Traveling with Pets
February 13, 2018
Whether you’re taking a pet-inclusive vacation, visiting family or friends, or moving across the country, traveling with pets is becoming more and more common. It can be daunting at first, but with a little planning your pets can become seasoned travelers in no time.
There is an excellent website (click here) with a wealth of information for traveling with pets, and I highly suggest browsing through the website, but I will summarize some key points below.
First, if you have a new puppy and will be planning to camp, hike, travel, etc. be sure to expose your puppy to new experiences now. Book a night at a pet friendly hotel in town or send them for “slumber parties” with friends and family to get them used to being in novel environments. Set up the tent in the backyard and let them explore getting in and out of it. Bring them to the cabin from a young age. Acclimate them car rides and take them places frequently. Growing up with lots of these experiences will make them no big deal when you do take that vacation.
Driving is probably the most common way people travel with pets. Potential pitfalls include anxiety in the car, carsickness, and safe containment. If your pet is anxious or carsick, call our veterinarians to discuss medications to help alleviate their discomfort.
It is almost always best to keep your pet contained or restrained in some way in the car. Loose pets can distract the driver or become projectiles in the case of an accident which is unsafe for them AND human passengers. Sometimes you have no choice; if you have a very large dog and a small car, for example. Just do your best.
For cats, a carrier is the best option. You can line the bottom with disposable puppy housetraining pads for easier cleanup in case your cat urinates or defecates. A few hours before travel, spray the inside of the carrier with a calming pheromone (Feliway or Comfort Zone), and cover the carrier with a towel or blanket that has also been sprayed with the pheromone. If possible, place the carrier on the floor instead of a seat to make your cat feel more secure. You can also use a seatbelt to anchor the carrier in place and stabilize it.
For dogs, either a crate or a seatbelt can be used. Right now, the only crash tested seatbelt I recommend is called the Sleepypod Clickit. There are a variety of crates that can be used in the car; the safest options are impact tested but they are expensive and bulky. A regular crate is better than no crate.
Aspen isn’t quite grasping the purpose of the travel crate.
Be sure to keep your pet securely leashed wearing proper identification at all times in case of escape. Apart from anxiety-induced elimination, cats usually will not urinate or defecate during travel and do not need “potty breaks,” but for trips longer than a few hours dogs will benefit from breaks to stretch their legs and potty. Rest stops or gas stations are often good choices.
Flying is becoming more common with pets. Depending on the airline, smaller pets can usually ride in the cabin and larger pets ride in cargo. It is becoming more common for airlines to offer climate controlled cargo holds for both safety and comfort of traveling pets.
Each airline has different and requirements for travel documents, whether your pet may ride in the cabin, and how many pets are allowed on a flight at one time. It is always best to contact your airline early about their policies and confirm the information several times, as occasionally travelers have received inconsistent information from airline employees. You may need an examination and health certificate issued by a veterinarian within 10 days of travel.
If you have a service dog, they are allowed to fly in the cabin. Emotional support animals, depending on the size and species, are often allowed to fly in the cabin but policies between airlines may vary. Contact and confirm with your airline well prior to travel. Please do not try to pass your pet off as a service animal or ESA in order to fly in the cabin; service dogs and ESAs should have undergone public access training to ensure their behavior in public is safe and non-disruptive. Pets without public access training are causing problems for legitimate service dog and ESA handlers.
Train, Sea, and other travel: Please refer to the pet travel website for information about these less common travel methods.
Hotels and Resorts: Be sure to verify before you travel that any hotels or resorts you will be staying at are pet friendly. Many require an additional pet fee and/or have weight restrictions or limit the number of pets. The pet travel website linked above has information about finding pet friendly accommodations.
If you are vacationing with your dog(s), pack familiar food, bed, blanket toys, bowls, etc. as well as an adequate supply of any medication. I always travel with a few king-sized sheets to place on the bed or other furniture to protect from hair and dirt. If your pet is used to sleeping in a kennel, bring it as well. Don’t leave your pet unattended in a hotel room, even if kenneled, as in the unfamiliar environment even normally quiet pets may bark, whine or howl, disturbing other guests. I usually have an extra collar tag made with “Hotel/Resort Name Guest” and phone number when traveling, especially if I am in areas with spotty cell phone coverage.
Most cats are not good candidates for vacationing with owners, but you still may find yourself staying in a hotel with your cat(s) if, for example, you are moving to another state and driving over several days. Generally speaking, cats find change stressful so we want to make them feel as safe and secure as possible. Providing them with a small, secure area that you have sprayed with calming pheromones and contains all of their resources (a hiding place is extremely important, food, water, litter box) and just letting them be is usually the best approach. (If you have a very laid back cat, this does not apply.) The bathroom, or the bedroom of a suite are good choices.
Camping with pets can be fun for people and pets alike. Before you go, acclimate your pet to the tent and equipment by setting up the tent in the backyard and letting them explore getting in and out, zipping the doors up, letting them sit on the inflated air mattress, etc. I find having my dogs on a tie-out is the easiest way to manage dogs when camping, so get them used to being tied up before you go on your trip.
Staying with family or friends feels like it should be the easiest way to travel with pets, but it can be stressful. Be sure you and your hosts are on the same page as far as house rules (for example, are pets allowed on furniture?). If your hosts have pets of their own, your pet may or may not get along with them. If not, you may need to separate them in different rooms or behind baby gates to maintain harmony.
International travel usually involves additional paperwork and documentation. Each country has different requirements for pets traveling from the United States. Information about what you need for different countries can be found at the USDA website found here. You should read through the requirements as soon as you know when and where you will be traveling, as some countries have very strict rules for the timing of certain vaccines or other treatments in relation to your trip. You will also need to have your pet examined and a health certificate issued within 10 days of travel.
There are many more factors to consider when traveling with your pet than we can cover in the context of this blog. The websites linked throughout this article are great sources of information, and as always if you have any questions feel free to contact the clinic.
Karen Christopherson DVM