Airline pet policies can be difficult enough to navigate when you’re simply traveling with a pet, so traveling with a disabled pet often poses even further complications that require extensive knowledge, research, and paperwork. Recent pet-related airline controversies have centered on disabled individuals that attempt to board a plane with a support animal. But, what happens when the shoe is on the other foot and you’re a pet owner traveling with an animal that has accessibility issues?
Fortunately, while there are still numerous considerations and restrictions, there are also many resources available for making traveling easier for disabled pets.
1. Invest in mobility products. Pet wheelchairs and harnesses make getting around easier than ever for your four-legged friends. They come in different sizes, meaning you can find just the right fit for your pet and don’t have to worry about carrying them around along with your other baggage. Just let their wheels do the work! These are primarily useful for road trips or ground travel with pets and may not exactly be of use for airline travel, but are nonetheless a must-have. What’s more, they help your pet experience all the travel-related adventures they can without worrying about physical drawbacks. They can explore rough terrains, accompany you on hikes, and do more with less effort.
2. Get a larger soft-sided carrier for traveling with your disabled pet. Pets traveling on domestic flights can fly in-cabin, but are usually required to be kept in pet carriers. If your dog has a disability, you’ll want to get them a maximum-sized soft carrier. Hard-sided carriers are restricting, and disabled animals need room to splay out and relax their ailing limbs. While there are varying size restrictions for carriers based on airline (Southwest, for example, does not allow carriers larger than 18.5” x 8.5” x 13.5”), you’ll want to see if you can stick to the maximum size restrictions. Much like flying in Economy class can be space-inhibiting for humans, restricting carriers can cause severe distress for handicapped pets.
3. Confirm their veterinary health. Notify your veterinarian if you plan to travel with a disabled animal, and make sure to get an expert opinion on whether or not this travel will be possible through the issuance of a health certificate. If your pet’s condition is severe, extended travel could cause them serious distress. Additionally, you’ll want to make sure your pet is fully-vaccinated, as most airlines will not allow pets on board without this. Your vet may also be able to prescribe a supplement, such as melatonin or other relaxants/pain killers, to calm your disabled pet during the flight and ensure the overall experience is pain-free.
4. Call your airline and find the right means of travel. Notify the airline of your pet’s size, breed, and condition. This way, they can inform you whether they’re eligible for in-cabin travel (and under what circumstances) or if it’s best they be boarded as accompanied checked baggage or air cargo and sent to the destination through a third-party shipper. Larger dogs may sometimes be boarded as live animal cargo, and professional pet shippers are expertly trained in finding airlines that allow this, helping you compile the necessary paperwork, and ensuring the pets are as comfortable as possible. Pet-shippers are specifically trained to work with pets and understand the stress that moving/traveling can cause on their psyche. Many will even track your pet’s flight, arrange for the shortest layovers possible, and transport your pet to/from the airport. Note, however, that as larger dogs must fly as cargo, they fly unaccompanied and therefore must not require too much medical attention. That being said, this area is typically temperature-controlled and pressurized for optimal comfort. Lastly, your pet will need to be removed from its crate or carrier when clearing security (for in-cabin travel) or checking in as cargo, so you will need to be prepared to do this if your pet has physical restrictions. Using a professional pet shipping service is one of the best options for international travel, and organizations like the International Pet and Animal Transportation Association can help owners find the best provider for their situation.
5. Reconsider traveling with your disabled pet. If your pet’s disability/ailment is at an advanced stage and they experience frequent discomfort, you may want to just leave them at home. Remember also that if your pet requires any medication or attention in-flight, this cannot be administered while they fly as cargo. Unless it’s a long-term or permanent relocation, finding a pet-sitter may be a more cost-effective and comfortable option for your pet. Sure, it’s wonderful to bring our pets on vacation with us and we want them to explore new places as much as we do, but mobility issues in a pet may make this more of a task than a pleasure for them. Your pet’s desire to explore new places should be honored within reasonable means. Maybe you can’t take them on your overseas trip, but that shouldn’t stop you from equipping them with a high-quality wheelchair and hitting the road with them in your passenger seat. Modern advancements and the ever-growing market of pet products allow disabled pets to get as much satisfaction out of life as able-bodied ones. As their owner and favorite companion, you’ll find this satisfaction is, in fact, a two-way street.
Ellie Batchiyska is a writer for Handicapped Pets, your most trusted source for pet wheelchairs, harnesses, and back braces.