Travelling with pets

Learn everything you need to know about taking your pet overseas.

There are two different ways to fly with your pets. The first is to take their crates with you as checked baggage and the second is to mark them as cargo. You can only take registered service dogs into the aircraft cabin with you, and you should contact your airline ahead of time to make the necessary arrangements.

  • If you’re flying a pet domestically, you can usually take their crates through as checked baggage, although restrictions vary depending on the airline.
  • To fly a pet internationally, you will need to go through an IPATA-approved pet shipper.

This guide explains how to travel with pets, including the rules you need to follow, how to find the best airline for pets and making sure your insurance covers them both en route and at their final destination.

Rules for flying with pets

Regardless of whether you’re flying domestically or internationally, you will need to follow some rules when travelling with pets.

  • You need a suitable container. Airlines will usually only accept IATA-approved containers. These need to meet international guidelines for animal welfare and need to have enough room for your pet to comfortably lie down, stand up and turn around.
  • Dog breed restrictions. Some breeds, in particular brachycephalic dog breeds including pugs, bulldogs, Boston terriers, Japanese spaniels and Pekingese, have special conditions you need to be aware of.
  • Calm animals only. Your pet needs to be used to its container and not unduly aggressive.
  • Age limits apply. Airlines often won’t accept animals younger than 8 weeks or older than 12 years.
  • Pets must be in good health. Some airlines require a vet certificate for all animals, while others will specifically require one if your pet is particularly young or old, has recently given birth, is pregnant or has other health issues.

Guidelines for pet containers

IATA-approved pet containers are the way to fly. They have to be big enough for your pet to comfortably stand up, lie down and turn around. If more than one animal is sharing a crate, all of them need to be comfortable.

Depending on which airline you’re flying with, and what kind of plane it is, different size restrictions and weight limits might apply. You should check these before booking your ticket.

Plastic isn’t always suitable. A nervous flyer might break out of a plastic container. You should consider wood or metal if there’s a chance your pet might do this. The container also needs to be strong enough to withstand any outside bumps and should not be collapsible.

  • Pay special attention to the latches and make sure they’re secure. If the crate is a two-part build, you need to secure both halves with screws or nuts and bolts instead of plastic clips.
  • The container needs to have adequate ventilation, especially if it’s carrying a brachycephalic dog.
  • Line the cage or crate with waterproof, absorbent material and ensure that no liquid will escape.
  • The container should be clean, in good condition and ready to fly.

What to do before your flight

There are a few things you can do before take-off to make your pet’s flight more comfortable.

  • Play with your pet or take them for a walk to tire them out before heading to the airport.
  • Give them plenty of water before the flight, but don’t give them a meal for at least a few hours before take-off.
  • Make sure there’s a comfort item in their container.
  • Bring their vet certificate with you and attach their collar ID to their container.
  • Make sure the container has water and a waterproof mat.
  • Remember to pack the right toys, medication, food and other pet-care items for your trip.

If you’re nervous about saying goodbye to your pet before the flight, try not to show it too much. Dogs and cats are perceptive, and if they pick up your nervousness, it might catch.

Returning to the UK

You can enter or return to the UK with your pet as long as your pet meets the following criteria:

  • It has been microchipped.
  • It has a pet passport or third-country official veterinary certificate.
  • It has been vaccinated against rabies – it will also need a blood test if you’re travelling from an “unlisted country”

Dogs must also usually have a tapeworm treatment.

Your pet may be put into quarantine for up to four months if you do not follow these rules – or your pet may be refused entry if you travelled by sea. You’re also responsible for any fees or charges that may apply as a result of your pet being in quarantine.

You must follow extra rules in the following situations:

  • The animal will be sold in the UK from outside the EU or inside the EU
  • The animal will be re-homed in the UK from inside or outside the EU

Taking pets on international flights

If you need to fly an animal overseas, the procedures are the same for all airlines. You will generally have to book your pet’s crate through to your destination as cargo, instead of checked baggage. Do this by finding an IPATA-approved shipper. They can work with you to find a flight path that takes your pet where they need to go.

You can only take pets on your flights as checked baggage when flying domestically.

Taking pets on domestic flights

If you’re taking your pets with you on a domestic flight as checked baggage, conditions and costs will vary between airlines. If you’re not careful, you might end up booking a flight with an airline that won’t accept your pet.

In particular, it’s worth paying attention to size restrictions, fees and restrictions on the types of pets that you can transport.

What to know about pet travel insurance

Finding the right insurance is an important part of making sure you’ve done everything you can to keep your pet safe. A lot of people believe that travel insurance will cover pets as though they were luggage because they’re not riding in the plane’s cabin, but this is not the case.

A travel insurance policy’s luggage or personal belongings inclusion won’t cover your pets and neither will its medical emergency cover.

For their health, you need pet insurance instead, which often includes travel insurance for pets to help cover the cost of veterinary bills that you might encounter overseas. As always, it’s important to read the fine print!

Meanwhile, consider the pet essentials, such as medication or pet travel documents, that you need to bring with you when considering your own travel insurance policy. You should find cover that can help if these items are lost, damaged or otherwise go missing.

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