2017-05-18 / Pet Tales

Fly the fear-free skies

Andrews McMeel Syndication

Harper’s suitcase contains a couple of bags of food, a soft crate, a blanket and other items to help her feel at home wherever she goes. Harper’s suitcase contains a couple of bags of food, a soft crate, a blanket and other items to help her feel at home wherever she goes. My dog Harper has been on at least 10 flights in her nine years, but most were no longer than three hours. Now we are facing a long-haul flight of 10 hours for an upcoming trip to France. Even for intrepid dogs like Harper, flying can be stressful, so I’m planning ahead to make sure everything goes as smoothly and comfortably as possible. These tips may help you, too, if you’ll be flying with your dog or cat this summer.

I started by asking my Pet Connection veterinary partner Dr. Marty Becker, founder of the Fear Free initiative, what advice he has for people flying with pets in the cabin, especially if it’s for the first time. He says making sure a pet is comfortable being in a carrier is job one.

Your dog’s crate or carrier should be her happy place. If it’s not already, start by leaving it out in a conspicuous area in your home. Let your dog investigate it at her own pace. Encourage exploration by tossing a favorite toy or treats inside for her to find. Any time you see your dog inside the carrier, praise her and hand out a couple more treats. Feed meals inside the carrier to create an even stronger positive association.

You can also use pheromone products to help your dog feel at ease inside the carrier, both at home and during the flight.

“Pheromone sprays and wipes contain a substance that mimics the calming pheromones that mother dogs produce after giving birth,” Dr. Becker says. “It’s a chemical communication processed by the vomeronasal organ rather than the olfactory pathway. Your dog may recognize it and associate it with a feeling of security.”

What should you look for in a carrier? An important consideration is that it must fit beneath the seat in front of you with your dog inside it. If possible, take it to the airport well before your trip and make sure it fits in the luggage sizers located near the check-in area.

Harper’s carrier (borrowed from a friend) has wheels and rolls in a stable fashion. Previous wheeled carriers frequently fell over, so test drive it before you get to the airport. This is good practice for your dog to become comfortable in a moving carrier. We also like this carrier because it zips open at the ends and at the top. Harper can easily walk into it or be lifted out of it.

Accessories we’re packing in a carryon bag are a collapsible silicone dog bowl for dinner and breakfast and a water bottle with a bowl that sits on top. Squeeze it and water fills the bowl; release the pressure and the water drains back into the bottle. Wait to fill it with bottled water until you go through security.

Some dogs who suffer from motion sickness may do best flying on an empty stomach. Check with your veterinarian regarding whether this is a good idea, especially if you have a lengthy flight. Kari Puzzullo’s dog Prudence, who recently experienced her first two flights, prefers to have a little food in her stomach.

“On our flight, she started feeling a little sick on takeoff, but we just gave her a little food and she was fine,” Puzzullo says.

Should you give your dog a tranquilizer or sedative? It’s not a good idea.

“Drugs can have different effects at altitude,” Dr. Becker says. “Sedatives and tranquilizers can affect equilibrium and blood pressure, especially in snubnosed dogs. Ask your veterinarian about other products that can help your dog stay calm without those side effects.”

Bon voyage! ¦

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