Moving or Traveling with Your Dog


Airplane Flight for elderly dog - tranquilize or not

Question: We are moving to Italy from San Francisco. We have an old Brittany (11Years), she has bad hips, Cushings Disease and Thyroid condition. She takes Rimadyl, Anipryl and Soloxine. The flight is nonstop but takes 12 hrs. The compartment is heated, but we are still very concern about her. Should we feed her before flight, if so how much before the flight, and what about water.

It is my understanding that we should not tranquilize her, because of all her medications. Any other helpul hints we should know about. I think I will need the tranquilizer? Thank you and best regards Tia

Answer: Tia-

There is a very strong correlation between sedation or tranquilization and death during airplane flights for pets who are not flying in the cabin with their owners. If you think sedation is really necessary it is best to use approximately 1/2 of the usual dosage in order to compensate for the lower pressure in the cargo holds of airliners, based on the advice of a commission that studied this problem in traveling pets.

I think that I would withhold food the day of travel for my pet, just because it would be more comfortable for the pet if there wasn't an urge to defecate during the flight. A crate with a grate on the bottom and perhaps some absorbent pads would minimize discomfort from urinating during the flight. A dog with Cushing's disease should have water available. It might help to freeze the water in one water bowl so that it thawed during the flight and provided a water source later in the flight (use two water bowls in this case, obviously). Make sure your dog has access to water up to the last minute before the flight and then as soon as possible on landing. Since you are traveling with your dog, picking her up at the airport shouldn't be delayed but this is an important factor when providing for the safety of pets that are traveling, so make sure arrangements for handling her at the airport are secure.

It is a good idea to call the Italian embassy about a month prior to leaving just to make sure there isn't some regulatory change that you will have to meet (new vaccination requirements, etc.) Make sure you make arrangements for international health certificates enough in advance that getting official endorsements isn't a problem.

Most dogs travel without difficulty but there are some times when there are problems. Having your pet's medical records, rabies certificates, and a supply of medications sufficient to get established and find a veterinarian in Italy would be a good idea for minimizing complications.

Mike Richards, DVM 8/13/2001

Sedation of Dogs (in aircraft) - NOT

Question: Hello - many years ago I was bringing an Old English Sheepdog puppy back from the UK to the US, on an American airline (forgotten which one) and when I arranged the flight, the airline people said words to the effect that "you will sedate him, of course". However, I had checked with the RSPCA in London and they told me that on *no account* should a dog be sedated for flight. Their reasoning was not the oxygen problem, but with turbulence and general movement of the animal's container. Under sedation it would not be able to control its body, whereas *not* being sedated allowed it to balance itself and to adjust to the movement of the carrier. If there was turbulence,it ws feared that the animal would just bounce around like a lost parcel!

Regards - D.C.

Answer: D.C.-

There are several good reasons for not using sedatives on airplane flights, as you point out.

Mike Richards, DVM 10/22/99

Quarantine when moving to England

Question: I am planning on moving to England in the next year and I understand that my pets need to be quarrantined for 6 months. I am very concerned about what this experience might do to them.

Answer: England was going to have a program in which they would accept a protective titer to rabies in lieu of quarantine but I do not know the status of the program currently. The amount of antibody (measured by titration, thus the term "titer") that is necessary to provide protection from rabies virus is known. So in theory, an animal that has been vaccinated in the past, within time parameters that ensure it wouldn't have been vaccinated after being bitten by a rabid animal and has a titer above the known protective level would be very unlikely to be incubating rabies. So quarantining these pets may be unnecessary.

The best way to find out what the status of the quarantine laws are currently would be to contact the British Embassy directly and ask them.

If you do have to consider quarantine for six months it is going to be hard for both you and them, based on the experiences of some of our clients. We have a number of military and government retirees in our practice and several have been through quarantine procedures with their pets in Hawaii, Australia and England. The general consensus is that no matter how hard the caretakers try, the situation is still stressful for all concerned.

The big problem is the separation, the change in routines, lifestyles and just plain love and attention -- and then the stress of reuniting and getting back to all those routines, too.

Still, I wouldn't leave my pets behind, either. Hopefully, there will be an opportunity to check titers for rabies in lieu of quarantine. It is worth asking, at least.

Mike Richards, DVM 4/4/2000

Merging households

Question: We are merging two households, one with four cats, all of which are indoor/outdoor cats and one with two dogs, both golden retrievers. The first attempt to introduce the dogs and cats didn't go very well, with Bailey chasing the cats, although seemingly without the intention to actually harm them. Three of the cats are pretty confident and calm, but Bonnie is declawed and is fairly timid.

I are anticipating moving into the dog's home, since it has the fenced in yard. I have some time before the anticipated move.

Answer: This is actually a good place to start. Much better than if you were moving in tomorrow!

There are several concerns that have to be addressed. Some of them are: 1) everyone must be safe and unharmed at the end of the "merger" 2) everyone should get along, if possible 3) there should be minimal property damage

The best way to address the first concern is to start to introduce the dogs to the cats at this time. I think it would be best to do this at the cat's house. The reason for this is that the dogs won't be as confident there as they are at home and the cats will know all the escape routes, just in case there is a problem. The dogs should be leashed when they come into the house and it would be best to practice some basic obedience commands, especially "sit" prior to bringing the dogs to the house. It might even be best just to stop the cats up in one room of the house and let the dogs explore a little for one or two visits prior to letting them see the cats at all. Then keep the dogs under control but allow the cats to have access to the room. In most cases, the cats are going to be very cautious in their approach to the dogs or will choose not to introduce themselves. This is OK. Just keep bringing the dogs by so they get used to the idea that the cats do exist and are used to their smell and presence. Once everyone is reasonably calm at the cat's house, then consider moving to the next phase, that of introducing the cats to the new home.

This is going to be the really tricky part. The first thing to do is to "cat proof" the house. Put away precious knick-knacks. Move stuff off shelves where it can be pushed onto the floor. Make sure there aren't any tempting "non-exits" like sliding glass doors or picture windows where the cats might be tempted to crash into them in a frantic attempt to leave in a hurry, not recognizing the fact that there is a pane of glass there. Check around for other things that might harm the cats like access to attics, holes in sheetrock walls they can get into, openings in appliances, etc.

If I was going to attempt this move and I wasn't too worried about boarding the dogs or asking a friend to keep them for the weekend, I would give the cats a few days "head start" and introduce them to the new house while the dogs were away. I guess you could do this just by swapping houses for a few days before the big move, too. If the cats are comfortable and know where the hiding places are they are less likely to try to stand and fight and more likely to disappear if they are bothered by the dogs.

When moving cats it is a really good idea to keep them confined in the new home for several days to a week or so before letting them out. This limits "panic attacks" in which the cat tries to find its way back to the old home when it gets confused outside at the new home.

If it is possible to let the cats get used to the new home by themselves for a few days it would probably be a good idea to then confine them to one room or one section of the house and let the dogs come home. After a day or so, put the dogs in the confinement area and let the cats roam the home again. If there isn't excessive interest shown by the dogs in the presence of the cats, then allow them to meet, again. Have the dogs under control when this happens. Hopefully the outcome will be better. An alternative to keeping them separate is to crate the dogs and let the cats have free roam of the house until they get used to seeing each other. This usually only works well if the dogs are pretty used to being crated, though.

If it looks like there is going to be trouble it may be necessary to consider medications for Bonnie, such as an anti-anxiety medication like buspirone (Buspar Rx) or diazepam (Valium Rx) so that she isn't as likely to provoke attacks through fear based behaviors. It might also help to sedate Bailey, at least for a day or two at first. I would try one round without medications, at least, though.

Be prepared for confrontations. Have some thick towels handy for handling scared cats (or something else that has worked well for you in the past. Make sure there is one good escape route, at least, for the cats. Don't put your hands between the dogs and the cats if there is a confrontation as either one could seriously injure you. Find some other way to separate or distract them.

As long as the dogs aren't malicious in their interest in the cats, this will probably work out fine.

There is a pretty good set of advice on adding a pet to a household in Karen Overall's book "Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Small Animals" . This isn't exactly the same situation but it might be worth reading if your vet has this book, too, since it is close.

If there is a veterinary or animal behaviorist in your area they can help in the preparations or if problems occur. It isn't too likely that you are lucky enough to be close to a certified animal behaviorist but don't overlook their help if you are.

Hope this helps some.

Mike Richards, DVM 3/16/2000

Sedation and airplane travel

Q: Dear Dr. Mike,

Would you please tell me the actual pros and cons of sedating my 65 pound three year old doberman for a 10 hour flight (as accompanied baggage).

She is a fairly nervous girl, usually throws up in the car after about twenty minutes, and I'm sure she'll be hysterical. But I've read so much about NOT sedating animals when they travel...I'd rather she was nervous and slightly sick for a few days after her flight than that she die in the cargo hold.

My friends sedate their two yellow labs with acepromazine (as well as their cat) when they take them on long flights.

Natasha's flight is on the 12th. Please respond soon.

Thanks for a great newsletter Wendy

A: Wendy-

I can not cite the exact reference (although I believe it was an AVMA Journal review), but in the last couple of years a study was done on deaths of pets during airline flights. Something like 90% of the pets that died had been sedated. The conclusion of the study's authors was that sedation leads to a decrease in oxygen utilization. Since the cargo hold is pressurized at an equivalent pressure to something like 8000 feet (so oxygen is decreased in the cargo hold atmosphere, compared to sea level), this presents a problem for pets with any other problem that interferes with oxygen utilization and makes them more likely to die during an airline flight.

In addition, it has been noted that handling crates is difficult, even when airline personnel are trying to be as conscientious as possible. It is inevitable that some crates will be dropped or jostled and a pet that is not sedated is more likely to be able to react quickly to problems like this and better able to keep its balance.

If sedation seems to be necessary (for some pets it probably is), then use about half the recommended dosage, or less. It is a good idea to try the proposed dosage prior to the flight and to try to use only enough sedative to produce slight drowsiness but no interference with walking or moving. It can take a couple of tries to figure out what that dose is.

It is not just the flight that you have to worry about. Pets die while waiting to be put on the airplane if the weather is too hot or too cold at their destination or departure points. This time of the year that isn't too likely to be a problem but it is worth keeping in mind. While it is scary to trust your pet to an airline it is generally safe.

Many of my patients have flown successfully and I can't remember any of them dying. We did have one pet that developed pretty severe separation anxiety after the flight so I assume she was pretty upset by it. I can't remember if she was sedated during the flight.

My best advice is don't sedate her unless you think it is really important to do so. I wouldn't sedate a dog of mine for a flight unless I had really good reason to believe it was necessary.

I'll try to find the reference for you if I can.

Mike Richards, DVM


Q: Dear Doctor Richards,

My husband I continue to have this discussion regarding sedating our girl prior to her flight from Costa Rica to San Francisco (California). Under what circumstances WOULD you sedate an animal?

She lives in San Jose, Costa Rica, which is about 6,000 feet up, perhaps slightly less. She IS in excellent health, but she does get very nervous/vomits when she is out of her environment, in a car, etc. My husband is concerned that since she is a doberman, cargo handlers will be very nervous about her crate and she will bark at them.

I feel sure she'll be terrified and wouldn't think of barking/terrorizing the cargo people.

Thanks again,


A: Wendy-

I can not think of a situation in which I would sedate one of my own dogs for travel on an airplane. I think that I would probably sedate a patient if he or she had been on a flight previously and clearly had psychological problems from the experience and a client requested it, though.

This is a difficult issue for many people. Obviously everyone would like the flight to be as easy for a pet as possible, yet there is a clear risk in sedating pets for airline travel. How much comfort is there in sedation? I really don't know. How much risk is there in using sedatives? If the dosage recommendations are followed EXACTLY, or if LESS than the recommended dosage is administered the risk is minimized but there still appears to be some risk in using sedatives based on the recent review of deaths in pets on airline flights.

I still lean towards no sedation. The cargo handlers know the dog is in a crate and not a threat to them. They won't be frightened by her barking or even growling at them. I think most dogs settle down after a few minutes when they realize that nothing awful is happening to them. A few are probably nervous the whole flight but they may even be more nervous if they are frightened by the travel and the odd sensations brought on by sedatives.

Please ask your vet for an opinion as well. He or she will know your dog better and be able to give an assessment based on her personality as well as the risks.

I hope that whatever you decide the trip goes well for you and for her.

Mike Richards, DVM

Moving older dog

Q: Hi. I have a 14 year-old cocker spaniel, Midget, who seems to inexplicably (even by the vet's admission) be getting healthier and more energetic with each year, overcoming a variety of illnesses. Despite this, I'm concerned about what effect moving (this Friday) will have on her. She has spent 99% of her life in this house, and obviously has long since claimed her favorite spots. An adjustment like this will turn her life's routines upside down. Can you please tell me if this will cause her any harm & what I can do to smooth the transition? Thanks! Brian

A: Brian- Most of the time dogs tolerate moves without too much difficulty as long as a few familiar items go with them, such as their food bowls, blankets, beds, toys, etc. It can help a lot to keep the old furniture for a while after moving as this is reassuring, too. I know that many times moving is a good time to get rid of furniture that has needed to go for some time but it can be reassuring to a pet to have their favorite couch or chair in the new place.

Mike Richards, DVM


Michael Richards, D.V.M. co-owns a small animal general veterinary practice in rural tidewater Virginia. Dr. Richards graduated from Iowa State University's College of Veterinary Medicine in 1979, and has been in private practice ever since. Dr. Richards has been the director of the PetCare Forum...