Traveling with an animal brings a host of problems and questions to light. One of the most important—especially for those travelling by plane—involves temperature. Animals react to temperature changes and sustained extreme temperatures differently. If your dog is too cold for an extended period of time, or if your cat is in an unexpectedly hot place for several, uninterrupted hours, the climate could do irreparable damage.
Cats and dogs utilize a variety of methods to regulate body temperature. Neither animal can sweat through skin, as a human might, and so they adopt other temperature-sustaining methods. Coats protect animals in the winter, and panting can help in warmer temperatures. Most cats and dogs can also perspire through their ear canals and foot pads. In the heat, excessive panting can lead to severe dehydration.
Size, age, breed, type of coat, and health all play a part in protecting your pet from variations in body temperature. Most notably, an animal’s coat is the best protector against cold; breeds like Huskies, Samoyeds, Malamutes, and Maine Coon Cats are more suited to cold temperatures than their thin-furred friends. Conversely, Chihuahuas and Sphynx cats can more easily adapt to warmer climates. Brachycephalic, or “snub-nosed,” animals are at an elevated risk due to their inability to breathe efficiently.
So what does this have to do with travel? Flying to a new location eliminates an animal’s ability to adjust to the new temperature; if you are flying from Chicago to Dallas, your pup will have a difficult time regulating his body temperature and can easily become dehydrated; if you are flying from Orlando to Anchorage, he can more easily develop hypothermia. Slower travel, such as by car, is a safer way to transport animals between areas of intense temperatures.
The cargo hold of a plane can also cause a poor temperature-related reaction. Animals held in cargo can spend hours in a non-climate-controlled portion of the plane. Lack of heating and cooling can poorly affect the animal’s health. If you are flying with a large animal, ask if there is a possibility of storing him in a climate-controlled section of the plane.