How to Choose the Right Dog Travel Crate for Your Dog
So you’ve chosen a destination for your holiday in France with your pooch, or you’ve landed the perfect job…but it’s abroad. What do you do about your travelling with your dog? Thanks to the introduction of the Pet Passport, travel with your dog is a lot easier than it once was, but you need to make sure that you choose the right dog car crate, not just for the sake of your pet’s comfort, but because the last thing you want when you check in at the airport of ferry terminal, is to be turned away for not meeting stringent pet transit requirements. With so many dog car crates and airline crates available, how do you know where to start, and what’s the difference in price? Does paying more, guarantee that your crate is better?
First Things First!
The first thing that you will need to know is whether your dog will fly with you in the cabin, or on its own in the cargo
hold below the plane. Not all airlines will allow pets in the cabin, and those that do, will have regulations on the height and weight of not just the crate, but your dog. As an owner of a small breed dog, this is something I’ve faced on numerous flights in the USA, Caribbean, across Russia and the Baltic’s, Turkey, France, and United Kingdom.
On the whole travel is much simpler outside of the UK where pet travel is more common place, but dogs can fly within the UK and in and out of the UK too (depending on the airline). For travel outside of the UK, my dog was allowed to travel in a small airline approved canvas cargo bag under the seat in front of me, but for flying to the UK from abroad she would have had to fly in the cargo in a solid crate. (I’ve actually managed to avoid this previously, because flying her into the UK was a lot more expensive and complicated than simply flying in to France and then taking the ferry or train across the Channel back to the UK. It certainly saved the stress for her and meant that she didn’t end up in another building a long way from the airport terminal, with boarding fees, etc).
So the first thing you need to do, is to find out which airlines allow pets on board, whether they fly dogs in the cabin or hold, and whether your dog’s size will affect this. If you have a large dog, then there won’t be an option, your dog will have to fly in the cargo hold. Even with a small breed dog, be careful to check regulations. On one occasion I ended up at a very hot airport, with my dog being measured because it looked like we were 0.5cm too tall to be allowed, but with a bit of puppy dog eyes from my dog, it was soon sorted.
Measuring Your Dog
As a rule of thumb, to get the length for the crate it is worth measuring your dog from the tip of its tail to the end of its nose and adding another 4 inches to this, to be on the safe side. You then need to work out the height, so you should measure from the ground to the top of your dog’s head, and again add an extra four inches for safety. Airport staff will generally want to see that your dog is able to lie down and to turn around within the cargo crate.
Next, you will need to weigh your dog, allowing for any changes in weight before you travel, even things like Christmas and your dog receiving a few more treats than usual can tip you over and cost you more, or stop you from flying. It is the weight more than the size of the crate that the airline will be concerned about and not all airlines are able to move and handle extremes of weight. You will need details of cargo dimensions and weight before you can even book your dog’s flight. Contact the pet reservation section of your airline as early as you can, because there is usually a restriction on the number of pets allowed per flight. If you have several dogs, you might need to book several flights and dogs are not always allowed to fly on their own.
For most airlines that allow pet transport, a dog that is no more than 18 inches from the tip of its tail to the front of its shoulders, and no more than 12-14 inches tall will be allowed to travel in the cabin with you, anything larger will need to fly in the cargo section. Never try to squeeze your dog into a carrier that is too small! The airline will have you bring out your dog for security purposes at screening and if they see that your dog is too large, then neither of you will be allowed to fly. Don’t add any more stress to your journey than you need to.
Choosing a Pet Travel Crate
The most important thing to look for when choosing a pet travel crate is that it is IPATA or IATA compliant (International Air Transport Association). If you are buying your crate from a pet store or online, then this will usually be written on the label or in the product description. I’m personally a big fan of the Vari Kennel range of crates because they have stood be in good stead over the last twelve years of travel, and though they are middle range in price, they wear well, are universally available (including spare parts or replacements if you ever need them) and airlines seem to like them. Between my dog and three cats I have a little collection, all of which were purchased in different countries (having a trusted brand in mind, was incredibly helpful when I didn’t speak or read the local language too). My dog travels in the cabin with me in a canvas bag, and my cats have travelled in a large, solid crate (which can be used for my dog if needed), and a small, solid crate that’s good for travel on very small planes between islands where a large crate would not fit.
Both canvas and solid pet travel crates will need to have adequate ventilation and have good fastenings so that your pet does not escape (spring lock fasteners are preferable because the last thing you want is for your dog to work out how to open them). For a solid crate, nuts and bolts are preferable to plastic fasteners, but these will already have been approved with an IPATA or IATA certified crate. One of the reasons I like the solid crates I use is that they often come with wheels and a handle for pulling them along, but these can be removed when you check in as some airlines don’t allow them. The airline will usually have a lot of stickers to attach to the crate so make sure that the ventilation isn’t covered too much.
For a solid crate, the airline staff should be able to provide your dog with food and water from the outside of the crate, especially on long flights.
Pet Comfort Inside a Travel Crate
You will want to cover the bottom of the crate with puppy pads or other absorbent material so that any liquid does not spill from the crate, particularly if your pet gets stressed. Take them to the toilet as late as possible before your flight, and as soon as you can when you land. If you are changing flights, you might be allowed to collect your pet in between and give them a leg stretch. For longer flights, the pet cargo will do this for you in between flights.
You can include a familiar blanket in the crate, but don’t go overboard otherwise you’ll have to empty everything out when you go through security. A blanket will smell like you and be familiar for your dog, as well as providing a little comfort to sit on, and a place to hide if it all gets a bit much. You will need to strike a balance between providing comfort and keeping the crate a good temperature. You don’t want your dog to overheat, but you want them to have warmth if the cargo area gets cool.
Before You Travel
If your dog is a seasoned traveler like mine, then the stress of travel will be minimal and will be something that they enjoy. Make sure that you have the pet cargo crate set up at home, so that your dog is free to sit inside and get familiar with the space, you might even want to give treats so that your dog has a positive association with the crate. Don’t just bring it out on the days when you visit the vet or go travelling.
If you are lucky enough to have a small dog that can travel with you in the cabin, then you will likely find that some airports allow dogs to walk on a lead once you are inside the airport terminal, but not all airports allow this so check first. I love to travel with my dog and we have one favourite airport where we sit and watch the planes, she watches the people and befriends passing children, and I get to eat cake and drink nice coffee. Since we fly to this airport often, and have a long wait for our connecting flight, it has become pretty routine for us, much like catching a bus or getting in the car to go for a walk. Stress free travel is very possible, and pet crates needn’t make you feel bad.
And finally, if you do fly with your dog and you find yourself worrying about them not being put on the plane, or where they are with the pet cargo team, a little trick I have is to attach a tag to my cargo crate and to connect this to an app on my phone. I use a Chipolo device, but there are many different versions on the market these days.
Written by Sarah Weldon
Sarah is a British explorer and ice swimmer, who loves nothing more than hikes in the mountain with her Italian Greyhound and cosy nights by the fire with her three devious cats.