What are the risks or potential hiccups with pet travel?

Pet travel can be stressful, even under the best circumstances. We've outlined some of the risks or potential hiccups that can come up when your pet is traveling.

We know that pet travel is stressful - not just for pets, but also for their human families. While we do everything we can to ensure that your pet's move goes smoothly, it's important to be aware of the risks and potential hiccups that can come up that are out of our control. 

Elderly Pets & Pets With Pre-existing Health Conditions

Pet travel is generally very safe and thousands of animals fly domestically and internationally every year without issue. It's still important to understand that pet travel can be stressful for animals. Pets travel in the cargo area beneath the passenger cabin, in a space that is temperature-controlled, pressurized, and oxygenated. They are in a new place, with new sights, sounds, and smells. This can be stressful for even the most healthy pets. 

When cats and dogs are considered a "senior" (typically 7 years and older for giant breed dogs, or 9 years or older for smaller breeds) or if they have a pre-existing health condition, the stress and risks are a bit higher than a younger, healthy pet. 

No one can guarantee how a pet will respond to the stress of travel, so it's extremely important that you have some serious discussions with your veterinarian to weigh the risks and benefits of bringing your pet with you on your big adventure. We are happy to help you along the way, but in some cases, it's in the animal's best interest not to travel. 

Snub-nosed (Brachycephalic) Breeds

Cats and dogs that are considered brachycephalic or snub-nosed breeds are also riskier to transport. Due to the anatomy of their skulls, these breeds often have difficulties breathing normally, and this can be exacerbated by stress, exercise, or hot temperatures.

Because of this added risk, many airlines impose restrictions or complete embargoes on the acceptance of certain breeds, or limitations on the temperatures they will allow those breeds to travel.  

Examples of brachycephalic breeds include: 

Affenpinscher Boxer Bulldog (all types) Brussels Griffon Bullmastiff
Boston Terrier Cane Corso Chow Chow Dogue de Bordeaux English Toy Spaniel
Japanese Chin Lhasa Apso Pekingese Pug (all types) Shih Tzu
Persian Himalayan Burmese    

Sedatives & Anxiety Medication

While you might think it's a good idea, or your vet might suggest it, pets who are flying on a plane should NEVER be sedated or given any type of anxiety or prescription medication that causes drowsiness. Sedatives can harm your pet's breathing, respiration, heart rate, and balance when they are up in the air at high altitudes. 

Not only is this dangerous for pets, but Starwood and airlines will not transport animals who appear to have been sedated. Starwood or airline staff will NOT administer these medications to pets, and if you try to sneak them at home, they will be refused for travel. 

The best way to help curb your pet's travel anxiety is to get them acclimated to the travel kennel well in advance and send them with a thin blanket, t-shirt, or towel that smells like home.

Unless your pet has already been taking anxiety medication regularly, this is not something you should seek out from your vet solely for travel. These medications often take weeks or months to notice any differences, so it is not something you can just give to them on the day of the flight and hope for the best. 

Please also keep in mind that many airlines will not accept medication that travels with pets. The only exception would be if we have received prior approval from them including a letter from your vet detailing the medication, its necessity, and dosage/administration instructions.


As you know, no one can control the weather. And sometimes extreme weather can cause flight delays and/or cancellations. This applies to people and to pets. Please bear in mind that in the event there is extreme weather occurring when your pet is scheduled to travel, sometimes flights are canceled and we need to rebook them on the next available flight. 

This also applies to extremel cold or hot temperatures. Many airlines have temperature restrictions and will not allow pets to travel if any part of their journey (origin, transit, destination) will be below 40 degrees Fahrenheit or above 85 degrees. 

We do our best to monitor the weather as your pet's travel date gets closer, but it is ultimately up to the airline if they will accept pets for travel at that time. 

Flight Cancellations & Airline Issues

While flight delays and cancellations are sometimes due to weather, we all know that there are other issues that can also occur at times, such as mechanical issues, staff shortages, staff strikes, etc. This is out of our control, but we will work with you to find an alternative solution and transportation/boarding should your pet's flight be delayed or canceled.

While it is not common, sometimes the airline might misplace items that are attached to the top of your pet's kennel including collars/leashes, and rarely paperwork. It's important that we always receive a copy of your pet's paperwork in the event there is an issue when they arrive to their destination. Please understand that lost paperwork occurs by the airline staff at times - not Starwood. Starwood is here to help and we will be on stand-by and work with customs to clear up any paperwork issues that may occur.

Government Closures & Shipping Delays

We work regularly with local government offices, and they can often have closures due to holidays or weather. We have no authority when it comes to how long paperwork or customs takes to process for pets, so we must be patient.

We also regularly use FedEx to ship endorsed paperwork from the USDA back to vet offices or our local team. Unfortunately, we cannot control if there are shipping delays due to staff, holidays or inclement weather. In some cases, paperwork may be delayed in getting back to you or us due to FedEx shipping issues. In the event that this occurs, we will work with you to make alternate arrangements for new health certificates, transportation, boarding, or flights.

Ways You Can Be Prepared

Even when everything is picture-perfect and ready to go, sometimes mishaps can occur. Here are some things you can to do ensure your pet's travels go as smoothly as possible:

  • Have serious discussions with your vet about your pet's medical history, medications, breed, and overall health to make sure airline travel is the best option for them.
  • Notify us immediately if your pet has any medical issues or pre-existing health conditions.
  • Make sure your pet is fully compliant with all of your destination country's pet import regulations and make copies of everything!
  • Acclimate your pet to their travel kennel well in advance so that they are comfortable on the day of travel. 
  • NEVER sedate your pet when they are traveling.
  • Be understanding. We are all on the same team and have the same goal - your pet's safe transportation to their new home. Let's all work together to make that happen and we will get through any hiccups along the way.