The Rat Fan Club

Pet Rats Traveling via Commercial Airline


by Kim Hallahan

(written in 2010)


People tell horror stories about pet travel on commercial airlines. There must be many more successes than tragedies, but most often we hear about the problems. This summer the Navy moved my family from northwest Washington to Rhode Island, and we brought our three adult rats with us. We had to fly, and I worried about how the rats would do. I was so heartened by the one positive rat shipping story I found on the RMCA website, I reread it countless times. I hope similarly to help and encourage people with this story of our successful trip.

We asked every airline that flies between the cities we needed, and none of them will permit rats to ride in the cabin of the aircraft. Rather than ship the girls as baggage, we opted for the more pet-friendly air cargo. We chose Delta, currently the only major airline that, in some cities, transports pets to and from the aircraft in a climate-controlled van. We booked the red-eye to avoid having a layover during the hottest part of the day. The girls were in transit, door to door, for about 18 hours.

Needing a travel container that would not let their fragile noses or tails poke out and accidentally get squished, we bought a once-used airline transport box from Brisky Pets ( I phoned the company, and a friendly representative spoke at length with me about our trip.  Stephan told me how to disinfect the box to make it ready for our pets, and he offered food and hydration suggestions for travel.

We introduced the rats to this box a couple of weeks before the trip and let them play in it a bit each day, so they’d be comfortable with it. We took them around the house and back yard to experience different conditions while inside the box. One caution: if you do this, be sure to watch the rats closely or secure the lid while they are inside. One day when the lid was set on loosely, one girl propped the lid up with her nose and began chewing the plastic inside edge. Thank goodness this was in a corner inaccessible when the lid was secured, and I caught her before she’d chewed very far. The box is considered chew-proof in its original condition, because the insides are smooth and rats can’t get a grip to start chewing. You don’t want to let them create such a grip on the edge of the box before setting out on their trip.

The makers of the travel container specify a maximum rat weight per box on their website at  I imagine over the hours, possibly days, that lab rats are shipped, ammonia can build up to dangerous levels. Our rats were right at the weight limit when we shipped them, so we planned the bedding, food, and water to maximize their comfort and minimize ammonia odor in transit.

This box worked fabulously for them. They were secure and as comfortable as I think they could be. We filled the bottom third of the box with our favorite odor-absorbing litter, Healthy Pet brand Dust-Free cat litter. On that we set an empty cereal box that the girls could hide and snuggle in. We piled a two-day supply of rat blocks in the corner, placed hydrating gel packs along side (see next paragraph), and taped more rat blocks in a zip-top plastic bag to the outside of the box.  The top of the box is transluscent, so the rats could see shadows, but not what was outside.  The top and sides are made of an ultrafine mesh that allows good ventilation, but prevents viruses from crossing. When lab rats are shipped in these boxes, they are guaranteed not to contract any viruses. That was reassuring for our pets, too. We secured the box as directed with two plastic zip ties and followed airline instructions for labeling.

Water bottles can be unreliable under usual circumstances, and who knows what turbulence might do to them?  In lieu of a water bottle, we ordered Aqua Jel hydration packs for small animals at 614-325-2052. The company was kind enough to sell me a smaller shipment of four 300-g packs at a discount. These packs are sterile and resist contamination, they do not need refrigeration, and unopened packs are good for 18 months. Peter, the owner, said 300 g would be fine for three one-pound rats to travel 18 hours or more. Since he had sent four, we used two packs for this trip. I agree that one pack would have been plenty. The girls had torn apart the first pack and scattered gel around the cage, but the second pack was mostly intact when they got to Rhode Island.

We didn’t see most of their journey, but I feel confident that our ratties traveled well. They rode with us by car, shuttle van and taxi for two hours to get to the Seattle airport. Once each vehicle started moving, they quickly settled down and went to sleep. When we received them 18 hours later, they were happy to see us, curious and active. We had brought their little travel cage with fresh litter so they’d be comfortable on the final car ride, but we didn’t even use it. The bedding in their shipping container still smelled fresh and clean!  We offered them a water bottle in the car, and they were happy to drink, but not excessively thirsty.

I recommend all of the products and companies we used for this shipping adventure. If you must fly your ratties via commercial air, be sure to read Jane Sorensen’s article at, do your best to prepare them for comfort and safety, then relax and let the professionals do their job.  You can have a great experience, too!


Rat Lady’s note: As of Jan 2017 the website below sells high quality shipping containers that cost about $32 not including shipping.


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