How to move across the country with your pet
Policygenius content follows strict guidelines for editorial accuracy and integrity. Learn about oureditorial standards
and how we make money.
Moving to a new place is exciting. Whether it’s for a job, relationship, or change of scenery, it’s fun furnishing a new home and exploring a new neighborhood. But getting there is half the battle, especially if it’s across the country and you have a pet or two in tow.
First, you need to decide how you’re going to get to your new home. Are you traveling by car or plane? Or are you moving via bus or train? Because each mode of transportation has different pet policies, as soon as you decide where you’re moving, you need to decide how you’ll get there.
Get a tune-up. Before you drive thousands of miles with precious cargo (yourself, your pet, and your stuff), make sure everything is in working order.
Take your pet on a test run (or two or three). Sure, he may be fabulous in the car on the way to the beach or dog park, but think about how he is on long car rides. If the drive is unfamiliar, he may get anxious about where he’s going. The more you practice with him and make him feel safe, the more comfortable he will be when it’s time to move.
Provide proper travel restraints. Yes, safety harnesses do exist for dogs and can keep pets safe during a long car ride. And crates and carriers that are large, strong, durable, and leak-proof work for both cats and dogs. It’s also smart to consider backseat barriers if you have an especially restless pet.
Stop for bathroom breaks. Before you leave, let your pet go to the bathroom, of course, but make sure you frequently stop along the way as well. If you have a dog, walk her at a rest stop or grassy patch at a gas station. If you have a cat, bring her litter box so you can scoop and dispose at rest stops.
Exercise your pet. To tire her out – both before and during the trip – walk, run, or play with her. A tired pet is a happy, behaved, comfortable pet.
Book your flight months in advance. Since it’s always better to be safe than sorry, you’ll want to ensure there’s room for both you and your pet, especially if you have a strict travel date. Pets are normally approved on a first-come, first-served basis. Plus, booking early is often cheaper!
Have proper documentation. Because many states require an up-to-date Certificate of Veterinary Inspection when traveling (primarily via airplane), your pet must be examined by a licensed, accredited veterinarian prior to travel. In fact, some airlines even require an acclimation certificate, which is a statement "used to allow airlines to ship dogs and cats when the airline cannot guarantee compliance with animal welfare regulations." What’s more, filling out the proper paperwork and having your pet undergo the proper testing can take a long time to complete. The quicker you learn what’s needed for your trip, the quicker you can complete everything that is required.
Find a pet-friendly airline. When it comes to choosing an airline, pick one that accommodates pets (obviously), specifically your pet. Some airlines don’t take pets at all and some don’t take certain types or breeds.
Find out whether your pet can fly with you in the cabin. If you have no choice but to fly, then flying with her in the cabin is the most ideal option. However, only small pets are permitted in the cabin (for an additional fee). Again, it’s smart to call your airline months in advance to book the flight and allow yourself plenty of time to get everything they require for the trip. For example, some airlines require certain carriers or special immunization or health records if you’re going to bring your pet.
If your pet is too large for the cabin, she will have to travel in cargo hold. The Humane Society says, "While most animals flown in the cargo area of airplanes are fine, you should be aware that some animals are killed, injured or lost on commercial flights each year. Excessively hot or cold temperatures, poor ventilation and rough handling are often to blame. Most U.S. airlines are required to report all companion animal incidents that occur in the cargo hold, and consumers should study the performance record of any airline before choosing to fly your pet in a cargo hold." However, if you have to move via airplane, there are a few things you can do to make the flight better for your pet. Book direct flights, travel on the same flight as her, and choose flights that accommodate the harsh weather conditions, especially if it’s summer or winter. Before the flight, it’s also smart to remove her leash, collar, and anything that can get caught in the crate. The Humane Society also recommends clipping her nails prior to travel, not giving her tranquilizers unless the vet insists, and not feeding her within six hours of the flight.
You may need to reconsider. Greyhound buses do not permit any dogs or cats (or birds or any other animals) onboard unless it’s a service dog specifically trained to accompany the disabled person. However, local bus companies have their own policies so you may be in luck.
Your pet needs to be small. For the longest time, Amtrak didn’t permit pets on trains, but they recently changed their policies and now they allow cats and dogs 20 pounds or less for only $25. Pet service is available on most Amtrak routes coast to coast, and your pet may travel on trips of up to seven hours.
Here are nine other things to keep in mind when you’re moving (and traveling!) with your pet, no matter how far you go or how you get there.
Take your pet to the vet. Make sure he’s updated on any shots and vaccines he may need for travel. Talk to your vet about the upcoming move and find out if she has any suggestions specific to your pet, type, or breed.
Don’t ignore climate change. If you’re moving thousands of miles away, there’s a good chance that the climate is different. Talk to your vet about where you’re going and find out what you can do to better equip your pet for her new environment.
Don’t ignore time zones. What’s another thing that can change when you cross state lines? Time zones. Properly prepare for transition time by letting your pet eat, sleep, and poop based on his internal clock until he gets used to the new hours.
Pack enough for your pet. If you pack enough food, water, toys, and medication, your pet will less stressed and more relaxed on the trip. Being surrounded by familiar items will ease her anxiety.
Plan ahead. Know where pet-friendly rest stops and parks are located along the way and make prior reservations if you’re planning to stay at a pet-friendly hotel. And when it comes to lodging, always call ahead. Some hotels have pet type, size, or breed restrictions so don’t assume your pet is permitted without first speaking to a hotel representative.
Get your pet tagged. What’s worse than a lost pet? A lost pet without proper identification. Before you leave for your move, get him tagged and microchipped so finding him will be easier if he runs off.
Respect those around you. Because not everyone is a pet person, it’s important to be courteous, respectful, and kind to others throughout your trip, especially to those who are trying to accommodate your pet’s needs. Always keep your pet leashed when you’re on a walk and crated and quiet if you have to leave her for a little while.
Keep your pet calm. Moving is stressful for most people, let alone dogs and cats who have no idea what is happening. The best way to keep your pet calm – in addition to bringing along her favorite food and toys – is by remaining calm yourself.
Give him space. As you’re moving out of your current home and moving into your new home, give your pet space away from the hustle and bustle. Adjusting to a new place is tough for anyone so provide your pet time and patience until he get used to his new surroundings.
Moving to a new state, especially somewhere thousands of miles away, can be exhilarating. It’s fun, exciting, and ripe with opportunity. However, it’s important to remember that what you find exciting can be scary and nerve-wracking for your dog or cat. But if you plan ahead, take him to the vet, do your research, and bring along plenty of food, water, and medicine, he, too, can enjoy the trip, new home, and new surroundings. And if you need some more useful tips, our friends at Makespace have some helpful advice as well.
Get essential money news & money moves with the Easy Money newsletter.
Free in your inbox each Friday.