There are lots of pet carriers on the market, designed for your cat or dog to use at home or in the car. But when it’s time for your four-legged family to take to the air, the carrier they travel in takes on an entirely new meaning. It has to keep them safe and secure and make them as comfortable as possible, in conditions very different from your home or vehicle.
Every airline adheres to the pet carrier requirements established by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which means your pet cannot fly unless he’s in an approved kennel. There’s a size for every pet, and your pet must be in the right size kennel. You cannot simply “eyeball” this. You may think your pet won’t mind being a little hunched or scrunched – after all, bigger kennels cost more – but the airlines won’t go for that. Dog or cat, your furred one must be able to stand or sit fully erect, easily turn around and lie down in a natural position within the kennel. Short-nosed breeds must be allowed additional space so they literally have ample breathing room.
To find your pet’s “just right” carrier, you must measure them. There are 4 measurements:
- A = Length of animal from nose to root (bony tip) of tail
- B = Height from ground to elbow joint
- C = Width across shoulders
- D = Height of animal in a natural standing position from the top of the head or the ear tip, whichever is higher (neither can touch the top of the crate).
Then you’ll use one of the following formulas to determine the dimensions of your pet’s kennel. If your pup or kitty is flying within the 50 United States or Puerto Rico, use this formula:
- Length = A + ½B
- Width = C x 2
- Height = D
If your pets are traveling to or from any other destination – or if they are a snub-nosed breed – use this formula:
- Length = A + B
- Width = C + 1" x 2
- Height = D + 3"
Except in the case of puppies or kittens, you may not double-up pets in a carrier. Measurements are just the beginning. The right size kennel ensures your pooch or feline will be comfortable, but the carrier has to assure their safety and security, too. An IATA-approved carrier will meet a long list of specific construction standards, including:
- Construction may be rigid plastic, wood, fiberglass or metal. The roof and floor must be solid, and the door must constitute one entire end.
- There must be ventilation on three sides for domestic travel, four sides for international travel.
- No part of your pet – nose, toes or tail – can protrude from the kennel.
- Every attachment hole in the top and bottom must be secured with metal bolts and nuts.
- The interior must be entirely smooth, with no protrusions that could injure your pet or give them something to chew on.
- Larger size kennels must have handles mounted in the middle of each long side. (Small ones sometimes have a handle on the top.)
- There must be two dishes secured inside the kennel but accessible from the outside, to provide food and water in the event of a travel delay.
- The door must latch securely, in a way your smarty-pants pet cannot undo.
Some airlines have their own rules in addition to the IATA standards, so it’s a good idea to check with your carrier before purchasing your pet’s kennel. For instance, United Airlines requires pets flying internationally to have 3” interior clearance when standing, which is more than IATA’s “no touching the ceiling” rule. Also, some airlines require kennels to be accessible in case of an emergency, but some countries require incoming pets to be in “sealed door” kennels to validate their health certification status.
Where can you find an approved carrier? Major US airlines that ship pets often sell approved kennels at their cargo counter, but you don’t want to wait till the last minute to buy one, so you can also look online or visit your local pet store to check availability and pricing. Buy the carrier as soon as you can, to give Rex the Wonder Dog or Fancy the Feline plenty of time to “claim” it as their own. The higher their comfort level with the kennel, the less stressed they will be during their journey. So let them play in it, sleep in it, explore it.
That is the best way to make sure you lower the stress level of your pet during an international move. If your pet is leery of confined space, start off letting them get used to the bottom portion only, then attach the top later. With the right size carrier and time to become familiar with it, your pet will travel comfortably, safely and securely.