Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

Fly the Fear-Free Skies

How to help your dog stay comfortable and unafraid during a flight

By Kim Campbell Thornton

Andrews McMeel Syndication

My dog Harper has been on at least 10 flights in her nine years, but most were no longer than three hours. Now we are facing a long-haul flight of 10 hours for an upcoming trip to France. Even for intrepid dogs like Harper, flying can be stressful, so I’m planning ahead to make sure everything goes as smoothly and comfortably as possible. These tips may help you, too, if you’ll be flying with your dog or cat this summer.

I started by asking my Pet Connection veterinary partner Dr. Marty Becker, founder of the Fear Free initiative, what advice he has for people flying with pets in the cabin, especially if it’s for the first time. He says making sure a pet is comfortable being in a carrier is job one.

Your dog’s crate or carrier should be her happy place. If it’s not already, start by leaving it out in a conspicuous area in your home. Let your dog investigate it at her own pace. Encourage exploration by tossing a favorite toy or treats inside for her to find. Any time you see your dog inside the carrier, praise her and hand out a couple more treats. Feed meals inside the carrier to create an even stronger positive association.

You can also use pheromone products to help your dog feel at ease inside the carrier, both at home and during the flight.

“Pheromone sprays and wipes contain a substance that mimics the calming pheromones that mother dogs produce after giving birth,” Dr. Becker says. “It’s a chemical communication processed by the vomeronasal organ rather than the olfactory pathway. Your dog may recognize it and associate it with a feeling of security.”

What should you look for in a carrier? An important consideration is that it must fit beneath the seat in front of you with your dog inside it. If possible, take it to the airport well before your trip and make sure it fits in the luggage sizers located near the check-in area.

Harper’s carrier (borrowed from a friend) has wheels and rolls in a stable fashion. Previous wheeled carriers frequently fell over, so test drive it before you get to the airport. This is good practice for your dog to become comfortable in a moving carrier. We also like this carrier because it zips open at the ends and at the top. Harper can easily walk into it or be lifted out of it.

Accessories we’re packing in a carry-on bag are a collapsible silicone dog bowl for dinner and breakfast and a water bottle with a bowl that sits on top. Squeeze it and water fills the bowl; release the pressure and the water drains back into the bottle. Wait to fill it with bottled water until you go through security.

Some dogs who suffer from motion sickness may do best flying on an empty stomach. Check with your veterinarian regarding whether this is a good idea, especially if you have a lengthy flight. Kari Puzzullo’s dog Prudence, who recently experienced her first two flights, prefers to have a little food in her stomach.

“On our flight, she started feeling a little sick on takeoff, but we just gave her a little food and she was fine,” Puzzullo says.

Should you give your dog a tranquilizer or sedative? It’s not a good idea.

“Drugs can have different effects at altitude,” Dr. Becker says. “Sedatives and tranquilizers can affect equilibrium and blood pressure, especially in snub-nosed dogs. Ask your veterinarian about other products that can help your dog stay calm without those side effects.”

Bon voyage!


Is anesthesia

safe for cats?

Q: My cat needs to have his teeth cleaned, but I’m afraid for him to go under anesthesia. How safe is it? -- via Facebook

A: We know a lot more now about anesthetizing cats safely than we did when I began topractice more than 30 years ago. New drugs and advanced techniques contribute to a safe and comfortable anesthetic experience for cats. If your veterinarian follows the latest anesthetic protocols, your cat should come through his dental cleaning just fine.

A preanesthetic assessment of kidney, liver and bone marrow function is important to ensure that he doesn’t have any underlying conditions that could cause problems. For instance, if lab tests show that your cat has a high white blood cell count, which might indicate a bacterial infection, your veterinarian can modify anesthesia to make it safer or recommend that you wait until the condition is treated. Anesthesia protocols may also need to be modified for cats with conditions such as asthma, diabetes or hyperthyroidism.

Your cat should receive intravenous fluids while he’s anesthetized. Fluids help to prevent dehydration and low blood pressure.

It’s also important for cats to be kept warm before, during and after anesthesia. The body is better able to metabolize anesthesia drugs when it’s warm, not to mention it’s just more comfortable for your cat.

Last but definitely not least, minimizing stress throughout the process will help to ensure that your cat responds well to anesthesia. Practices that can help include use of pheromone products, Fear Free handling techniques (visit for more information) and appropriate use of pain-relief drugs before, during and after anesthesia.

Talk to your veterinarian beforehand so you understand exactly what will happen, what you can do before the procedure to ensure a good outcome, such as withholding food and water, and what to look for afterward to make sure you don’t overlook anything abnormal. -- Dr. Marty Becker

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Experts predict

rise in parasites

-- Rates of heartworm disease and Lyme disease will rise this year, according to forecasts from the Companion Animal Parasite Council. The increase is linked to above-average rainfall and seasonal temperatures last year, which created ideal breeding conditions for mosquitoes and ticks that spread the diseases. Areas where dogs and cats are at greatest risk for heartworm include the lower Mississippi Valley; locations in the Rockies and westward; and New England, the Ohio River Valley, the upper Midwest and Atlantic Coast states. Lyme disease will be a greater problem in western Pennsylvania, New York state, northwestern Wisconsin and northern Minnesota.

-- One-liner summer book reviews: Sam Kalda highlights 30 men who loved and were inspired by cats in "Of Cats and Men: Profiles of History’s Great Cat-Loving Artists, Writers, Thinkers and Statesmen" (Ten Speed Press). Tom Ryan’s tale of a sad old dog’s rejuvenation in "Will’s Red Coat" (William Morrow) is an uplifting look at the transformative power of the human-animal bond. Another Will takes center page in Patricia B. McConnell’s memoir "The Education of Will" (Atria Books), in which a fearful border collie helps her come to terms with her own abusive past.

-- A 3-week-old kitten named Burrito is one in 3,000, statistically. He’s that rare genetic anomaly: a male tortoiseshell cat. A tortoiseshell coat is orange swirled with brown or black. The gene that determines how orange coloration is expressed in cats is on the X chromosome. Female cats have two X chromosomes, while male cats have an X and a Y chromosome. Any cat with a calico or tortoiseshell coat must have two X chromosomes, meaning they are almost always female. In exceptional cases, a cat ends up with two X chromosomes and one Y, making him an unusual but sterile feline. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker


Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.