Reasons Why Pets Should Not Be Sedated For Flights
Dear Montecristo (A Letter from Dr. Cindy Elias),
Thank you for asking me this very important question reguarding air travel for canines… and hello to all the four-legged friends out there that are lucky to have their bipeds bring them along while traveling. (It is definitely no fun to know that you have been left behind while the rest of your family is off having a great time without you!)
While most dogs have had the opportunity to travel by car on joyous family jaunts, perhaps a smaller number have braved travel by airplane. Most bipeds tend to get very stressed at the mere thought of flying their precious furry babies – whether it be in a carry-on bag that they must “put under their seat” or in the less favorable crate or kennel stored down below in an ominous place called “cargo.” As a result, I am often asked by my clients if I would recommend sedatives for their pets to help ease their stress during flying.
My answer is a definite “NO.”
Ok, now I can see that not all of you little furries and bipeds out there agree with me, but I do have some good reasons behind this statement, as I will explain.
Each and every canine has its own personality, just like bipeds. Some are laid back and nothing phases them, some are high strung and start hyperventilating (uh, panting) at anything that takes them out of their daily routine. Sometimes a veterinarian may prescribe a sedative for a stressful situation such as thunderstorms, fireworks, or a long car trip. Sedatives in themselves are not a bad thing and are actually very helpful for a lot of pets in the right situations.
If you have never been sedated, I will try to describe it for you. It lowers the dogs heart-rate and makes them sleepy so their eyelids get really heavy. Even though they try to keep their head up, it takes lots of effort! Sometimes they get nauseous and vomit, but most of the time they just drool a little. It makes them relax. That is normally the way it works.
However, sometimes drugs affect an individual differently, and there is no way to tell for sure how it may affect the canine until the drug is administered. Not to scare you about sedation, because adverse reactions are really not that common, but it really should always be administered under supervision.
Here are some reasons not to sedate canines while flying:
Whether traveling in cabin or down in cargo, you will experience some changes in air pressure. This may affect the heart-rate and respiration while sedated. The canines body is already in a state of lowered perfusion (lower blood pressure resulting in slowed oxygenation to all cells in your body) due to the sedation. And now it is compounded by the changes in air pressure. This sort of acts as a double-whammy, so to speak and can be very dangerous. Anyone that suffers from really low blood pressure will understand why this is not a good thing.
Remember how we were talking about how sedatives make a dog feel weak and tired? Most cannot walk well while sedated. Now, I know that while flying, there may not be much walking in the carrier or crate, but a dog still needs to sit up, stand up, or turn around if they want to be more comfortable. Depending upon how much sedative has been administered and how the dog reacts to that particular drug, they may not be able to adjust or change their position. And there is the possibility “turbulence” that causes the ride to get a little “bumpy” and the dog can get jostled around a little. If he or she is sedated and not able react to sudden shifts, they may get rolled around and I worry about possible injuries such as bruises to the body and concussions from a “bump” to the head.
Not sounding too good, huh? One other thing I really worry about if pets are sedated is dehydration from being too sleepy to drink water while they are flying. I know, it sounds weird, but believe me, it happens! And dehydration can really take its toll during a stressful situation like flying in a plane.
It is hard for bipeds to accept, but canines (all sizes) are stronger than most think. They can handle the flight without all those pills! It will be a new experience, and yes, they will get a little nervous, but they can better handle the trip wide awake!
Flying with canines has often gotten a bad rap, but I have had some wonderful experiences. A few years ago I flew with my Golden Retriever all the way from the Brittish Territories (almost the Yukon), across Canada to the east coast, and down into the United States.
I got to take my Golden out of her crate in Calgary and walk her outside and spend time with her while we waited for our next flight. The people I met were wonderful and my furry baby seemed to take the trip much better than I did! I was so worried, as this was my first experience flying my pet. I went to some extremes which now, in retrospect, I think are not so extreme and I recommend them for every biped traveling with their pet:
- Make signs for your crate if the pet is traveling in cargo, such as “My name is Meg” and “This if my first flight – I’m a little scared – please talk to me.” I guarantee you that if your canine hears someone talking to them while they are being placed in and out of the plane, they will feel SO MUCH better! And the fact that some will use their name, will really help!
- If the pet is flying in cargo, speak to the flight attendant, or the Captain if possible, and tell them that a dog is scheduled for that particular flight and ask them to make sure that indeed the pet (give the name) has been loaded prior to take-off. I made sure to do this for every flight, and had some very sweet comments from some reassuring flight attendants. Like the one who told me that my sweet baby was tucked in next to a Doberman named “Sam” and that their crates were secured for the trip.
Doesn’t sound quite so bad, now does it? And only a small price to pay for being able to travel as a family and enjoy the trip rather than having to stay behind.
May you have happy trails, my sweet furry friends!
Cindy Elias, DVM, Creekside Animal Hospital – Roanoke Rapids, NC USA
P.S. – Have you ever heard of a Thundershirt? In my experience they REALLY work and have a calming, yet not a sedating, effect on dogs and even cats, too! If you are skeptical, they even come with a money-back guarantee! Reasons Why Pets Should Not Be Sedated For Flights!