8 Ways to Travel Safely with Your Pet
The carefree nature of the summer season makes it an ideal time to hit the road. But before you do so with your cat or dog in tow, read these eight tips to help ensure that your trails will be incident-free.
1. Implant a microchip. This greatly increases the chance you’ll be reunited with your lost pet. A microchip, a glass cylinder about the size of a grain of rice that’s inserted under your pet’s skin, holds a unique number that is associated with pet-owner information maintained in a national database. Animal shelters and veterinary clinics scan the chip to retrieve the pet’s number. They then access the pet’s number in the database to discover its owners. As for the pain of inserting a microchip: “It’s less so than a vaccination, and people wouldn’t consider not vaccinating because it’s painful,” says Dr. Jim Kramer, CVPM, a partner at Columbus Animal Hospital in Columbus, Neb.
2. Vaccinate. Update your pet’s core vaccines regardless of whether you’re off on an odyssey. Depending on where you’re headed and whether your pet will be in contact with other animals, your veterinarian might recommend additional vaccinations. Talk with your veterinarian well in advance of your trip since some vaccines require a series of injections to be effective.
3. Prepare for parasites. Using broad-spectrum parasite-prevention products that control fleas, ticks, and other parasites is key for dogs and cats, especially if you’re traveling to a warm climate where the risk of infestation is increased. Ask your veterinarian about which parasite-prevention products are best for your pet.
4. Avoid toxic plants. A host of plants—such as azaleas, milkweeds, and mushrooms—may cause vomiting or mouth irritation if eaten by pets. Lily ingestion can even cause death in cats. “They’re extremely toxic to a cat’s kidneys and can cause irreversible damage,” says Dr. Renee Rucinsky, DABVP (feline), medical director at Cat Hospital Eastern Shore in Cordova, Md. If you think your pet may have eaten a toxic plant, call your veterinarian or a poison control hotline immediately.
5. Be ready for emergencies. Don’t lug an entire file box on your trip, but do ask your veterinarian to prepare a quick history of your pet’s vaccinations and major illnesses. (For air travel, a copy of your pet’s vaccine history should be attached to the carrier.) It’s also a good idea to find out ahead of time where the closest emergency care veterinary facility is in relation to your destination. “In a moment of panic, you want to know what you’re up against in an unfamiliar area,” Dr. Rucinsky says.
6. Bring familiar food. “Pets are exposed to enough changes while traveling. Their eating habits shouldn’t be one of them,” says Dr. Kramer. Why? Diarrhea + long car rides = major unpleasantness. Take food and treats along in case stores at your destination do not carry the same varieties your pet is accustomed to. And don’t forget to frequently offer your pet fresh water.
7. Use a carrier. Many airlines require pets to be in a carrier or crate. When traveling by car, keep cats and dogs in a carrier for their protection—and yours. “Pets may do something you don’t expect,” Dr. Kramer says. “If they’re in a crate they aren’t going to cause an accident.” Pets can also become dangerous projectiles in crashes.
8. Consider letting pets stay home. “Most cats are home bodies and would prefer to stay in their own world,” Dr. Rucinsky says. Dogs are more likely to enjoy getting out, but not every dog loves travel. If leaving pets in your home isn’t possible—if you can’t find someone to come by at least once daily—consider boarding them at your veterinary clinic or a facility your veterinarian recommends. They’ll be safe, and they’ll still get a vacation.