Should Pets Be Sedated During Air Travel?

Pet Sedation During Air Travel -- Is It Safe?No Sedation when Flying Pets!

Here at PetRelocation, we are constantly asked about sedation or the use of tranquilizers when flying our customers' pets. Simply, the answer is NO! 

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), sedating cats or dogs during air travel may increase the risk of heart and respiratory problems. Except in unusual circumstances, veterinarians should not dispense sedatives for animals that are to be transported.

The Unknown Effects of Tranquilizing Pets During Air Travel

Little is known about the effects of sedation on animals that are being shipped by air and enclosed in kennels at 8,000 feet or higher, the altitude at which cargo holds are pressurized. Additionally, some animals react abnormally to sedatives. Although animals may be excitable while being handled during the trip to the airport and prior to loading, they probably revert to a quiescent resting state in the dark, closed cargo hold, and the sedatives may have an excessive effect.

There have been a number of instances where sedated pets traveling by air needed veterinary care to recover from the sedation. Some pets could not be revived. Occasionally, owners have given repeated doses to ensure a comfortable journey for their pet. When questioned by airline personnel, many owners claim that their veterinarians had advised them to do so.

Although sedatives/tranquilizers should never be repeated for animals traveling by air, sedated pets may have adverse reactions in pressurized aircraft even when single doses are administered at recommended dosages. Animals can respond very differently to sedatives/tranquilizers under normal circumstances. Cats for instance, occasionally become more excited following the administration of “sedating” drugs.

“An animal's natural ability to balance and maintain equilibrium is altered under sedation,” noted Dr. Patricia Olson, a director of the American Humane Association (AHA). “When the kennel is moved, a sedated animal may not be able to brace and prevent injury.” JAVMA, Vol 207, No.l 6, September 15, 1995.

Increased altitude can also create respiratory and cardiovascular problems for dogs and cats that are sedated or tranquilized. Brachycephalic (pug or snub nosed) dogs and cats may be especially affected.

Alternatives to Pet Travel Sedation

Rather than tranquilizing, pre-condition your pet to the travel container! According to the Air Transport Association, “As far in advance of the trip as possible, let your pet get to know the flight kennel. Veterinarians recommend leaving it open in the house with a chew bone or other familiar objects inside so that your pet will spend time in the kennel. It is important for your dog or cat to be as relaxed as possible during the flight.”

Here are a few crate training tips for cats and crate training tips for dogs. Rather than sedation, consider crate training the kindest and smartest thing you can do for your pets as you prepare them to fly domestically or internationally.

Have more questions about pet travel? Contact PetRelocation to discuss your safe pet transport options. 


PetRelocation Team


Air Travel, Airlines, Ask the Experts


Cats, Dogs



Add a Comment

By Leslie on July 25, 2018 at 7:52 pm

Is it the same effect if an animal is traveling with its human in the person part of the aircraft?

By Maegan at PetRelocation on July 27, 2018 at 9:49 am

Hi Leslie!

Since every pet reacts differently on medication, we do not suggest sedation for pets traveling in-cabin either. It will already be a high stress situation being on a plane with new smells & sounds and we've heard of pets having adverse reactions to sedation in-cabin (more excitable, crying, having accidents, etc.) because they are not sure why they feel different and cannot control themselves.

Sedation slows down the heart-rate & breathing, so it could have a detrimental effect on your pet as increased altitude can also create respiratory and cardiovascular problems for pets, even in-cabin.

We definitely suggest acclimating your pet to it's travel carrier/bag long and practice going places inside of it so he feels safe when travel day rolls around.

Again there is no guarantee your pet will not be anxious in-cabin so if you'd like to explore how your pet can travel safely with our company as manifest cargo, please review this article or contact us directly. Hope this helps!

By Aubrey on July 22, 2018 at 10:05 pm

Hi! Is melatonin considered a sedative? Is it safe to give to dogs for air travel? Thanks!

By Maegan at PetRelocation on July 23, 2018 at 9:28 am

Hi Aubrey! Technically melaontin is considered a sedative because the biggest side effect to melatonin is drowsiness. We suggest contacting your vet before administering melatonin to your pup. Also, the airlines have the right to turn down any pet from flying if they look or act like they have been sedated. Our best suggestion would be to focus on crate training for your pup. Even if your pet is a little anxious, it is much safer than him being totally lethargic while flying. Hope this helps!

By Jeff C on July 9, 2018 at 10:43 am

Hello,I'm traveling with a cat in the cabin for multiple 8+ hour flights. Our local vet recommended a spray for the carrier bottom that will calm the cat down without sedating her. I've started acclimating my cat to the carrier and although she likes napping in it, she gets easily disturbed when it's closed and meows repeatedly and loudly. What are your thoughts on using a spray on the carrier to calm her down rather than completely sedate her?Thanks!

By Christina at PetRelocation on July 10, 2018 at 8:25 am

Hello Jeff! Thanks for your question. Crate acclimation is the first great step you can take toward reducing your cat's anxiety during travel, so you're on the right track! As long as the spray is not sedative (which can be quite dangerous during air travel) and you've spoken with your vet about its safety, we defer to your veterinarian's expertise on this one. Many pet owners choose to use natural calming methods such as this to help their pets. Hope this helps!

By Ava on May 15, 2018 at 8:35 pm

I have a 5-month-old Belgian Malinois and I'll be flying to California, and it's first time flying a pet on a plane. Would it be a good idea to take him with me?

By Maegan at PetRelocation on May 17, 2018 at 3:20 pm

Hi Ava! If you have any medical concerns about your pup, you'd want to talk to your vet, but pet travel when done correctly is very safe!The first step to any pet move is to get your pup the correct travel kennel & acclimate your pet to it's kennel. You'll also want to make sure you are choosing a pet safe airline, see our DIY booking guide for information on booking your pet's flight. If we can be of any assistance, please fill out our Arrange a Move form. Thanks!

By Claire on March 17, 2018 at 1:36 pm

I'm traveling with my pug (8-10 y.o., rescue). He's an emotional support animal, so he'll be in the cabin with me. He has human reactivity under stress and has never flown before, so I'm very nervous about him biting someone. I was prescribed half a tablet of Ace by my vet, but now that I'm reading about it, I'm nervous about using that, too.We've been working with a professional trainer on the aggression issues but he seems much the same - our old vet told us we had to get a new one because they couldn't treat him. I need something that will work to get him through security and the flight without him trying to bite people. Is there a safe drug to use?

By Christina at PetRelocation on March 19, 2018 at 12:34 pm

Hello Claire, and thanks for contacting us with your question! This post about natural alternatives to sedative medication may help in finding a solution, although we always recommend going over topics like this with a veterinarian. We specialize in moving pets with pet-friendly cargo programs, which staff professionally trained animal handlers who know what to do with behavioral tendencies like this. In-cabin travel is different due to the proximity of other passengers and the absence of trained handlers for loading and unloading of pets. We suggest considering this as you make your travel arrangements. We hope this helps!

By Ruman on February 1, 2018 at 9:12 am

Hi! I'm trying to take my 3yr old mastiff on an international flight because we are moving to the United States. He has never flown before. He was attacked by another dog when he was just 4 months old and ever since he has had dog aggression. I don't know how to put him in the cargo hold and make sure he's calm. I don't want to use a sedative but what can another way be? We've never used a crate at home so he's not crate trained either. It is a 6 hour flight with a 2 hour stop and then another 7 hour flight. Any advice on making it easier for him and keeping him just a little calm? Thank you!

By Christina at PetRelocation on February 1, 2018 at 11:55 am

Hi Ruman!

The first and best thing you can do for your dog is begin acquainting him with a crate. It’s really important that a traveling pet feels safe and relaxed inside this space, since he will be spending so much time there. Here are some helpful tips on how to crate train a dog for travel. Most airlines will also allow you to include a personal item like a thin blanket or shirt that smells like home, which can help comfort pets in flight.

I noticed that your layover duration is two hours. You may want to check with your airline to confirm any minimum layover requirements they may have for animals traveling in cargo. For example, United Airlines requires at least a 3-hour layover for international pet travel. The same goes for your dog’s tendency toward dog aggression. Make sure you inform the airline so that the staff handling him throughout the trip is aware of this behavior. Pet-friendly airlines like United, Lufthansa, KLM, and British Airways have staff dedicated to the handling of animals in cargo, so they encounter these situations and are trained to handle them.

And since sedatives are highly discouraged, I would ask your veterinarian what other calming methods could help ease his anxiety. After all, you and your veterinarian will know him best. I hope this helps, and best of luck with your trip!


By Kevin Reeve on November 6, 2017 at 11:21 am

I intend to take my 8 year old Labrador retriever (bitch) on a flight from Penzance in Cornwall to the Isles of Scilly. As she has got older she has become a little more nervous of bangs etc. This is only happened in the last year. Could you advise on any tips we could use to make the relatively short flight comfortable for her. Kindest regards Kevin Reeve

By on November 6, 2017 at 4:48 pm

Hi Kevin!

Our biggest recommendation for nervous pets is to get them comfortable with their travel kennel as far in advance as possible. We have some great crate training tips for dogs on our website here that you're welcome to try.

You can also add a few comforting items, like a blanket or t-shirt that smells like you, in her crate to reassure her throughout the travel. Beyond this, we’ve had some client look into natural remedies for calming pets with brands like Pet Eze.

We hope this helps! Good luck with everything!

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