How To Crate Train Your Pet for Air Travel

Getting Your Dog or Cat Ready to Fly in a Cargo Crate

Preparing your pet for crate travel requires you to start at least one month in advance by acclimating your pet to a new crate, changing their feeding and watering routine, and beginning to use calming training or supplements.

1. Pet Crate Size Matters!

To find the right cargo crate for your pet: measure your pet nose to the base of their tail, width, and height, add 3”-5” for room on each side (top, sides, front, back).

Choose plastic, fiberglass or metal material with metal fasteners.  Next, the outside must include space bars/handles, and ventilation on 2 side (domestic), 3 sides (international)

Snub Nose Dogs and Cats will need a larger crate. Many airlines require a pet crate that is at least 4”/10 cm larger than the dog or cat. 

This additional space allows for extra ventilation and air flow. Airlines that accept brachycephalic breeds require pet owners to have an airline or IPATA approved flight pet crate that is at least one size larger than the size for a pet of equal size.

How to Measure a Pet For Cargo Crate
How to Measure a Pet For Cargo Crate

Pet Cargo Crate Requirements for Airlines-A COMPLETE Guide

2. Start Training Your Pet with the Bottom of the Pet Crate Only

Leave the top off at first and let your pet explore the crate and begin to get used to it being a part of their environment.

3. Add Comfort Items to Your Pet Crate

Your pet can begin to accept the new crate’s smell and feel when you put their bedding and toys inside.  This is a good way to lure your pup or kitty in if your pet keeps finding their favorite item in or near the crate.

Having just the bottom half of the crate out in a familiar spot and every time you see their favorite toy laying somewhere, pick it up and toss it in the crate.

This way they will always find it and associate with the crate and the toy–therefore, associating the crate with a positive experience. 

4. Add the Top Half of the Pet Crate

Once your pet has accepted the bottom of the crate, add the top and continue the training.

5. Pet Positive Reinforcement is Key Now!

If you are comfortable with the crate, they will be too. Our pets mirror our emotions and the more you interact positively with the crate, the more your Pet will accept and come to find comfort in being in their crate.

6. Begin to Modify Your Pet’s Treat Routine to Mirror the Pending Travel Schedule

Place their favorite treats near the cargo crate, then begin to place it just inside the crate. 

At first, they will just retrieve the treat.  Over time, they will associate the treat with the crate.

Try sitting next to the crate with your snack and give them theirs at the same time.  If they step into the crate or lie down, praise them.

See my Best Cargo Crate for Flying with Large Dogs in 2022

7. Then, Attach the Door to the Pet Crate

Once your furry companion accepts the crate as a safe place, add the door but, leave it open for a while.  Patience is key.  It must be your pet’s decision to accept the crate—no forcing.  Keep up the routine.

8. Add a Water Bottle to the Pet Crate

Train your Pet to drink from a Water Bottle. When flying in Cargo, it is best to have water bottle attached to the inside of the door. A water bowl on the floor of the crate just causes a mess. The crate will be jostled and tilted by the flight crew causing a wet mess on the floor and preventing your Dog or Cat from any water during the flight. Even a water bowl with ice will spill when it melts. This is unavoidable. They will need to learn to drink from the bottle and that takes time. We found that adding milk (cow, almond, soy) to the water mixture and moist food to the nozzle tip made accepting the bottle as a way to hydrate more attractive.  You can try peanut butter on the tip or broth in the bottle.

Water bottle training helps ensure your pet’s crate remains as dry and comfortable as possible. 

9. Begin to Shut the Door Occasionally

Try adding a treat and shut the door, later, open the door and let them retrieve the treat. Later, give them a treat in the crate and if they do not take it out immediately, shut the door while they have their treat. If you begin to give them treats only in the crate, they will take to it faster.

10. Take Short Trips with Your Pet

Then begin to take your pet on short trips in the crate to places they enjoy.  Parks and to meet friends are great—the groomer and veterinarian may not make a good association. Play flight sounds while driving. You can find these on Youtube or Spotify.

11. Modify Your Pet’s Feeding Schedule

Seasoned travelers know that many pets will not and do not need to eat during their journey in cargo.  Your pet does not need the additional stress of their kibble is spread over the floor during onboarding and offboarding. 

Feeding right before boarding, during layovers and right after offloading is the best practice.

You will secure a supply of food in a bag attached to the outside of the cage so animal handlers can feed on arrival and during layovers You can feed them just before checking them in to Cargo or as Checked Baggage. See our post on Layovers with Pets.

TIP: Many Pets will refuse to eat during a flight, which is perfectly normal. A treat to chew on provides sustenance and a distraction. And, although they will be very ready to eat or drink once they see you again, it does help to keep them from throwing up.

A stressed pet with a full stomach is much more likely to vomit in its crate, making the journey even more stressful.  It is often better to be dry and comfortable but a little hungry. 

So, alter their meal time. If you have your flight schedule already, begin now to modify their feeding schedule to match as best possible the hours during the day that they will be in the crate.  For example, if the flight will be from 9am to 3pm, begin to provide meals just before 9am and just after 3pm.  If your pet’s flight is overnight, this may be even easier.

Providing their favorite chew treats provides some sustenance, helps distract them from the stressors of the new environment and noise and keeps the crate clean and dry.

12.  Plan to give Your Pet Calming Supplement?

These supplements take time to become effective.  If you plan to use calming herbals or supplements, note that these treatments need 4-8 weeks to build up in your pet’s system, for you to monitor their responsiveness and alter dosages. 

So now is a good time to begin.  Follow the recommended dosage, consult your veterinarian and adjust accordingly.

See, How to Calm Your Pet For Travel

Benefits of Crate Training for Airline Travel. When your dog or cat feels they are in a familiar, safe environment, they are less stressed.  They will actually be safer because they are less likely to try to escape and damage the crate or their paws.

Next, See How to Prepare the Crate Inside and Out following Airline and IATA requirements.

If you are looking for an IATA airline and TSA compliant crate start with our guide Pet Cargo Crate Requirements for Airlines-A COMPLETE GUIDE

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