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Tip for long plane flights with a small dog

So far, the longest flights Chloe has taken have been about 5-6 hours long. Traveling to Europe or Asia, however, will take almost twice as long. What if I miscalculate my ice cube rations, and she has to pee en route? I recently came across this suggestion: Carry a stack of wee wee pads with you (and this time, you want the scented ones, that prompt your dog to pee on the pad). If you see your dog showing signs of distress, take her (in her carrier) to the lavatory, spread the pads out on the floor, and encourage her to go.

There are two crucial points to make here. Be careful to (1) choose a time to go when the demand for lavatories is low and the flight is calm, since it may take your dog a moment or two to relax in an en-route airplane lavatory, and (2) cover the floor carefully and thoroughly with wee wee pads. Your fellow passengers will not thank you for leaks. In fact, consider adding to your 3-1-1 bag of permitted carry-on toiletries a 3-oz. bottle of enzymatic cleaner designed for dog clean-ups, and bring it into the lavatory with you. (And of course dispose of the soiled wee wee pads in the wastebasket, not down the toilet.)

I love this idea, but it should be used only for emergencies!

47 comments

  • Dee

    Thank you so much for your website! I’ll be traveling home with a 4-5lb. 10-week puppy & while I was able to find the basics about carriers & such, I was wondering about the logistics of a 2-leg, 7+ hour flight with puppy that doesn’t have control of her bodily functions. I’ll definitely be sure to have pee pads on hand & will be ordering the Dry Fur pads tonight. Wish me luck!!!!

  • Good luck, Dee! If you hold back your puppy’s food that morning, and water about 2-3 hours ahead of the flight, you might not have a problem at all — try to schedule a long layover so you and your puppy can get out to a pet relief area in between flights.

  • Susan

    I do this too. We took our two dogs to Europe last year and are going again this summer. When Jada, my shorkie was more of a puppy, she did pee on the pad. I’ve tried it since on domestic flights, but I think she wasn’t desperate enough, or she was more potty trained and therefore more discriminating where to release. Since she does use potty pads at home if she can’t be let out in time, I’m hopeful this will continue to work for us.

    Sometimes I will take her into the public restroom and lay down a pad in the handicapped stall (I do put her leash on so she doesn’t go visiting the neighboring stall or the rest of the bathroom). This has worked, too.

    My other dog has never gotten the hang of potty pads, and will not use them. Period. The secret is to make sure that a potty pad is a familiar place to potty, or they won’t know what they’re supposed to do when you lay it down in a busy, indoor spot. Train your dog to use a potty pad before you need him/her to use it en route.

  • joan

    Thank you for all of the travel tips. My dog flies SFO to Mexico frequently and doesn’t have a problem. I’ve tried getting her to go in the bathroom during our LAX layover but she gets so freaked out about the people walking around, she won’t do a thing.

    We’ll be traveling from SFO to Italy this year and would like to take a flight with a 1 hour layover in Germany instead of stoping and spending the night in NYC or somewhere on the east coast. Do you think a flight leaving SFO at 2:00PM and arriving in Germany at 12 AM is too much to ask my little dog? I’m a little worried that might push her over the edge with a 10 hour flight.

    We use Rescue Remedy for her when flying and it seems to relax her just enough so she’s not crying.

  • Hi, Joan — I am so sorry for my poky response. It does sound daunting, doesn’t it? But Chloe has repeatedly handled transit times of 10 hours with aplomb. I’d give her a chance at a bathroom stall in flight, if only to stretch her legs (if you can work with her on pee-pad training before you leave, it might make that effort more successful). It’s good that a big chunk of the flight will be during the time when she’s normally sleepy/sleeping, and I love it that the RR is helpful. Please let us know what you decide, and how it goes!

  • a sugar

    I have a 5 lb male yorkie and travel to LA frequently. I have found that using the belly bands with inserts of sanitary napkins work great as an alternative. For female dogs, you can get something more like “pull on pants.” they have them for sale on many internet sites, including ebay where many are hand made. then you just changed the Pad. I have also used “poise ” inserts or other bladder pads. Then there is no getting up from your seat several times and crawling over people while carrying your pooch

  • Staci

    I have a Golden Retriever, she is my service dog. I flew with her to St. Louis and back to Salt Lake City, Utah. She did great on the trip there but I made the mistake of giving her a treat and a drink of water because we were a hour early for the flight home. She got sick about 30 minutes before we landed. Not bad and the flight attendants and passengers were great. However after landing I asked if she could relieve herself as we landed and walked of the plane outside and she was dying and they told me I had to go this way and then that way to get to spot. Well I am packing Oxygen, with a disability, ie service dog and she did not make it outside. The passengers that heard me request help for her several times told me not to worry about it, that the airlines should have been more helpful. Anyway I don’t want a repeat and we are flying to LaGuardia in a few weeks with a layover in Minneapolis. How do you think the pads would work if I took her to the back of the plan? She will pee when I tell her if she needs to go.

  • Oh, Staci, what a situation to find yourself and your good dog in. I am just so glad that your fellow passengers were supportive and kind. It sounds to me like your girl is beautifully pee-pad trained, so it surely should work to take her into the bathroom with you. I hope the situation never arises again, of course, but pack a handful of pee-pads in your carry-on just in case.

  • Nicole

    I so totally get that this was designed for folks traveling with dogs, but I have a cat who is diabetic and isn’t the type who would let strangers care for him so I have just begun to look into the idea of traveling with him… and your site (while designed for dogs) has been really helpful!

  • I’m so glad, Nicole! We have four cats, ourselves, and have traveled with two of them (bringing Otto and Cora home to Seattle from Ohio). The info works the same for them as for dogs, generally speaking. They’re both chunky cats, or were then, so the large SturdiBag was a good choice for Otto, and the Delta Deluxe Sherpa worked fine for Cora. If you cat is likely to claw, Sherpa sells a cat carrier with reinforced mesh, but both of our cats just hunkered down and waited for it all to be over. Please let me know how your travels together go!

  • CynTexas

    I would add that I use a doggie bag to put the used pee pad in when the dog is finished. They fit and take care of the smell!

  • Ann Carpenter

    These responses have eased my mind about traveling somewhat. I will be picking up a miniature poodle puppy when I arrive home in a week. My main concern has been about flying from RI to Az each winter. These comments are encouraging and give me hope that it will work out. .Thanks to all.

  • Carol

    I’m going to be moving back from China to Atlanta in late June with two small dogs. One dog is a whiner and the other gets car sick. I plan on taking everyone’s advice on the bathroom breaks, not sure how well it will work though. This is also going to be their first trip . Has any one done a really long trip like this with dogs in cabin before? Also for anyone that has traveled international I was wondering if you could tell me how long it takes to get the animals through inspection once we enter America. Need to buy plane tickets, but I’m not sure on how long of a layover I should look for. Thanks for any advice!

  • Hi, Carol — Oh, heavens, good luck with that. On the car sick front, my vet has good things to say about Cerenia — talk to your vet about whether that might help, and if so, in what dosage. On the anxiety front, try a D.A.P. collar, or a spritz of lavender. Another reader sticks her foot in her pet’s carrier, and just leaves it in there during the flight, so her pup can be in constant contact with her. People play music to their pet, too — I think it works best if you start ahead of time, but you might check out “Through a Dog’s Ear,” and maybe load the music onto an iPod you could run from a pocket in her carrier. On the bright side, coming into the U.S. is a piece of cake. So far, no one’s ever taken a look at the carrier over my shoulder (or at the paperwork in my purse!).

  • Betty IsenhourA

    We are going to Puerto Vallarta Mexico with our little Whippet Azzie and wondered if there is a place in the Houston airport where he can relieve himself before boarding another plane. I didn’t know if there might be a designated place.

  • Joan

    We use Rescue Remedy on our dog for all flights and it works great. I sprinkle some in her carrier and give it to her periodically during the flight, no problems so far and she’s gone on a 14 hour flight. When she see’s the bottle she’ll open her mouth, she must know it helps or she likes the taste… I also line her carrier with pee pads and bring extra with me. I’ve tried getting her to use the pad in an airport bathroom when we haven’t had time to go past security, she won’t hear of it, holds it till she gets to grass.

  • Betty Isenhour

    Thank you for your blogs for all of us who have furry family members. You have been very helpful and I love the tips on things to carry with you for your pet. Thanks again and for your prompt response and pictures. Betty

  • Lesa

    I have boy dogs and the one who likes to mark was able to get out of his belly band all the time. I found an item called a Peekeeper that is amazing! I get it in denim and it looks like overalls! He cannot escape it. He won’t pee when he has it on but if your dog will, put a poise pad in it. I found it at peekeeper.com. I hope this helps. They are a bit pricey but well worth it.

  • Tati

    Great posts! So glad I could peruse as I finalize my checklist for flying to Italy with my toy American Eskimo. I’m actually going to do doggie diapers for her for the 9 hour flight. She just turns her nose up at pee pads. The Lufthansa agent was so sweet about telling me that I could keep her in my lap, in the carrier, during the flight. She’ll love that :-).

  • Rebecca Groskreutz

    Thanks for this great advice. I have a 5 lb min pin and will be taking her with me to Costa Rica in November. She has a metal pin in her hip from her first abusive home situation. Do you foresee any issues at security with that? Should I get some documentation from the vet? I’m nervous about that situation ! Thanks!

  • That’s a new one for me, Rebecca, but I completely understand your concern. I’d get the vet to write that note, and on proper letterhead — better safe than sorry.

  • Edith Olah

    Just discovered your web site out of desperation!
    Am traveling from Phoenix to Houston and then on to Louisiana (to help my daughter who is undergoing an operation)and am taking my 11 lb Yorkie (yes, she should be no more than 10lbs.:-) I am petrified as the most reasonable price was only with a stop over. However, on the way back we have a 3 hr lay over in Houston!!! She has never accepted pee pads and I considered getting diapers….I flew with her one other time, however it was a direct flight and she was so good- gave her the Rescue formula. She is already getting excited as she saw the suitcase-I am 71 yrs. old, have trouble walking and asked my daughter to arrange for a wheel chair (hate the thought of it). Can you please give me any other tip to ease my fear of this trip this Saturday!!!!!!!!!

  • Vivian

    All this information is amazingly helpful. I am taking my rescue Shih-Tzu from Japan to Central Canada for her first flight. What you have said here is good to know and will hopefully make our trip more uneventful. Going to get some lavender soap to put in her carrier and hope it works as well as the drops. Thanks to everyone for your help. We will be travelling to Costa Rica and Mexico too in the next few years. There doesn’t seem to be info on when and what to feed them. One mention of ice cubes but it was secondary so not sure what it was about. For first time travelers what does one do for the air-sickness possibility? I don’t want to buy a bunch of stuff we don’t/won’t need. Thanks.

  • Hello, Vivian! I haven’t heard, well, ANY reader stories that I can remember (and surely I would?) of a pup suffering from air sickness while flying. Anxiety about being enclosed in a carrier, yes, but nausea, no. So I’m hoping that won’t be an issue, and that your attention and pats and treats and a good deal of exercise before you head to the airport will help your pup handle the carrier. I’ve recommended ice cubes as a water source (licked from my palm), since Chloe will not sip water on a plane. Please let us know how it goes!

  • Hello, Edith — In a pinch, she might just accept the pee pad for once, but in my experience Chloe just HOLDS IT in that situation, and continues holding it for, well, 10 hours is her record. Your trip, all told, should be bearable for her. ARGH: just noticed that your trip is OVER by now. How did it go? I’m so sorry for the late late response — please forgive.

  • Joan

    My dog has flown 15 hour flights without an issue, I’m lucky. We’ll have a layover but because of time restrictions I can’t take her out of the airport for a break. I feed her a small meal at least 4 hours before, limit her water and take her out at the last possible minute in order to get through security. I give her rescue remedy by mouth and sprinkle it in her carrier, she has an old, trusted toy that I always put in the carrier as well as line the bottom under her blanket with pee pads just in case. During the flight I give her ice chips and a few treats, she’s fine. I usually give her a little water on the last leg since it’s a short flight, no accidents yet! I know she doesn’t mind, I get her flight bag out a few days before the trip and she jumps in and lays down, she’s excited to go. I can’t imagine traveling without her now, she’s a natural born traveler. Good luck, I hope your experience is as rewarding as mine.

  • Vivian

    Thanks. Will do – report I mean. The entire trip is made up of a taxi to the bus; 2 hours on the bus to the airport; 3 hour prior to check in; 2 hour flight; 2 hour layover; 10 hour flight; 2 hour layover; 3 hour flight. I hope I can get her out for walks between flights. She has diapers in case and I’ll feed her very little but have a really good nosh when we arrive in a strange city (for her). I’m really glad to have found this site. Thanks for the help and advice.

  • Victoria

    Your blog is amazing! And I certainly need all of the advise necessary. I’m going to relocate to Kobe, Japan. I’m Colombian and I live in Bogota. My dog is a 7 year old Yorkie and have never traveled by plane. The immigration policy for dogs going to Japan is very strict but doable. With my husband we are planning to fly from Bogota to LAX and stay a couple of days. And then go to Japan. I was wondering if you know by any chance if it is best for us to do this or to go straight to Japan? Do you know if in the flights I can carry Nacho inside the cabin? I’m really nervous about the stress that traveling can bring to him. Any advice you can give me will help a lot! And I already read your posts about traveling with a pet inside the cabin! What you write is really amazing! Thank you for that!

  • Hello, Victoria! And welcome to Dog Jaunt! I like your first idea of flying to LA and spending a couple of days there. It’s a VERY long flight from Bogota to Japan (heck, it’s a long flight from Bogota to LA), and I think it’d be a kindness to your new-to-traveling dog to break up the transition into a couple of phases. When we’ve gone to France with Chloe (from Seattle), we’ve chosen to stop at Dulles for a leg stretch and a bathroom break (Dulles has a pet relief area on the air side of security, which is still a rarity). It adds a few hours to the overall trip, but Chloe will apparently never pee on a plane, no matter how temptingly I arrange the pee pads in the onboard bathroom. Now then, about the in-cabin policy: What airline(s) are you considering? Here’s a useful chart, for starters: http://www.dogjaunt.com/guides/international-airline-pet-policies-for-in-cabin-travel/

  • Vivian

    You have to arrange with each airline on each flight to take the dog in the cabin. There is a limited number of “seats” allocated for animals. Some airlines (eg. JAL) do not accept animals in the cabin at all and some (Emirates) only on shorter flights. I’m taking my ShihTzu for the first time from Japan to Canada in a few weeks. Happy travels – yes, this blog is amazing for information.

  • Renee

    Love the site and great advice! My hubby and I are flying from Florida to Alaska with our fur baby Sparky who is a 7 year old yorkie. He has never been on a plane before, I am not a fan of flying to begin with lol and I’m really nervous. He will flying in cabin with us of course and I have made reservations for him through our airline (AA). We have 2 layovers in Charlotte then Phoenix… What carrier would be best to get? Any tips for me to help ease my anxiety? Sparky is very laid back and Im sure he will do fine .. just trying to get all info I can. Thanks so much!

  • Hi, Renee! Poke around the blog a bit and you’ll find a goodly number of posts about reducing anxiety (Sparky’s!), and hopefully all that reading will also reduce yours. A Yorkie would likely fit in the small SturdiBag (the next size down from the one my Chloe uses) — a terrific carrier, and a completely non-controversial size (so good-bye to that bit of anxiety!). You might also want to follow Dog Jaunt’s Facebook page, so you can see even more comments from other travelers with pets — my experience is one thing, but it’s also really comforting to see that lots of other people are doing this successfully!

  • Vivian

    I travelled from Seoul to Vancouver with my ShihTzu in the cabin. I took her to the handicapped bathroom before we left Seoul but she wouldn’t pee so she just got a bit of exercise and some water. She was in the carrier under the seat and in Vancouver we went outside where she peed a lot. We had 1 more leg to go but they said it was ok to take her out. As for icecubes – I let mine drink out of a plastic cup every couple of hours – she took what she needed and made it through the whole flight without a “mistake” in the carrier.

  • Katie

    Thank you so much for this website! My husband and I are moving to Seoul in July with our Westie who will be 6-months-old at the time of travel. We’ll be traveling from Virginia to Seattle (spending the night in the city) before we hop on our military flight to Korea. I am very nervous about how to help our puppy to be comfortable in the cabin. Other than pee pads to use in the bathroom to see if she needs to go and the occasional ice cube, do you have any other recommendations? This will the longest flight we’ve ever experienced, so the three of us are in it together with this new travel challenge and I’m definitely nervous about how to care for our puppy appropriately (while also not being a nuisance to the other passengers).

  • k

    If your pet usually holds their urine for 5 hours or overnight, they should be fine for a 5 plus flight. I feed my girls and water them a few hours before we leave the house, then check bags at the airport, and go back outside a fetch or go for walks until we need to get thru security. Hopefully they tire themselves and relax, as well as have bowel movements etc. My big suggestion is dont feed them too many treats as i did once before customs, because the salt made them have to pee so badly. They were shaking a crying and then peed on my foot. Poor things wont pee unless its grass so they really had to go. We travel for 20 hour flight with short layovers so another tip is try to map out where the pet areas are. Know they are usually OUTSIDE SECURITY so if you have a connection, make sure you schedule time for reentering security,going thru extra precautions in customs, and then trekking your poor animal across the airport to find ‘pet area’ aka grass on the side of the highway, or gravel area,etc. Good luck!

  • Hi, Katie! In recent years, I’ve moved away from just giving Chloe treats during flight, to actually, gradually, feeding her part (and sometimes all) of her next meal, kibble bit by kibble bit. It sounds like you’ll be on a humdinger of a flight, and you’ll want to keep her blood sugar and whatnot balanced. What else — lots of pats, especially at times when she might need them, like during takeoff, landing, and turbulence. I know of one reader who sticks her foot in through the top of her pet’s carrier and leaves it there for comfort. Give her a lot of exercise before you leave, and hopefully exhaustion will carry her through as many flying hours as possible. If you have reason to believe that she’ll be noisy, you might take a leaf from another reader’s book and prepare “bribes” for your fellow passengers: http://www.dogjaunt.com/posts/readers-tip-for-flying-with-an-anxious-dog-chocolate-plus-a-report-on-deltas-carry-on-policy/ You might also/instead bring a little something for your flight attendants — maybe some individually-wrapped chocolates, so they know they’re safe, with a gift tag that’s your dog’s picture? It might buy you some indulgence as the hours roll on…. I hope that you all just sleep — please let us know how it goes! Every good wish with this new chapter in your lives, and thank you for your service.

  • Carrin

    You have NO IDEA how happy I am to have stumbled upon this blog! My husband and I are avid travelers. In the past we just left our dog babies at home with a sitter, but we just rescued a “new” one year old Jack Russell mix little girl, who we named Siobhan, and she is our darling girl now. While we’re aware there will be times when we travel, i.e. cruises, where she will not be able to go with us, we seriously plan to take her with us whenever we can. Thank you so much for all these informative postings. I’ll be back frequently.

  • Kari

    I am so glad to come across your blog! I will be traveling with my Cavalier King Charles from San Diego to France. She needs open heart surgery and France is the only place that will perform the surgery. She needs to be on a diuretic so she needs to drink constantly to prevent kidney failure and, of course, that makes her pee every few hours. She has never flown and really doesn’t go on outings except to the vet. She will whine if she is indoors and needs to go potty. I don’t know how to handle this very long plane trip. Any thoughts on dog diapers? It would be great if they worked like a baby diaper and I can just change her (assuming she would pee in the diaper).

  • Mary-Alice

    Kari, every good wish to you and your girl — I hope and trust that the surgery is a success. In the meantime, diapers are certainly worth a try, but you might also consider this approach, from another dog travel blogger: http://montecristotravels.com/blog/the-indoor-potty-a-k-a-the-loo/ Her pup is much smaller than our Cavaliers, and that bit of AstroTurf is petite, but in combination with a pee pad it would work, and might be more comfortable for your dog.

  • K

    Poor little thing. I struggle with this myself. The diapers are a good; however the hard part is that they cry forever until they finally give in and pee. My little dogs were trained to go outside and absolutely refuse to go inside. They cry until they pee themselves. So sad. I tried ‘scenting’ the pee pad with potty Rainer, and that didn’t work. I think next time I will bring some real grass on a pee pad because it worked to place leaves on a concrete belcony… Hope some of this helps. Good luck on your baby’s surgery!

  • Kari

    Mary-Alice: That is a wonderful idea and I believe it will work! I watched the video on how to use the “grass” with the pee pad and I now have a plan. Thank you for your kind words and good thoughts.

  • Kari

    K: Your comment definitely helped. I think my dog will cry, also. I am going to try a square of fake grass on top of a pee pad and hopefully that will work. I think I will still have a diaper on her just in case. Since she has never flown, I want to have all bases covered! Thank you!

  • K

    One more suggestion: maybe try to train to her to whatever method you are going to use, before you go. Then hopefully she will understand it is OK to go there. Again, good luck!

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