Pet Travel: Why Temperatures Matter

Dog in cold temperatures
Photo by Naomi Salome:

So, it’s time to travel with your pet. Whether your trip is planned or unexpected, why should you understand that temperatures matter? Simply put, extreme weather outside your door, at any place you stop along the way or at your destination, can put your pet at great risk when traveling, especially when flying.

How does a cat or dog regulate its body temperature in periods of high temperature? Our fur babies do not sweat through their skin as we do. Their coat helps protect them, keep them warm in the winter and cool in the summer. They can perspire through their ear canals and the pads of their feet, but they regulate their body temperature primarily through their respiratory system (panting). Excessive panting promotes dehydration, and that is why having water available to them when traveling is important.

How about low temperatures? If dogs and cats are exposed to low temperatures for long periods of time, body temperatures can drop and hypothermia can develop. As time passes, their body’s ability to bring itself back to normal temperatures diminishes. Depression of the circulatory, central nervous, respiratory and the immune systems commonly develop. It all leads to difficulty breathing, which is never good for any of our four-legged friends.

Every animal is different in how they handle changes in temperature. The size, age, breed, type of coat and health all play a part in protecting your cat or dog from variations in body temperature. Snub-nosed breeds are particularly at risk due to their inability to breathe efficiently.

Obviously, dogs and cats that have thick undercoats like Huskies, Samoyeds, Malamutes, Persians, and Maine Coon Cats, for example, are better protected in periods of cold weather while Chihuahuas, Sphynx cats and other small, short-haired breeds are more susceptible to cold temperatures. Makes sense, right? Does it work the other way around? Not necessarily. It depends on your pet’s normal environment and what temperatures they are accustomed to.

If your dog or cat is traveling from a warm climate to a cold climate, it is important to offer protection to them until they can become accustomed to lower temperatures. One way to help is with a self warming pad. This nifty pad can be used in a crate, carrier, cage or a car and will hold your pet’s natural body heat to be reabsorbed back into its body helping to keep it warm. Don’t forget sweaters for short-haired dogs and cats in low temperatures.

Dog in car
Photo by Maria Orlova:

Let’s first consider ground travel as it is a less stressful way to travel with a pet. Obviously, if you are traveling in a car, conditions will be stable for your dog or cat because you will have control over temperatures in your car; that is, as long as you are in it. If you leave your pets in your car unaccompanied, know that temperatures can rise or fall very quickly in summer and winter, even if you leave the window open a bit. Takes only a few minutes to become risky for them, especially in periods of higher temperatures.

Remember, too, that our friends need pit stops when traveling and protecting their pads is important in both summer when asphalt is hot and winter when sidewalks are icy and snow is on the ground. Dry their pads well, removing any snow or ice that is caught in their pads. (Cats will especially love this.)

If your dog or cat is flying in an airline cargo hold, temperatures matter.

When flying in the hold, the time when your dog or cat is most at risk is not after take off at 30,000 feet but on the ground during periods of holding, loading and taxiing. Most cargo areas are not heated or air conditioned efficiently and it can get mighty cold or hot waiting for hours before loading. (United Airlines offers climate-controlled holding areas.) Live animals are generally the last thing loaded, so they wait on the baggage carrier or the tarmac until it is their turn. Also, if the airport is busy and there is a wait to take off, tarmac temperatures can affect the cargo hold until the aircraft’s heating or cooling systems kick in. (like conditions in the cabin)

If you are flying your dog or cat in the cargo hold, your airline will not accept live animals when temperatures on the tarmac fall below 45°F (7°C) or higher than 85°F (29°C) anywhere on your route (origination, layover or destination). Some airlines may accept an acclimate certificate issued by your veterinarian if your pet lives in a cold climate and is a breed that is accustomed to lower temperatures. No such certificate is available for higher temperatures and rightly so. Like a hot car, periods of high temperatures are extremely risky, even to healthy pets.

OK, so what can we do, as responsible pet owners, to avoid extreme temperatures?

Travel in Spring or Fall

The best time for pets to travel is the Spring or Fall when temperatures are not extremely hot or cold, no matter how you choose to transport your pet. Temperatures matter when it comes to your pet’s safety and comfort.

Travel During Non-Holiday Periods

Book your flight on a Tuesday or Wednesday when demands on the cargo hold are not as excessive. If driving, traffic will be lighter on these days. If you are traveling for Thanksgiving or Christmas, go several days early before the rush and return during the week after the holiday.

Drive or Fly Directly

Unless you are traveling in an RV, get to your destination as soon as you can so you can introduce your pet to a stable environment. If flying, opt for a direct flight. It may be more expensive than a layover, but far less stressful for your pet. Never change airline companies along the way if at all possible.

Get Your Pet Acclimated to Travel

Lots of short trips in the car will help your dog or cat get used to leaving its environment and travel will become a bit less stressful. Get your pet a good restraint, whether a pet carrier or a booster seat. If flying, get a good pet crate and get your pet used to it as early as possible.

Life Happens – What to do?

Because, we do not always get the opportunity to plan our travels. Life brings sudden changes and all of us want our pets with us when it is time to go. If temperatures are high, then consider driving to an airport where temperatures are cooler if possible. Talk to your airline about holding and loading procedures.

If your destination is too hot or cold when you need to travel, you may need to leave your pet with friends or family until such time that it is safe for them to travel. Yes, it’s inconvenient, but safety is first and to lose a pet is surely a tragedy. Better to fly your best friend alone or go get them later when temperatures are more tolerable. Remember that temperatures matter!

Find more information on traveling with your pet.


Pet Travel: Why Temperatures Matter — 12 Comments

  1. LaShanda – we are not veterinarians and your vet can better answer your question. We would say that flying is stressful and can be dehydrating. Generally, pets are in separate crates or carriers so the chance that they will catch a germ from flying would be low. Make sure your pup has enough to drink and monitor its behavior. Again, any listlessness or other signs of illness should be reported to your veterinarian.

  2. Veronica – temperatures in NY fluctuate during the winter, and, as such, your dog’s flight schedule should be flexible. It is difficult to predict the weather in NY this far in advance. Your agent should be in contact with you leading up to the transport with updates on the weather. Certainly, your pup must travel with original health and rabies certificates including screwworm inspection.

  3. I hired an IPATA accredited company from the Philippines to ship my dog to NY. The company will book the flight with Philippine Airlines middle of February this year. PAL said that weather is not a problem. Will I be assured with this answer? What are other concerns worth raising on this situation. Thanks.

  4. Veronica – the best time to transport a dog is either in the Fall or the Spring. In NY, it would be late September through mid to late November and May through June. You can check the weather in NY on Google and the temperature should be under 30 degrees C.

  5. Yolanda – if your Lab is flying unaccompanied, you will need to contact the cargo department of an airline that flies your entire route. You will need to check your Lab in at your airline’s cargo facility and same for claiming your Lab. It must fly in an IATA-compliant pet crate like these: It also must have a health certificate issued by a licensed veterinarian within 10 days of travel.

    If you are flying with your Lab, then it can fly in the cargo hold as accompanied checked baggage. It will still fly in a crate as described above and may or may not require a health certificate according to your airline’s pet policy.

    Either way, you need to contact your airline to make a reservation for your Lab’s transport.

  6. Hannah – it will take a minimum of 4 months to prepare your cats to travel. You can find requirements here and there are links to further instructions and forms if you need them. You need to follow steps 1-5 in order: As for your questions, yes, a direct flight is always better unless the flight is very long. Yes, it is best to transport snub-nosed pets during the Spring and Fall when temperatures are not extremely hot or cold. It is difficult to find airlines that will fly a snub-nosed breed in the cargo hold, and it is not safe when temperatures exceed 75 degrees F. (24 degrees C). If you must have a layover, stay on the same airline in and out of your layover country. As airline companies do not interline live animals, you will need to claim your cats and enter the layover country if you change airline companies. You will need an EU health certificate regardless as the UK does not accept a China Pet Passport.

  7. We are wanting to fly our two snub-nosed cats this summer from Beijing to London Heathrow (an 11 to 13hour direct flight time).

    We understand that there are dangers and risks involved in flying snub-nosed pets and we have read that is it really important to try and get a direct flight with snub-nosed animals as they are prone to have trouble breathing and suffer anxiety due to excessive panting, and a longer waiting time if the flight has stop-overs and is broken up and having to experience one flight and then another will increase the risks for them during flying. Is this correct?

    Also we have been advised by one airline to fly the cats during May as they are snub-nosed and will not fly well during the June, July and August months as this will also increase the risks for them during flying. Is this correct?

    Also, if we do get a stop-over flight on our way to London Heathrow from Beijing, will we need to get extra checks done for the cats that match that of the country we are stopping-over in? Also, will the cats be required to stay in quarantine for a period of time at the stop-over country before being allowed to leave that country and continue their journey to London Heathrow?

    Our cats were born and purchased in China and do not hold a Pet Passport so are getting a Third-country Official Veterinary Certificate instead, so will this status effect them if the flight requires them to stop-over in another country before entering London Heathrow?

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