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  • Writer's pictureAmanda McGee

Flying with Anxious Dogs in the Cabin: A Pet Flight Nanny's Guide


As a professional pet flight nanny, I understand the concerns and challenges pet parents face when traveling with their new puppy or anxious dog. I know you want the absolute best experience for them so that long-distance travel doesn’t become burdensome to you in the future. Flying with a nervous pup in the plane's cabin can feel like a big challenge, but with the right preparation and approach, it can be a smooth and stress-free experience for both you and your fur baby.

Understanding Your Anxious Dog's Needs

Anxiety in dogs during travel is not uncommon. The unfamiliar noises, confined spaces, and bustling environment at airports can trigger stress in our beloved companions. As a flight nanny for dogs, I've encountered various anxiety levels in pets, and I've learned that understanding your dog's specific triggers is crucial in making their journey comfortable. A big trigger for many pets is being around other dogs. For this reason I recommend avoiding contact with other animals while at the airport and the best way to do this is to keep your loved one inside of their pet carrier. I follow this rule, too, for new puppies that are flying with us in the cabin to their new owners. Other passengers may be tempted to pet a new puppy (I don’t blame them!) so to avoid this temptation we keep puppies inside their pet carrier when inside the terminal and on the plane. By avoiding other animals and strangers we have a better chance of avoiding certain triggers that could make your dog uncomfortable.

Avoid Sedation

One common misconception is using sedatives to calm anxious dogs during flights. However, sedation can pose risks and complications for pets during air travel. The American Veterinary Medical Association does not recommend sedation for flying pets and many airlines will make you sign a paper confirming you have not sedated your pet. Instead, focus on natural calming techniques and consult with a veterinarian for alternative solutions that won't compromise your dog's health. We often use children’s Benadryl as an alternative to help dogs and puppies relax if they are hyperactive or showing signs of discomfort inside their pet carrier. The AKC walks us through the proper dosage and when it may not be appropriate for your specific pet. Vets agree it is a safe way to reduce anxiety when given the proper dosage. They recommend 1mg of diphenhydramine per pound of pet. Children’s chewables come in 12.5mg tablets. So a 10-15 pound dog would benefit from ½ to 1 tablet of children’s Benadryl. You can also refer to this calculator to estimate the proper dosage.

Practice with the Pet Carrier

Introducing your dog to the travel crate or carrier well in advance is key. Allow your pet to become familiar with the carrier by placing treats, toys, and bedding inside, creating a positive association. Gradually increase the time spent inside the carrier, helping your dog adjust to the confined space comfortably. Including a t-shirt or blanket that has your scent may also give your dog some comfort. Choosing the right pet carrier can be just as important. Your dog should be able to stand and turn around inside of his travel bag according to most airline policies. I have used dozens of different pet carriers for in-cabin pet travel and the key is always to choose a bag that has a springy frame so that you can comfortably place the bag under the seat without sacrificing on size. You can see my personal recommendations for TSA Airline approved pet carriers here.

Choosing the Right Airline

Just as important as choosing the right pet travel bag is choosing the right airline. Selecting a pet-friendly airline is crucial. Some airlines have specific policies and accommodations for pets in the cabin, including size restrictions for carriers and weight limits. As a professional flight nanny for dogs I lean on Alaska Airlines, Delta Airlines, and Southwest Airlines for their pet-friendliness and reliability when it comes to pet travel.

Preparing for the Flight

- Prior to the journey, engage your dog in exercise to release excess energy and reduce anxiety.

- Feed your dog a light meal a few hours before the flight to prevent discomfort or upset stomachs. Having a few high-value treats on hand can help him feel satisfied until his next meal. For puppies, we offer a few pieces of kibble throughout the trip.

- Ensure your dog has access to water before and during the flight to stay hydrated.

- Bring familiar items such as a favorite toy or blanket to provide comfort and a sense of security. Puppies love to have a hard toy to chew on to relieve teething pains or a small stuffy to cuddle with.

- Stay calm and composed, as dogs can sense their owner's emotions. Reassure your dog with a soothing voice and gentle petting if needed.

- Avoid overstimulation by covering the carrier partially to reduce visual distractions.


As a professional in pet transportation, I've witnessed the impact of proper preparation and pet care on anxious dogs during air travel. Utilizing natural calming methods, familiarizing your dog with the carrier, and choosing the right airline and pet carrier can significantly alleviate their stress.

Remember, as pet flight nannies, our primary goal is to ensure the safety, comfort, and well-being of your furry companions during their journey. By following these tips and guidelines, you can make flying with your anxious dog or new puppy in the cabin a more manageable and positive experience.

If you're considering pet transportation services and need a professional to handle your specific pet care needs we would love to chat with you about your options.

Safe travels to you and your furry friend!

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