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Should I sedate my pet before travel?

Air travel for dogs and cats is complicated and one of the most often asked questions is whether you should sedate your pet to help them cope with the stress of travel. Pet parents assume that sedating their pet will help ease the stress and allow them to ‘sleep off’ the whole trip.

Sedation risks for dogs and cats

Pets that are travelling on international flights are housed in a dedicated pet-friendly area in the cargo hold of the aircraft. The cargo hold is temperature controlled and dark, and even the most excitable or anxious pets commonly calm down once they are settled in the hold.

Sedating pets before travelling by air is a big no and is not recommended by experts. There are several risks involved when you sedate your pet, especially before air travel.

Breathing and heart issues

Sedation increases the risk of breathing and heart issues in both cats and dogs. Sedatives affect more than just the brain; they are known to reduce the heart rate, body temperature and respiration. When the flight takes off and reaches a high altitude, your pet’s body has to adjust to the changes in the altitude and pressure. In a pressurised cargo hold at an altitude of more than 8000 feet, a sedated pet will find it hard to deal with the changes in pressure, temperature and altitude. Sedatives can confuse your pet and hamper their natural ability to process these changes normally, leading to severe distress during the flight.

Pets react to sedatives differently, and some pets may have an adverse reaction. A sedated pet takes longer to recover from the flight, and sometimes may even need veterinary intervention to recover.

Brachycephalic or snub-nosed dogs such as Bulldogs, Pugs, Shih Tzus and cat breeds such as Persians, Himalayans are pet breeds with very short or snub noses. These breeds are especially vulnerable during air travel and must never be sedated.

Risk of injury

When your dog or cat is on the aircraft, the pet carrier is secured safely in the hold. Occasionally there may be minor movements and your pet cannot stay steady themselves if they are sedated. A sedated pet is woozy and cannot think clearly or remain balanced and this increases the risk of injury. If the aircraft experiences turbulence, sedated pets will have more trouble righting themselves than non-sedated pets.

Alternatives to sedatives

Anxious pet parents are concerned about the well-being of their pets and would like to ensure that they are safe and well-cared for during the flight. While sedatives are not the best solution to keep your pet calm, there are fortunately other ways of preparing your fur kid for the flight.

Crate training

Crate training your pet weeks before the date of departure is the best way to prepare your pet for the flight ahead. Buy an IATA-approved travel carrier; make sure it is the right size and gently introduce your pet to the carrier. Make it comfortable for your pet and increase crate time gradually till your pet is completely at ease with the carrier.

Remember that the more time you spend with your pet in crate training, the easier the journey is on them. Be patient; some pets are acclimatised to the crate faster than others. Do not use the crate as punishments; the objective of crate training is for your pet to consider the crate his or her happy place.

Natural aromas and calming sprays

Spraying the crate with naturally calming oils is known to calm a pet during transport. There are several calming sprays available in the market, which are either plant oil based or those that mimic pheromones. Speak to your vet about the best option for your pet.

Lavender oil, valerian, chamomile are some herbs that are known to have a calming effect on both dogs and cats. However, it is advised that you use them under the instructions of your vet or an experienced practitioner only.

Keep calm and carry on

International pet transport is complex and time-consuming, and it is natural for a pet parent to be anxious before the flight. Fur babies can easily pick up on your stress levels and when you are worried, your pet dog or cat will be stressed too. Choose an experienced and accredited pet transport company to help with the documentation, processing and veterinary tests required for the relocation.

Moving abroad with your pet?

Transporting your precious pet to another country is a complicated process, and can cause pet parents to worry about the safety and comfort of their pets. It is important to remember that however long the flight is, do not give your pet a sedative unless expressly advised by the vet. Sedatives are unpredictable and dangerous for pets on a flight. Some airlines even ask pet parents to sign an undertaking stating that your pet is not tranquilised before flying.

If you are planning an international move with your pet and are unsure about the process, contact us at Petraveller for more information on international pet transport, veterinary tests and processes, documentation, and much more.