Airline Procedures

Dogs, cats, and most warm-blooded animals transported by air are protected by the Animal Welfare Act. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) enforces this law.

These shipping regulations help assure that animals are treated humanely by airlines as well as animal dealers, exhibitors, and research laboratories. Pet exhibitors, owners, and other shippers also are affected by regulations established to protect the well-being and safety of animals in transit.

Airlines transport animals in the cargo compartment of the plane, but some airlines allow passengers to transport small animals in the cabin as carry-on luggage. The pet must be placed in a kennel that is comfortable yet small enough to fit under the passenger’s seat. Carry-on pets are not protected by the Animal Welfare Act. For specific airline requirements, contact the airline directly.

The following requirements are from APHIS and may change. Check the APHIS web site for the most up-to-date information.


Dogs and cats must be at least eight weeks old and must have been weaned before traveling with the airlines.


Kennels must meet minimum standards for size, strength, sanitation and ventilation.

Size and Strength

Kennels must be enclosed and allow room for the animals to stand, sit, breathe, and rest comfortably. They must be easy to open, strong enough to withstand the stress of shipping, and free of objects that could injure the animal.


Kennels must have a solid, leak-proof floor that is covered with litter or an absorbent lining. Wire or other ventilated subfloors are generally allowed; pegboard flooring is prohibited. This provides the maximum cleanliness for the animal in travel.


Kennels must be well ventilated with openings that make up at least 14 percent of the total wall space. At least one-third of the openings must be located in the top half of the kennel. Kennels must also have rims to prevent ventilation openings from being blocked by other shipments. These rims usually are placed on the sides of the kennel and must provide at last three-quarters of an inch clearance.

Grips and Markings

Kennels must have grips or handles for lifting to prevent cargo workers from being bitten. Kennels must also be labeled with “live animals” or “wild animals” on the top of one side with directional arrows indicating position of the kennel. Lettering must be at least one inch high.

Animals Per Kennel

Each species must have its own kennel with the exception of compatible personal pets of similar size. Maximum numbers include two puppies or kittens less than six months old and 20 pounds each, 15 guinea pigs or rabbits, and 50 hamsters.

Feeding and Watering

Instructions for feeding, watering, and administering medication to the animal over a 24-hour period must be attached to the kennel. The 24-hour schedule will assist the airline in providing care for animals that are diverted from their scheduled destination. The shipper is required to document that the animal was given food and water within four hours of transport, and the certification must include the time and date of feeding. Food and water dishes must be securely attached and be accessible without opening the kennel. Food and water must be provided to puppies and kittens every 12 hours if they are less than 16 weeks old. Mature animals must be fed every 24 hours and given water every 12 hours.

Health Certification

Airlines and State health officials generally require health certificates (known formally as a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection) for all animals being transported by air. Health certificates must be issued by a licensed veterinarian who examines the animal within ten days of transport. Dealers, exhibitors, and others regulated under the Animal Welfare Act must provide a health certificate for each dog, cat, or nonhuman primate shipped.