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Choosing the Right Carrier or Crate for the Trip

Choosing the Right Carrier or Crate for the Trip

This is one of the most important steps in ensuring your pet's safety when traveling. A good-quality carrier not only contains your pet during transit, it also gives him a safe, reassuring place to stay when confinement is necessary at your destination. Acclimate the animal before the trip so he views the crate as a cozy den, not a place of exile.

If you plan to travel by car, a carrier will confine your pet en route, and also may come in handy if Spot or Snowball must stay in the room unsupervised. A secured crate will prevent your pet from escaping from the room when the cleaning staff arrives, or at night if camping in the open. (See Tips for Pet Friendly Travel Destinations.)

Some airlines allow small pets to travel in the passenger cabin as carry-on luggage. There are no laws dictating the type of carrier to use, but remember that it must be small enough to fit under a standard airplane seat and should generally not exceed 45 linear inches (length + width + height), or roughly 21.5 by 15.5 by 9 inches. Depending on the airline, carrier size limits may be even smaller. If your pet will be flying in the cargo hold, you must use a carrier that meets U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS) specifications. (See Keeping Your Pet Safe During Air Travel.)

Crates are available at pet supply stores; some airlines also sell carriers. Soft-sided travel bags are handy for flyers with small pets. Before you make the investment, make sure your carrier is airline-approved.

Even if you never take your pet on air flights, these common-sense guidelines provide a good rule of thumb in selecting a crate for other uses. When transporting live animals in airline baggage holds, USDA-APHIS rules stipulate the following:

•The crate must be enclosed, but with ventilation openings occupying at least 16 percent of total wall space on two opposing walls, at least one-third of which must be located on the top half of the kennel. A three-quarter-inch lip or rim must surround the exterior to prevent air holes from being blocked.

•The crate must open easily, but must be sufficiently strong to hold up during normal cargo transit procedures (loading, unloading, etc.).

•The floor must be solid and leakproof, and must be covered with an absorbent lining or material (such as an old towel or litter).

•The crate must be just large enough to allow the animal to turn freely while standing, and to have a full range of normal movement while standing or lying down.

•The crate must offer exterior grips or handles so that handlers do not have to place their hands or fingers inside.

•Food and water dishes must be securely attached and accessible without opening the kennel.

•If the carrier has wheels, they must be removed or immobilized prior to loading.

•One-inch lettering stating “Live Animals” must be placed visibly on the top and on one or more sides and must be accompanied by directional arrows showing the crate's proper orientation. It also is a good idea to label the crate with your name, home address and home phone number, as well as an address and phone number where you can be reached during the trip. Hint: Use an adhesive label or an indelible marker and write directly on the crate, as paper may be ripped off accidentally in transit.

•Attach a list of care instructions (feeding, watering, etc.) for a 24-hour period to the exterior of the carrier. This will help airport workers care for your pet if he is sent to the wrong destination.

•If you are traveling with multiple pets, note that crates may contain only one animal whose weight exceeds 20 pounds. Smaller animals may travel together under the following guidelines: one species to a crate, except compatible dogs and cats of similar size; two puppies or kittens under 6 months of age; 15 guinea pigs or rabbits; 50 hamsters. Note: These are federal limits; airlines may impose more stringent regulations.