It seems like a simple question – should you feed your dog prior to his flight, or not? You don’t want him to go hungry, but you don’t want him to get sick, either. Unfortunately, this question is one of many examples where researching online results in conflicting information and opinions that can lead you to the wrong conclusion. So let’s set the record straight.
Before your dog’s flight
We always recommend feeding pets more than 4 hours prior to being picked up from their home or arriving at the airport. This gives your dog enough time to digest his food and, hopefully, pee and poop before going into his travel crate. We don't want pets to travel on full stomachs, as it can cause an upset tummy and we also don't want the pet to have to relieve itself in the crate.
Despite your best efforts to reduce your pup’s pre-flight jitters, he may still be somewhat anxious. A full stomach will give his body one more thing to deal with. If your dog is a flat-faced breed, discuss the feeding question with your vet, because many brachycephalic dogs have ongoing digestive issues that can be exacerbated by air travel.
We all know hydration is important, for dogs as well as people. Offer him a little water before departure, but don’t over-water him. A full bladder won’t be fun and having an accident along the way will only make your dog more upset.
For the flight itself
Most airlines require that pets travel with a small zip-lock bag of their food attached to the top of the crate. Each pet should have two water bowls attached to the inside of the crate door -- one to be filled with water and one already filled with ice (you can fill and freeze it ahead of time). There should also be a funnel and tube so the handling staff can fill the water dish up once the pet is loaded onto the aircraft. That way water won’t spill as your pup is being loaded into the plane, but as the ice melts during the flight, he’ll have ready access to additional water if he wants a sip.
After your dog arrives
It might be tempting to let your dog “go for it” once he arrives at your destination. After all, surely he is hungry and thirsty! Nonetheless, it is best to give him small amounts of fresh water, frequently. Providing too much water can cause pets to drink too much too quickly and get sick. The same holds true with food – feed small, frequent amounts to avoid eating too much too quickly. We have actually seen cases where dogs have rapidly overeaten after arrival, resulting in a twisted stomach.
What about food on the go?
Your dog’s travel carrier should also have a food dish and a small supply of dry food (in a Ziploc bag), attached to the exterior. Although airlines typically won’t feed pets in transit, if your dog will be laying over at a designated “pet hub” -- which can happen during very long itineraries or if there is an unforeseen delay -- someone will be available to feed him.
Don’t “feed” him tranquilizers
Lots of pet parents assume they should sedate their dog to help him relax during air travel. Do NOT do that. Airlines do not accept tranquilized pets for travel, because the drugs do more harm than good. They can disrupt your pup’s natural ability to maintain balance when his kennel is being moved, which will make him more anxious. And he’ll feel woozy and confused, making him even more upset.
Pack a supply of food for your new home
Your pooch will be happier in his new home if he finds familiar food. So pack a supply to tide you over till you can go shopping. If your guy eats prescription food, this is even more important. So when you visit your vet to obtain your dog’s health certificate for travel, remember to stock up on his special food, too. And maybe some of his favorite treats.
Whatever he eats, bag a small portion of food to carry with you on the plane, in case your packed belongings don’t arrive right away. Good dog!