I’m back in Oregon, vacationing and visiting family and friends who I left behind 2 years ago when I moved to sunny, tropical Florida (I call that move to a warmer climate my mid-life crisis). I think back on my trek to Florida with my 3 cats.

As a veterinarian you’d think I would have had smooth pet travels. Overall it went okay. I had one of my best friends fly over with me so my 3 felines could fly in cabin with me to our new life in the sun. The cats and I had one way tickets and she had a round trip ticket. And, I had to buy an empty seat since there was one more feline than human.

I did all the things I tell clients. I did a test dose of travel anxiety medications on my pets prior to the trip. I ordered comfy collapsible carriers. I packed a baggy of food and had a water bowl. I lined the carriers with absorb-able potty pads, and had small cardboard trays and a baggy of litter for the layover. I allowed adequate time in the layover in case the first flight was delayed. I had my tickets and health certificates handy. Blah blah blah!

When we went through the checkpoint the TSA official made us get the cats out of the carriers to frisk them and x-ray the carriers. Tutu had a “Lucy in the sky with diamonds” look in her eyes from her travel sedatives. Imagine if they had jumped out of our arms! Then once on the plane the fella in the row in front of us was quite irritated that there were cats on the plane. He had allergies. Heck, there were 2 other cats in addition to my pets near our row. He was downright acidic to that poor flight attendant to get her to move him. Additionally, it turns out that though my cats all came from other countries, they aren’t particularly brave travelers. I needed to top off the sedative for my male cat partway through the trip when he started mewing and got so nervous that he chomped on my ankle through the carrier mesh. It was a night flight with a layover in Atlanta. Boy was that a long night!

I don’t know that if I did it again I could have made it better, but I will offer you my best suggestions for traveling with pets. Particularly if you have a diabetic, you want your trip to go smoothly. We don’t want your diabetic to go on a hunger strike due to travel anxiety.

Sedatives, anxiety medications and Thundershirts – Speak with your vet regarding which medication would suit your pet best. I strongly encourage a trial dose at least a few days prior to the flight so that there is time for dosage adjustments. Of course, the environment of an airport and plane will be more stressful than the cozy home environment. Thundershirts are snug fitting vests that give your pet the feeling of being hugged. They can help calm your pet without reaching for a pharmaceutical.

Consider the time of year – There are numerous airlines who won’t allow pets to travel in cargo during the summer months. This is a good thing.

Book a direct flight – If at all possible, avoid layovers. Even if this means flying to an airport an hour drive from your destination and driving a bit further, layovers can be difficult with pets. On my flights back the other day the first flight was 2 hours delayed. I ran through the airport such that when I got to the gate my heart was pounding in my chest! I’m still amazed that I made it. Had I been carrying a pet there is absolutely no way I could have made the 2nd flight.

Health certificates – You will need a health certificate to fly with your pets. Each destination and airline is unique. Call the airline. Call your veterinarian. If traveling internationally you may need to get rabies titers and a microchip. Give yourself lots of time! There may be a time-line involved. You may need to mail or take the forms to the USDA office.

Drive instead? – If the distance is short, you might just consider driving. Larger pets clearly can’t travel in the cabin with you. By the time you get there early to check in your pet, you might just get there more quickly by driving! And, your pet won’t be separated from you.


NOTE: Consult your Veterinarian first to make sure my recommendations fit your special health needs.

Dr . Joi Sutton

Dr . Joi Sutton

Dr. Joi Sutton is a 1993 graduate from Oregon State University. She has practiced both in emergency medicine and general practice. Dr. Sutton has done extensive international volunteer work and is the President and Founder of Veterinary Ventures, a nonprofit organization that takes teams of veterinarians to undeveloped countries for humane medical care. She also runs a small animal practice in South Florida.
Dr . Joi Sutton