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What to do if your dog poops on the plane?

Picture this: you’re at 36,000 feet and your dog is lying quietly in a carrier underneath the seat in front. You’re smiling because you can already hear the drinks trolley rattling down the aisle towards you and you’re ready to order. But then you smell it: something that’s both deeply unpleasant and horrifyingly familiar.

Uh oh.

What happens if midway through a flight your dog goes to the bathroom? And what do you do if your dog poops on the plane?

How do dogs poop on planes?

Dogs on planes poop in their carriers. This is the same whether they’re flying in the cabin or the hold.  Dogs aren’t allowed out to walk down to the bathroom like humans are and you won’t find a nice square of lawn and a fire hydrant way up in the sky.  

One exception to this is service dogs and emotional support animals (ESA). Often, they won’t be sitting in a carrier but at their owner’s feet or in the lap. If an ESA goes unexpectedly, then it’ll be on the carpet.

Service dogs are allowed to move through the plane with their owner and as they can eliminate on command are permitted to use the plane’s bathroom. 

There have been quite a few news stories recently about animals pooping on planes and causing a real headache for crew and passengers.  This is partly to do with the increase in poorly trained or entirely untrained ESAs on flights. If you’re planning to fly regularly with an ESA, then we’d recommend spending time training them or acclimatizing them to flying to make the experience more pleasant both for you and them.

What to do if your dog poops on the plane mid-air

The best thing to do is to be prepared before your flight.  If a dog needs to go, then there’s not much you can do to stop it but there are ways of making it less likely to happen and easier to deal with if they do.

Things to do before you get onto the plane:

  • Before booking your ticket think about your dog’s pooping and eating schedule.  Is there a time they usually go?  If so, try to plan your plane ticket around that. For example, if your dog goes out to eliminate at 8.30 am then try and avoid a flight that takes off at 8 am. This won’t always be possible but if you are at least aware that there could be a problem then you’re more likely to be prepared for it.
  • Puppies and older dogs may not be able to hold it in for as long so factor their age into any plans you’re making.
  • Flying can be stressful for some dogs. This can make it more likely that they’ll defecate during the trip.  You might find it useful to use a dog pheromone to keep them calm in their carrier or to cover the carrier during the flight so they’re able to sleep.  Putting familiar smelling bedding inside may help calm them, too.  In the weeks before the flight, it may be useful to walk them in busy areas where they can get used to the unique sounds of an airport. You may be able to replicate this at a train station or bus terminal. If your dog is anxious about traveling by car, you can probably assume the same thing could happen when flying.
  • If you’re flying halfway around the world with your dog, then you might want to consider breaking the journey up to give you dog a rest between legs.  Again, this won’t always be possible but it’s worth considering if you have the financial freedom and the time to do so. Conversely, if you’re flying short-haul then try to fly direct to minimise the stress of the journey.  
  • Reduce your pet’s food intake before a flight. Traveling on a full stomach will make them more likely to poop and can also cause motion sickness.  How much to feed them and how long before you fly will depend on the size of the dog and the length of the flight.  We wouldn’t feel comfortable advising this without knowing an individual dog’s circumstances but talking to your veterinarian should give you a good idea of what to feed them on the day.
  • Exercise your dog thoroughly before the flight.  Take them on a long walk – the longer the better. This will encourage them to go to the bathroom before you leave. Ideally, exercise should be done in a familiar space or somewhere they’ll be comfortable enough to go.  This will also help tire them out and encourage sleeping during the journey.
  • We’d advise packing a few items that would help you deal with any pooping: wet wipes, paper towels, zip bags and a spray to deal with the smell.
  • Check at the airport to see if there’s a toilet area for dogs to use.  With so many service animals now flying, most international airports should have somewhere you can take your dog.  This may also encourage them to go before your board.  
  • Encourage them to go to the bathroom at home if that’s possible or on their walk as this will be more comfortable for them.  The unfamiliar smells, sounds and textures at the airport may be too distracting for the dog to go comfortably.
  • If you haven’t purchased a dog carrier yet, it’s worth factoring in how well it will deal with any unexpected accidents.  Consider how easy it would be for you to get access to the inside during the flight.  Can the material handle the mess?  And how easy will it be to clean?  On top of this you’ll still need to think about how comfortable, secure and big the carrier is.
  • If your dog poops when traveling in the cabin, one issue is that soft-sided carriers (the type required by most airlines) are harder to clean. We’d recommend adding puppy training pads to the base of the carrier for an easier clean-up.

Things to do if your dog poops on the plane

  • Service dogs can go into the bathroom and poop on puppy training pads.  Ordinarily, this isn’t allowed for non-service dogs but if you think your dog needs to go then it’s worth asking a flight attendant if it’s possible.  If you’re not allowed, then try to make the dog as comfortable as possible.  Dogs don’t like pooping where they sleep but if they’re desperate they won’t be able to hold it.
  • If you can’t prevent it happening, there are things you can do to make the situation less stressful.
  • Make sure your supplies are to hand: the towels, the wet wipes, the spray, etc.
  • You can also buy dog diapers which will keep the mess contained.
  • If your dog does poop, then don’t panic.  It’s one of those things. People are often understanding in these situations so long as you do whatever you can to clean it up quickly and efficiently.  Apologize to anyone sitting in the vicinity and clean up the mess yourself.  Show that you’re a responsible owner and a considerate passenger but dealing with the situation properly and ensuring it doesn’t negatively impact those seated around you.
  • Ask for additional towels or advice from the flight attendant but don’t ask or expect them to clean it up for you.

Recap: what should you if your dog poops on a flight?

  1. Make sure you’ve packed a small bag of towels, wipes and sprays. You’ll need bags to put the soiled items inside and for any trash.
  2. Don’t panic.
  3. Do whatever you need to do to clean it up quickly and efficiently. This could mean alerting a member of the cabin crew for more paper towels, stronger cleaning supplies or advice.
  4. If it’s particularly bad-smelling or messy, then apologize to those around you.  Of course, it’s not your fault but by bringing a dog onboard you do have to take responsibility for what’s happened.

We hope you’ve found this useful and we wish you the best of luck for your upcoming flights.

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