A Guide to Traveling with Your Pet
Getting ready to book your next family vacation? Why not bring your dog or cat along? You’ll need a little extra preparation to accommodate your pet’s needs, but introducing your pet to new experiences can be rewarding for both of you.
Vacation spots across the United States and around the world are increasingly accommodating pets, but traveling with your four-legged friend requires advanced planning to ensure that all aspects of your trip are pet friendly. When making all plans, including transportation, ask whether your cat or dog will be welcome.
Dr. Laura Pasten, who was Morris the Cat’s veterinarian, advises pet owners to really think about whether a destination suits their pet’s personality. Smaller cities or rural areas that include dog parks, outdoor cafés, campgrounds, beaches that welcome pets, or hiking trails are often better choices than are bustling, noisy cities.
European and other international destinations often welcome pets, but international travel requires additional preparation. You will need to contact your destination’s consulate or embassy to learn that country’s requirements, such as possible quarantines, for pets. Hawaii also has a quarantine period.
Work with your travel agent or search the Internet to find pet-friendly lodging. If you need to leave your pet alone in a hotel room, place the do not disturb sign on the door and confine him to his carrier. This will help prevent undesirable interaction between your pet and hotel staff.
The home of a family member or friend may seem more accepting of your pet than a hotel or bed and breakfast, but make sure the home owners truly want your pet there, that your pet gets along with any resident pets, and that the house is pet-proofed.
THE PRE-TRIP VETERINARY VISIT
“A visit to the veterinarian before travel can be beneficial,” says Dr. Lisa Powell, associate clinical professor and ICU director at the University of Minnesota Veterinary Medical Center in St. Paul. At the visit, let your veterinarian know where you are headed. Your veterinarian will make sure your pet is current on all vaccinations and is given appropriate medication to protect him against threats that are native to your destination. Also remember to refill and pack your pet’s regular prescriptions before leaving for vacation.
If your pet has motion sickness or becomes stressed when traveling, your veterinarian may prescribe medication to combat these concerns. However, if your pet needs to be heavily medicated, he may not be suited for travel. “Excessive sedation is the most frequent cause of animal deaths during airline travel,” says Dr. Arnold Plotnick, owner of Manhattan Cat Specialists in New York. “Any drugs administered to a pet must be given under proper veterinary supervision.” As an alternative, exercising your pet before travel may act as a natural tranquilizer to help him relax or fall asleep during the trip.
For both cats and dogs, proof of rabies vaccination must be shown when traveling to another country and is sometimes required when flying to another state. In addition, you may be required to obtain a health certificate for your pet. These documents can be easily obtained from your veterinarian. Check with your airline and destination for specific requirements.
If you and your pet become separated, you want to have the best chance of being reunited. Many veterinarians recommend microchipping pets in addition to having them wear collars and ID tags. Dr. Plotnick recommends microchipping over tattoos, which can fade or be covered up when hair grows. “A microchip provides a unique, unalterable, permanent form of identification for cats and dogs,” he explains. Should your pet go missing, a scanner can be run over his neck to detect the microchip and trace it back to you, increasing the likelihood of a happy reunion. For entry into some countries, pets are required to be microchipped.
GETTING CARRIER-ED AWAY
Take extra care in preparing your pet’s carrier, which is needed for pets not using a harness in a car and is required for travel by plane. Ask your airline for its specific guidelines, but in general, a carrier should:
- Include a label with your name, your pet’s name, your home and destination contact information, your cell phone number, and your veterinarian’s contact information
- Be marked with large lettering stating live animal and this side up with arrows indicating the top
- Have a lining
- Contain a litterbox (for cats)
- Include feeding instructions
- Be large enough for your pet to stand up and turn around in
- Be waterproof and sturdy
- Have handles
- Not be locked so your pet can be reached in an emergency
Before your trip, leave the carrier open in a place where your pet spends a lot of time. Place treats inside, on occasion, so he gets used to going into it and won’t be afraid.
PLANES, TRAINS, AND AUTOMOBILES
To prepare for a lengthy car ride, take your pet on shorter drives ahead of time. Make a list of emergency clinics along your route as well as at your destination in case your pet gets sick or injured. Feed him at least 2 hours before you depart, and provide small amounts of water as needed throughout the trip. Never allow your pet to stick his head out the window because he could be injured by debris. Take breaks every couple of hours to exercise your pet and let him eliminate. However, do not leave your pet unattended in the car, and make sure he is on a leash when out of his carrier.
39.8% of HealthyPet readers have traveled with their pet in the past 12 months.*
Traveling by car is usually preferable to air travel, but there are ways to stay on top of your pet’s plane trip. Federal and state regulations, as well as those imposed by each airline, are in place to keep your pet as safe as possible. Try to book direct flights during less-busy hours, have your pet fly in the cabin with you if possible, and avoid traveling during the hottest and coldest parts of the day. If your pet must travel in the cargo hold, have the airline verify that the area is temperature controlled.
The day before your scheduled flight, check with your airline to make sure nothing has changed and that your pet can still be accommodated. Feed your pet 6 hours before your flight takes off. Find out in advance where in the airport you and your pet need to report, and arrive 2 to 4 hours before scheduled departure. You will need to take your pet through airport security, including the metal detector, and your pet’s carrier may be x-rayed. Each airline has its own regulations, which may be updated periodically.
Alert the plane’s crew that you have a pet on board, and as soon as your plane lands, pick up your pet and inspect him. If anything looks suspicious, see a veterinarian as soon as possible. Keep in mind that pet insurance is portable and can be used wherever you travel.
Beyond car and air travel, options for transporting your pet may be limited. Most modes of public transportation do not welcome pets, with the exception of assistance dogs. If you are traveling by boat, check with the cruise line to find out whether kennels are available.
“Traveling with your dog or cat can be a wonderful experience and—with some preparation—can be accomplished with ease,” Dr. Powell says. By keeping your pet healthy on the road (and always), choosing your destinations wisely, and planning ahead, you can find plenty of places and activities to enjoy with your pet. Bon voyage!
MOVIN' ON UP
Many tips for safe travel also apply to moving, but a smooth move requires some additional preparation:
- Pack in stages to lessen the stress on your pet.
- Obtain new ID tags with your updated address before the move.
- Confine your pet to a room from which he cannot escape on moving day.
- Ask your veterinarian to recommend a veterinarian in your new neighborhood.
- Pet-proof your new destination as soon as you arrive, and make sure your pet has all the comforts of your former home.
NEVER TOO OLD?
Even if you and your four-legged travel companion have many stamps on your passport, your pet’s needs and stamina may have changed over time. Your senior pet should undergo a complete workup before travel. If your pet is cleared for the trip, take care to avoid excessive stress and maintain your pet’s routine as much as possible, including his usual food and favorite objects.
*Source: 2007 HealthyPet Magazine reader profile study, MRI Market Solutions.