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5 Tips to Acclimating Your Pet to their Travel Kennel

Published on: April 4, 2022  |  Author: Starwood Animal Transport

dog-in-bed-1Veterinarians and pet travel experts agree: the single-most important thing you can do to help relieve your pet’s anxiety when flying is to help them get comfortable with their travel kennel. The travel kennel used to transport pets is not a wire crate. It is typically either a hard-plastic or wooden kennel, specifically designed and constructed to ensure your furry family member remains safe in transit.

Pet travel kennels are roomy enough so your dog or cat can stand, sit, lie down and spin around comfortably. The door and "window openings" enable them to see their surroundings and provide plenty of ventilation, without any chance of their toes, nose, or tail protruding. These kennels meet specifications set by the International Air Transportation Association (IATA), and they come in various sizes. Cats usually require the same size kennel, but you must measure your dog to ensure you are purchasing the correct size dog crate.

Every pet is different - yours may take to the new kennel easily, but you don’t want to leave that to chance. Below, you will find some useful tips to help in the familiarization process.

1. Start Acclimating Your Pet as Soon as Possible

We recommend you spend at least three weeks familiarizing your dog or cat to their travel kennel. However, it’s best to start this process as early as possible, to give them ample time to become friends with their new home away from home.

2. Step-by-step Familiarization

Follow this simple, proven routine at least three weeks before departure day:

Week 1:

During the first week, feed your pet meals inside the crate, leaving the door open. You can also encourage them to enter and explore the crate between meals, by placing treats or toys inside or on the top.

Cave instinct aside, some dogs are afraid of enclosed spaces. If that’s your fur baby, start with just the bottom half of the crate, so it looks like a bed rather than a trap. Encourage them to sit or stand in it while you lavish them with treats, petting, and praise. Feed them in it, too. After a few days, finish assembling the crate, leaving the door open as noted, and continue to practice “good times” in and around the crate.

Week 2:

Throughout the second week, continue to feed your pet inside the kennel, but close the door after they go inside to eat. Open the door once they have finished their meal, or after 15 minutes.

Week 3:

During the final week, continue to follow the "Week 2" routine but have your pet enter the kennel 15 minutes before you feed them.

3. Associate the Kennel with Positive Things

It is extremely important that your cat or dog associates their crate with fun activities or interesting objects. Every time they spend some time inside, immediately reward them when they emerge with praise and something they love, such as a game of fetch or a favorite toy.

4. Pad the Crate with Something Familiar

For travel, you will need to put something soft and absorbent on the floor of the kennel. It is best to use something that smells familiar to them such as a thin blanket, one of your t-shirts or a towel. If you're using one of your clothing items, use one that you've just worn so it smells like you. 

Consider putting whatever soft bedding you plan to use in the crate right away. That will give your pet even more reason to feel safe and secure inside, right from the start.

However, keep in mind that the airline will not accept any bedding that is thicker than about 3 inches - so don't send a huge comforter or thick bed.

5. Take them for a Ride

On your pet's day of departure, they will be exposed to a variety of new sights, smells and sounds. To better prepare them, after you've completed the steps above, try bringing them for car rides to noisy places.  This can get them used to being in motion.  A common suggestion is to bring them to the car wash to "mimic" some of the sounds they might experience while traveling. Don't forget to praise them and offer treats for being so brave on their adventure! 

Flying with your pet