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Answers for Pilots

Flying with Fido

It's holiday time and the whole family will soon climb into the airplane for the annual trek over the river to grandmother's house. This year you're thinking about bringing the dog.

It's holiday time and the whole family will soon climb into the airplane for the annual trek over the river to grandmother's house. This year you're thinking about bringing the dog.

Although flying with Fido can be a great experience, it does warrant some advance planning. Here are some tips to make your trip as safe and comfortable as possible.

Veterinarians generally discourage sedating your pet. Part of the concern is the unknown effect of the sedative on your pet at altitude, as the possibility of breathing and heart-related problems increases with thinning air. Another concern is the sedative's effect on equilibrium. Your dog will best protect itself from injury if it can brace against the forces of flight, rather than flop around listlessly. Finally, bladder and bowel control is diminished when sedated and, although an accident isn't an in-flight emergency, it can certainly affect the enjoyment of an otherwise fabulous family flight.

A pet carrier has a lot of benefits, but only if it fits into its allotted space in your airplane, so be sure to measure beforehand. In addition to preventing your dog from jumping around the cabin, a carrier also provides solid walls to lean against during takeoff, landing, and maneuvering flight, increasing his feeling of security. Consider putting a blanket or a towel on the bottom of the carrier to absorb an in-flight accident. If your dog is a big breed and there's no way a carrier will fit, harness him snugly, and secure the harness to a seatbelt. Make sure your dog can't wrestle out of it.

If your dog has problems with motion sickness in the car, it is likely to feel worse in the airplane. Ask your vet to prescribe something to ease the symptoms. What about the effects of altitude? Most dogs do fine at altitudes up to 5,000 feet. However, there are some dogs that naturally have labored breathing and may have increased difficulty even at that altitude. Affected breeds include Lhaso Apso, Chow Chow, Pug, Boston terrier, Bulldog, Boxer, Pekinese, and Shih Tzu.

Your dog's ears react to changes in altitude just like your own ears do. To help the pup's ears pop, bring along some dog biscuits or a rawhide bone to encourage him to chew during climbs and descents. And fly gently. Change altitude gradually, and keep your turns shallow.

Talk with the family to be sure all passengers are willing to share some responsibility for Fido's comfort and well-being. With some thoughtful advance planning, you can all make the trip happily together.

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