Flying with Pet Rodents: The Rules for Traveling With Your Rabbit, Guinea Pig, Hamster, or Rat

Most travel agencies address traveling with pets such as dogs and cats, but tell an agent you’re bring along a pet rabbit, guinea pig, hamster, etc. and you’re likely to get a confused pause and then be passed among numerous people, none of whom know the proper procedure for bringing your furry friend aboard an airplane. But, if you’re slightly knowledgeable about the rules for your carrier and have allotted extra time before your trip to make arrangements, traveling with a pet rodent can be easy and relatively stress-free for both of you.

You’ll want to take your pet as a carry-on in the cabin with you as most rodents are too fragile to travel as checked luggage. Of course it goes without saying that your pet should be in good health before you attempt to travel with it. So, the first thing you must do is determine what the restrictions are as far as traveling carriers go for your airline. Most airlines post the dimensions on their websites, typically under the “Special Needs” section. For example, Continental’s maximum dimensions for hard sided carriers are 22″ Length x 14″ Width x 9″ Height. These dimensions are very important to follow because if your carrier is too large to fit under the seat in you will have to check your pet. Personally, I prefer a soft-sided carrier for my guinea pig as I’ve found that fewer people in the airport (children mostly) approach it asking what I have inside and peering into it.

The fewer people poking at your pet’s carrier the better as travel is already fairly stressful for them and you want to create as calm an environment as possible. You should also be aware that you might only be able to bring one pet per person in the cabin and that advance arrangements or notifying the airline are usually a requirement. Most airlines will be able to accommodate two small rodents if you make advance arrangements and if both animals travel in the same carrier, but it’s best to call your particular carrier’s customer service to ensure this is an option. When you do call to make arrangements be prepared to explain exactly what type of animal you have and how large it is (both size and weight).

Once you’ve got your pet’s carrier and advance arrangements have been made you’re ready for the actual day of travel. You’ll want to feed your pet at least 4 hours before your flight. A full stomach can be uncomfortable for them with the pressure changes, so it’s best to feed them well ahead of time. Water, however, should be available before the flight. I typically bring along a small bottle and allow my pet to drink before boarding the plane and during any layovers we might have. Putting a soft towel, or t-shirt that smells like your pet or you inside the carrier will also help with stress as well as providing an absorbent layer for any “messes” that might happen along the way. Most rodents burrow when frightened, so a bit of extra fabric allows them to tunnel should they begin to feel unsafe. You will not be able to check-in from a self-service or curbside and will want to allow plenty of extra time for checking in at the counter. Most, if not all, airlines have a fee for bringing pets on board so be prepared to shell out extra cash at check-in in order to get your live animal sticker and the ok for your pet to board.

Security checkpoints are not a hassle if you know what to expect. Know that you will need to take off your shoes, jacket, and take your pet out of its carrier and hold it as you walk through the metal detector (the carrier goes through the x-ray machine, sans critter). I recommend wearing slip on shoes for ease and letting the guard know you have a pet before you start opening the carrier. Your pet might be frightened by all the new sounds and smells so you’ll want to be as calm as possible and speak in a soothing voice to help them know everything is ok. It also helps to hold your pet close to your chest and support both its front and hind quarters to repress their natural urge to flee. Once you make it through the metal detector place your animal back in the carrier and give your boarding pass and any papers you were given for your pet to the security representative. Then, you can head to the gate to await boarding. Please note that you will not be able to take out your pet on board the plane and possibly while in the airport.

Once you reach your destination, open the carrier and coax your furry friend out of it’s carrier with its favorite treat. Know that it might take awhile for your guinea pig, mouse, hamster, rabbit, rat, etc. to become accustomed to its new surroundings. If you’ve done everything you can to be well prepared for your trip however, it should be a fairly hassle-free experience for both you and your pet. Happy Vacationing!