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Is International Air Travel Safe For My Older Pet?

Published on: March 17, 2022  |  Author: Starwood Animal Transport

Older dog in plane seat ready for international travel

If your family will be moving overseas, it seems obvious that you will want to include your beloved dog or cat. But what if your four-legged family member is considered a senior cat or dog? Is international air travel safe for older pets?

In general, if your senior cat or dog is in good health then yes, it is safe for them to fly.  However, you still want to do your due diligence to make sure they are prepared and you are making the best decision for your furry family member.

It’s always best to book pets on a direct flight, but often that’s just not possible.  Shorter flights are less of a concern, but flight routing can become a bit complicated the farther you need to go. The farther you go, the more likely your pet will have to change planes, have an extended layover, or spend time sitting on the plane during a stop.

Additionally, scheduling can depend on weather conditions, the size of the plane and individual airline policies regarding international pet travel. When you choose a pet-friendly airline, though, everyone is more likely to have your pet’s best interest at heart. Pet-friendly airlines take special precautions, such as loading animals last and unloading them first so they spend the least amount of time on the plane and caring for their basic needs during long layovers or plane changes.

When it comes to safety, your pet’s current health is the overriding factor

Snub-nosed (or brachycephalic) dogs and cats are at greater risk on any flight, due to their inherent respiratory limitations. A number of airline carriers won’t accept them at any age. Often, older dogs and cats have one or more chronic health condition which may or may not be affected by air travel. On the other hand, your pet may still be in excellent physical shape despite their years. Either way, if they take medications at intervals that might conflict with the flight schedule, you will need to plan accordingly.

Look to your vet for advice

To determine if international pet travel is safe for your four-legged loved one, consult the medical professional who knows them best. Your vet is in the best position to help you evaluate the situation and find safe, healthy international pet travel solutions. As soon as you know you will be moving out of the country, schedule a time to talk with your vet about your pet’s stamina and any specific travel-related concerns.

Older cats and dogs tend to be more set in their ways. If your pet is moody about his or her feeding schedule, you’ll want to specifically talk to your vet about that. If they require medication, you'll need to think through and discuss with your vet if it is absolutely compulsory during travel, or if it's OK that they miss a dose or two while they are in transit.

You also need to consider if your senior pet has any pre-existing health conditions that may be impacted by the stress of travel. 

Consider every approach

Ultimately, it is possible you may have to consider the unthinkable. Your vet may advise that air travel is too risky for your elderly dog or cat. If so, and your move will be permanent or at least too long for boarding or pet sitting to make sense, staying behind may be the safest option. But don’t assume the worst before you have explored every option and have every fact in hand. Millions of pets fly each year, many of them older, and they handle their trip just fine.

One thing you can be quite confident about: chances are excellent that you will find a well-qualified vet to care for your pet in your new country.

In cabin travel may be an option

If your pet is a small dog or a cat, on-board “seating” may be the best solution if it’s feasible, especially if you’ll be able to deplane between legs of your journey. That way you can take your furry companion to the airport’s “pet relief area” for some fresh air and a potty break. Older pets may also feel less anxious in a carrier under the seat in front of you, where they can see and hear you.

That said, most countries and many airlines do now allow pets who are traveling on international flights to ride in the cabin - so you will need to check if this is possible.

Be prepared

An international move is a lot more complex than moving from one city or state to another, even for families without pets. Adding a furry family member, and multiplying that in dog or cat years can put even more strain on your ability to plan effectively and confidently.

Why put yourself and your precious furry family member through that? Working with an experienced international pet travel professional can alleviate stress and worry by helping you optimize pet air travel solutions you won’t find on your own. You can all arrive safe and sound – ready to start your new life in your new home.

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