The Worst Things You Can Do When Flying With Your Pet

The era of iffy "emotional support" animals may be coming to an end. This month, airlines and mental health advocates are conducting their final meetings on the explosion of support animals (20,000, up from 2,400 five years ago) that has led to support pigs, monkeys, and parrots making appearances on airplanes. It's not at all certain what the study will recommend to a US Department of Transportation panel, but the airlines are getting a little fed up with everyone skirting their $150 pet fees. Changes may be coming.

What does that mean? It means the dog that an internet doc said keeps you from having a mental breakdown might soon need to be put in a carrier and checked like all the other pets. And if you want to keep traveling with him, you'll need to know some tricks of the trade. We conferred with our friends at Figo Pet Insurance, as well as our friends who travel with non-support animals, and put together these tips.

Loading up your pet with drugs

Many of you no doubt glanced at this headline, snickered, and said to yourself, "Whatever. I just drug the shit out of them and it's fine." Congrats for making it to the first subhead, Dr. Feelgood, but the American Veterinary Medical Association says it's actually not fine. Countless problems can arise from using unprescribed tranquilizers, including: increased repertory problems at attitude, damaged equilibrium, and ultimately long-term dependence on tranquilizers to calm down. If your vet determines they are medically necessary, then by all means. If not, consider a pheromone collar, which emits the same scent mother dogs use to calm their puppies.

Assuming you know the airline's policies

You ever wonder why some airplanes feel like an ASPCA shelter and others don't have a dog in sight? That's because every airline has a different policy towards animals in the main cabin. Nearly all charge fees; some require animals to be put in the cargo compartment; and many don't allow more than a couple of animals per flight. So before you make any other preparations, call the airline AFTER you book your ticket, make a reservation for your pet, and plan accordingly.

Skipping a pre-flight vet checkup

You might think your pet is totally capable of spending four hours on an airplane. But your vet knows best. Even if your pet seems perfectly fine, take him in for a checkup, and make sure the doctor gives you a health certificate, dated within 10 days of your departure. Some airlines as well as hotels, transfers, and other businesses might ask for it.

Leaving your pet in a crate without toys

If you can put a comforting toy -- preferably one that smells like you -- in the carrier, it will help your pet relax while being transported. Similarly, when you get to your destination, your pet will already have something entertaining, and might associate the toy, rather than the stress of travel, with the overall experience.

Switching beds and food on the road

Since you're bringing a pet along, the convenience of only carrying on is pretty much shot. So if your pet is small enough, check its bed with your checked bags. Add to that the food your pet regularly eats. You might enjoy new cuisines when you travel, but odds are your pet isn't aspiring to recreate Parts Unknown. The combination of a familiar bed and food will give your pet a sense of familiarity on the road, and keep them calmer before the return trip.

Springing the carrier on them...

Imagine youre relaxing on a typical Friday, burying stuff in the backyard or batting a plastic mouse, and all of a sudden someone walks up to you with a crate and says, "Get in. This is your home for the next 12 hours." Might be a little jarring, no? This is why you need to crate your pet in trial runs long before your trip. Try putting them in a crate to go run errands, or just for an hour or so at a time around the house. Also, make sure your pet's nails are clipped so they don't catch in the carrier door or ventilation holes.

... or springing the airport on them

If you're a dog, a park with three little kids running around can be overwhelming. Now imagine JFK at Thanksgiving. If you have time, you might want to consider taking your pet on field trips to the airport to get them used to the insanity. That way when it comes time for the big trip, it won't seem like such a panic-worthy experience.

Overlooking your breed's reaction to cabin pressure

The cargo hold -- where pets are kept -- doesn't have the same highly pressured oxygen as the main cabin. So if your airline won't let you bring your pet on board with you, consider that some breeds of dogs won't be able to breathe very well in cargo-hold conditions. Flat-faced or pug-nosed pets like Persians, Chow Chows, Pekingese, pugs, or English/French bulldogs have shorter nasal passages and might be susceptible to oxygen deprivation.

Skipping exercise beforehand

What do you feel like doing after a couple hours of strenuous exercise? Barking as loud as you can for an entire flight or passing the F out? Exactly, and your pet will too. So before your flight, even if it's early, take your pet on a looooong walk or other strenuous escapade so they won't feel like doing much but sleeping once they're on the plane. Also, don't feed your pet for four to six hours prior to the trip, and leave them with some water in a drip water bottle inside the carrier.

Freaking out when you part ways

We know. Three hours away from your pet might be the hardest part of your entire year. But if you start freaking out, your pet will think something is wrong and ALSO start freaking out. And while a crying dog owner isn't exactly a welcomed sight, a panicking dog is worse. Use positive voice tones and positive body language when putting your pet in their carrier, and especially when dropping them off. If you seem excited for the trip, they will too.

Skipping out on pet insurance

If you don't have health insurance for your pet already, you absolutely need to when taking them on vacation. Not only are airplanes particularly septic environments, but your destination might have a whole slew of new allergens, animals, or other things your pet isn't used to, that could make them sick. And nobody really wants to blow their vacation budget on a vet bill.

Putting off the walk afterward

Just as you can't wait for that mile-long walk to baggage claim after extracting yourself from a coach seat, so too can your pet not wait to get out of their carrier. As soon as you're somewhere appropriate, take them out of the carrier and run some laps. It’ll get your pet familiar with their new surroundings, and hopefully unleash the pent-up energy so you both can relax and enjoy your vacation.

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Matt Meltzer is a staff writer with Thrillist who is curious if TSA regulations on liquids apply to an emotional support Betta fish. Perhaps the answer will be on his Instagram @meltrez1.