sedated.

Paperwork: If you are going out of Canada, make sure you give yourself (and the veterinarians) ample time to get the paperwork done for animal exportation. Some countries have very strict regulations on the timeline for which vaccinations and health checks are done prior to departure. When not followed exactly, it can result in your loved ones being left behind.

Check with the airline you are flying on for the requirement regarding pet carriers. A general rule of thumb is the carrier must be big enough to allow your pet to sit, stand, turn around and lie down comfortably. Refer to the airline you are flying with on the exact measurements and guidelines for the carrier material.

Microchip: When you are traveling internationally, a microchip is a requirement. This also gives yourself some peace of mind in case your pet gets lost in a foreign country.

Whenever possible, book a direct flight. Avoid traveling in extreme temperatures. Most airlines will have their own restrictions, especially if the pet has to stay in the cargo compartment.

Check-in: Nowadays, we are very used to the ease of online check-in which allows us to arrive at the airport just a little bit later. When traveling with a pet however, this privilege may not apply depending on the airline. You will likely have to submit to the old fashioned counter check-in at the airport. Sigh…

At the Airport

Know your airports: Most of the major international airports have a pet relief area. This is a designated area where dogs can relieve themselves prior to departure and after arrival. They may not always be close to your terminal or gate, so schedule enough time for this potty break. If someone is picking you up at your destination, you might want to let them know so they can plan their driving time accordingly.
Pet Relief Areas

Keep your pet inside the carrier at all times. This may very well be your pet’s first time to an airport. The last thing anyone needs is to try and chase down an over-excited dog weaving through foot traffic or look for a frightened cat in hiding. You also don’t want the hassle of holding onto your pets while juggling your passport, boarding pass, cell phone, luggage, etc. at the same time.

On Board

If your pet is in the cabin with you, hopefully they will be snoozing contently just knowing you are close by. However, if he or she starts to express their anxiety, be prepared to have shade thrown your way. There is not much you can do, unless you are lucky enough to have flight attendants and passengers who understand your plight and allow you to hold your pet in your lap instead of cooped up in the carrier. Of course, sincere apologies can go a long way.


Congratulations! You’ve arrived and are ready to show your pet brand new places to sniff. Not so fast! Your escape from the airport will be delayed by customs officials as they will need to go over your pets’ paperwork and do a cursory examination to make sure your pets do not have any obvious signs of illness. If you are traveling out of the country, double check their regulations on pet food importation. Pet food and treats are considered meat products and are subject to declaration and inspection. If possible, bring a small bag/cans of unopened food so the officers can check the ingredient list. Storing food in unmarked Ziploc bags can potentially result in it being confiscated.

Hopefully you have arrived at your destination with no hitch, and we wish you a happy holiday from East York Animal Clinic!