Before shipping, your pet needs a proper carrier, though some airlines provide ones that you have to use. You'll have quite the shopping checklist; for starters, the carrier has to be big enough that the animal can sit, stand and lie down comfortably. You can put two puppies or two kittens in the same carrier if they're under six months old or under 20 pounds each [source: Duncan]. Look for carriers with a solid floor in case nature calls for your pet in transit, but up top, check for good ventilation. Openings in the kennel must make up at least 14 percent of the total wall space [source: Duncan]. However, you don't want slats so wide that your animal could hop right out, or a door that doesn't close securely.
You should mark the carrier according to the airlines' specifications, but generally there needs to be an arrow showing which way is up, indications that there's a live animal inside, and the name and address of the person who would most like to see that pet again. There should be handles or grips on the outside so that a cargo loader has no risk of losing a finger to an angry animal.
While many of us may self-medicate with a sleeping pill or a stiff drink before a long flight, resist the urge to do the same for your pet. When an animal dies in the course of being shipped, sedation is usually the cause [source: IPATA]. While it seems like sedation would be beneficial in getting a rowdy animal, wound up from the excitement and stress of traveling, the sedation can have a dangerous effect once the animal is settled in the plane and in the air. For one thing, the effects of a sedative during the flight are too difficult to predict beforehand; it may have too strong an impact once the animal is in the cargo hold, where conditions are pressurized and dark. Rather than drugging your pet, make travel a natural high by getting them accustomed to their surroundings before the trip even starts. Giving your pet some time in the kennel in advance, rather than having the carrier be a travel day surprise, will likely relax the animal during the journey.
Even if your pet isn't jumpy, you don't want to take the chance that someone might see the contents of your pet's stomach. The USDA requires that you offer your pet food in the four hours before a flight, but to avoid upset stomachs you should avoid offering the animal any heavy meals. Hydration is OK. Mark the time of the last meal on the kennel; airlines are required to give the pets water every 12 hours and food every 24 hours, unless they're under 16 weeks old (those lucky dogs or cats can eat every 12 hours) [source: Yenckel]. But since airline food is fairly questionable even for those of the human persuasion, you have to provide the in-flight food and beverage for your beloved pet. The carrier should include water and food dishes that are well-secured, yet easy for cargo handlers to reach.
In addition to feeding your pet four hours before, you'll also want to walk the pet. Get to the airport with plenty of time to spare; if you think making a plane at the last minute is traumatic, you don't want to have that experience with a pet in tow. Once you kiss your pet good-bye, it can be agonizing to wait for the joyful reunion. When you see your pet again, just pretend that those big sloppy kisses or dainty licks are signs of your pet's gratitude for planning all those pet shipping details.
For more on traveling with your furry friends, see the links on the next page.