Domestic Pet Travel
Before the Flight
Visit the vet
The first step in pet travel is taking your furry friend to the vet for a check-up. For airlines to accept your pet for travel, they must be more than eight weeks old, appear to be in good health and not show signs of undue aggression.
The vet will assess your pet’s health and make sure their vaccinations, worming and flea and tick treatments are up-to-date. Ask the vet to provide a certificate for a clean bill of health as you may be required to show it when you check your pet in for their journey.
Should I sedate my cat or dog prior to travel?
Most vets do not recommend sedating your pet prior to travel and airlines may not accept a sedated animal. There are natural calmers to help your pet if they are particularly anxious or hyperactive, but this should be discussed with your vet during your pre-flight visit.
Many vets have pet First Aid Kits available for purchase, great for unexpected injury or illness.
Organise your container
All pets must travel in containers approved by the International Air Transport Association (IATA). When it comes to containers (also called crates, pet packs or carriers) you may choose to hire one or purchase your own from a company such as Dogtainers, depending on how often your pet is likely to travel.
For domestic and short-haul journeys, plastic and steel mesh containers are the norm within Australia, while metal or wooden crates may be more suitable for animals such as large dogs if they are travelling long-haul. Make sure there is plenty of room for your pet to stand up fully and lie down inside.
Containers come in various shapes, sizes and styles and include secured drinking cups so your pet can stay hydrated during the journey. Some containers are already fitted with protective kennel mats which can absorb liquids and odours, but you may have to purchase this item separately.
Get your pet used to their travel quarters
Getting your pet comfortable with their container is the best thing you can do to calm their nerves (and your own!). Put their favourite toy or a comfort item such as an old shirt with your smell on it in the container and encourage them to sleep in it, explore it and become comfortable with it at home. Taking your pet on a few short drives in the container may also help them become used to travelling in it.
On-the-day pet travel checklist
- Go for a walk or play with your pet before heading off to their airport to tire them out
- Don’t give them a meal from at least six hours before the flight, but do give them plenty of water
- Make sure there is a comfort item in the container
- Ensure there is access to water and there is a waterproof mat inside
- Bring their vet certificate and attach their ID collar to the outside of their crate
- Pack any toys, food, leash and medication for the trip
- Give them plenty of attention and keep them calm
During the Flight
Where does my pet stay?
After you check your pet in (at least 90- to 120-minutes prior to departure), they will be taken to the freight/cargo area. Airlines have staff trained in pet travel who will care for your precious cargo on their journey.
If your furry friend is accepted as cargo or checked baggage, they will be travelling securely in the aircraft hold – a climate controlled space perfectly safe for animals. The hold is usually located under the main cabin or at the front or rear of some aircraft. The area is pressurised, just like the cabin, and most pets sleep comfortably during the trip.
Will my pet be checked on during the flight?
The cabin crew do not access the hold during the flight, but the ground staff will ensure your pet is securely loaded on board and are unloaded as soon as possible after landing.
After the Flight
Check with your Flight Centre consultant to find out where you can collect your four-legged traveller after their sky-high journey. Like check-in, some airlines may require you to go to the cargo/freight section as opposed to the checked baggage area.
Seasoned pet travel pros recommend taking some wet wipes to clean the container (and your pooch or puss) at their destination. After they are out and about, give them a little light exercise, keep them hydrated and treat them to a good meal.
If you have cable-tied your pet’s container (and some airlines require that you do), pack a pair of scissors in your checked baggage to grant your pet freedom as soon as possible
International Pet Travel
Before the Flight
Visit the vet
Much the same as domestic pet travel, the first step in organising your furry friend’s big adventure abroad is booking in a visit to the vet. As well as giving your cat or dog a clean bill of health with up-to-date vaccinations, worming and flea and tick treatments, the vet may be required to administer some extra checks for international travel.
Be sure to visit a certified vet well in advance of your trip, at least 30 days prior to travel. The vet may need to vaccinate your pet for rabies depending on your country of origin, take blood tests and write a note for you to submit to the appropriate government body.
It is not recommended to sedate your pet prior to travel and your airline may not accept sedated animals and sedation can cause dehydration, but your vet may be able to provide a natural calmer if your pet is anxious or especially active.
Some countries require pets to be micro chipped for identification so organise with your vet to have this done if you haven't already.
Organise your container
All animal containers must comply with the specifications of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), including a sturdy construction and enough space for your pet to stand, turn and lie down.
Most airlines require your pet’s travel abode to be made of metal or wood, as larger animals can potentially break through plastic crates. Containers (or crates, carriers or kennels) must not be collapsible if they are to be stored in the cargo hold, must have a secure door that can be locked and must be leak-proof with suitable rubber matting inside that absorbs liquids and odours.
Long-haul containers should have separate food and water dishes attached inside the kennel, and it’s a good idea to include a favourite toy or comfort item to keep your pet feeling safe. Containers can be hired or purchased from dedicated pet travel companies such as Dogtainers, or sometimes even from the airline themselves.
Make sure to label your pet's carrier with your name, contact details, destination details, and attach a bag of food and feeding details for ground staff upon arrival.
Permits and paperwork
The process to send pets internationally can be a complex and arduous one and should be started well in advance of travel – sometimes at least six months beforehand. Your Flight Centre consultant can help you along with this process and ensure all the right boxes are ticked and the journey is a smooth one.
There will be different forms depending on the country you are entering to be arranged through the appropriate government body.
International pet travel checklist
- Veterinary treatments and letter
- Up-to-date vaccinations
- Export, import and transit permits
- Quarantine documentation
- Government documentation if needed
- IATA approved container
During the Flight
Where does my pet stay?
Like domestic travel, your pet will be placed in the cargo hold under the main cabin seating or sometimes in the front or rear of the plane, depending on the aircraft. The hold is climate controlled and pressurised for the comfort of your pet, but some international aircraft do not accept pets in extremely hot or cold weather in consideration of their welfare.
Pets as carry-on
Believe it or not, some international airlines actually allow pets as carry-on! This isn’t the case in Australia and does depend on the destination, but some flights in the US and Europe do allow you to keep your small pampered pup or purring pal with you in the cabin.
Pets must stay in their carrier at all times during the flight and there are limits to how many animals can travel in the cabin at one time so check with your Flight Centre consultant to find out all the fine details about treating your pet to an on-board journey.
After the Flight
New Zealand is free from many diseases that affect cats and dogs in other places and, in turn, affect native animals and livestock. When your pets return to New Zealand from another country, they must stay in quarantine for at least 10 days, sometimes up to a few weeks if they need to be tested or treated for disease.
Your pet may be placed in quarantine both to and from New Zealand. Don't worry, your pets will be well cared for and comfortable during their time in quarantine
You can arrange for your pet to be transported from the quarantine location to your home address when they are given the all clear.
How much does pet travel cost?
Pet travel costs vary depending on the size and weight of the animal as well as the route, destination and airline itself. While some airlines allow pets to travel free as part of a checked baggage allowance, others charge specific fees per sector and container, which can be anywhere from $50 to over $100 domestically and may be higher internationally.
If you are sending your pet unaccompanied, you may have to do it through a freight company. Check with your Flight Centre consultant when you make your booking and they will let you know the best options for your furry family member as well as what costs you are likely to encounter.
Can my pet travel on any plane?
Whether or not your pet can travel on your desired route also depends on their aircraft. For example, pets are not permitted on Virgin Australia A320 planes because the cargo hold is not appropriate for animals.
Many aircraft also have limits to how many pets can be taken on a single flight due to space restrictions and for the comfort of the critters, so book your pet in as soon as possible.
Does my pet travel as checked baggage or cargo?
That depends on your chosen airline and where you are travelling to. Most airlines consider pets to be 'cargo' and are charged accordingly, but larger animals may have to be sent as freight on a seperate aircraft.
How do I make a booking for my pet?
Contact your Flight Centre Airfare Expert and they will take care of all the hard work for you. Booking pet travel can involve a lot of liaising with the airline to confirm requirements, get paperwork together, and is especially complex for international travel.
Booking through a Flight Centre consultant means you only have one point of contact and can book in your own travel plans at the same time.
Are all pets allowed to travel?
There are a number of breeds that are not accepted for airline travel, either due to their predisposition to aggressive behaviour or because of potential difficulties with breathing. This includes snub- or pug-nosed cats and dogs, including persian cats, pugs, shih tzus and bulldogs.
Cats and dogs are usually the only types of animals allowed to travel on airlines, and most others are required to be shipped or freighted by road.
Birds and reptiles may be accepted as air cargo, but this depends on the airline and service travelled. Keep in mind you may also need special permits when sending birds or reptiles interstate or internationally.
Are there different rules for travelling with guide dogs?
Yes, there are. For more detailed information on travelling with assistance animals, please refer to our travelling with disabilities section.