Shipping a dog: What you need to know

dogcratesBy Bill Mayeroff

Moving, especially a long distance, isn’t easy. 

You have to organize and pack your life into boxes, transport it (or have someone else transport it) to your new location, get it into your new home and unpack it. It’s stressful for everyone involved. 

That process is even tougher if you have a dog. If you’re driving, you can put the dog in your car and hit the road. But what if you have to fly across the country? Or overseas? It becomes a lot more difficult.

Luckily, there are myriad companies around to assist you with the process. Some will get your pet just from one airport to another. Some will also offer temporary boarding as well as home delivery services. But as I and most dog owners know, leaving your dog in someone else’s hands is scary. We all worry about our pets and their safety. 

That begs this question: What exactly do you need to know before putting your beloved canine companion in the hands of one of these companies?

To answer it, we’ve compiled a handy list of tips and questions to keep in mind before making transport arrangements for your dog.

First and foremost, plan well in advance. A lot of these companies require several weeks’ lead time, so you should be ready to purchase the transport service at least two months before you actually move. Plan further ahead of time if you can. In that same vein, make sure your pet is healthy. Most of these companies require documentation that your pet is healthy enough to be shipped and if you’re moving to another country, even more documentation is likely needed (but moving a dog internationally is a whole other post).

Next, you need to figure out your own needs. Will you be able to get your pet to and from airport cargo terminals? Or will you need door-to-door service? Will you need to board your dog for any length of time after you arrive in your new location? A lot of pet shipping companies offer boarding services, so take advantage if you need to. It’s best to err on the side of caution. If you think there’s a chance you won’t be able to spare the time to get your dog from an airport, make arrangements to have it boarded. It’s much better to arrange for it and not need it than it is to need it and not have arrangements.

Once you’ve figured out those things, there’s still a lot you need to know, but there’s one very important question to ask ahead of all others: 

How does this work?

Luckily, this is a fairly easy question to answer. Most pet transport companies’ websites have sections that lay out the process in (sometimes excruciating) detail. If you can’t find it online, call the company and ask them to take you through the process step by step. If they can’t/won’t do it or if they can’t seem to answer all your questions, look elsewhere. 

As a side note, remember this: The only stupid question is the question you don’t ask. Don’t be afraid to ask anything you need in order to be confident that your pet will be safe. The best companies will be happy to do whatever they can to assuage all your fears. 

Other things to consider: 

  • Cancellations – what happens if your pet’s flight is cancelled? 
  • Are there weather restrictions? If you’re shipping your pet by air, it’s likely traveling as cargo on a commercial flight. Many airlines will transport pets from their cargo terminals to the planes in climate controlled vehicles, but if they decide it’s not safe to do that, your pet’s arrival may be delayed. Find out what weather restrictions may come into play. 
  • You may be tempted to sedate your pet for a long flight. But the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) advises against it. From the AVMA’s website: “It is recommended that you DO NOT give tranquilizers to your pet when traveling by air because it can increase the risk of heart and respiratory problems. Short-nosed dogs and cats sometimes have even more difficulty with travel.” As a result, some companies might not allow you to ship a sedated pet. And if you believe the AVMA (which you should), it’s not a good idea anyway. So don’t do it.
  • Related to the previous bullet point: Know your dog’s temperament. How well does it handle stress? Travel is stressful enough on humans who know what’s going on. It’s far more stressful for a dog who has absolutely no control over what’s happening to it. Can your dog handle that? 

I know this seems like a lot to think about (and it is), but as long as you take your time and make sure all your questions are answered, you can alleviate a lot of the stress associated with shipping your pet.

For further information, you should also check out the AVMA’s frequently asked questions about traveling with your pet.


Look at these two handsome gents.

After five years as a newspaper reporter in western Illinois and two more as a freelancer in Chicago, Bill Mayeroff‘s life has gone to the dogs in the best way possible. These days, Bill lives in Chicago with his terrier mix, Chester, and works at a small, no-kill animal shelter while he studies to be a professional dog trainer at FetchFind Academy. Bill also blogs about his two favorite things – dogs and beer – at Pints and Pups. 

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