How to travel with your pet

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How to travel with your pet

Now that summer is around the corner and the weather is getting warmer, you may be frantically trying to book a fabulous vacation. But if you have a pet at home, you may be asking yourself if and how you should bring him along, especially if he’s never been on vacation before. Is he healthy enough or will he have a good time? What if he gets homesick (or car sick) and will he be comfortable in a new environment? Does it make sense to travel with your pet?

If you’re planning on taking your pet on a trip (it’s the best, believe me), there are 14 things you should know and do.

Decide early on transportation

Because each mode of transportation has different pet policies, as soon as you decide where you want to go with your pet, you need to decide how you’ll get there.

  • Car. Get a tune-up for your car and take your pet on a test run. Just like with training, the more your pet practices and is exposed to what’s expected of him, the more likely he’ll be comfortable and cooperative. Make sure he gets plenty of time in the car during the weeks leading up to the trip, says Dr. Denise Petryk, DVM and in-house veterinarian for Trupanion. This will help him get used to being on the road (even if he already loves car rides) and can help show you whether or not he gets restless or carsick during extended driving time.

  • Plane. Book your flight months in advance to ensure your pet will be accommodated. Check with your chosen airline regarding their specific requirements or policies pertaining to pet travel, suggests veterinarian Dr. Patrick Mahaney of California Pet Acupuncture and Wellness.

  • Bus. If you’re traveling by bus, you may need to reconsider. The American Kennel Club (AKC) says dogs are not permitted on Greyhound busses unless they’re service dogs. However, local bus companies have their own policies so you may be in luck.

  • Train. For the longest time, Amtrak also didn’t permit pets on trains, but they recently changed their policies and now they allow small dogs or cats on select trains.

  • Ship. And if you’re going on a cruise, bon voyage! Many cruise ships permit dogs so you can enjoy sightseeing and all-you-can-eat buffets together.

Take him to the vet

Since he needs to be healthy enough for travel, take him to the vet for a checkup and get him updated on any shots or vaccines he may need. (Health certifications are usually required for travel, anyway.) Juvenile, geriatric, and clinically ill pets are often stressed out by the travel experience and can develop signs of illness including decreased appetite, vomit, or diarrhea, says Dr. Mahaney. They can also become injured while traveling, especially if they’re unhealthy or unfit. If you suspect your pet may be too unhealthy for travel, it’s best to leave him in the safe confines of his own home.

Be knowledgeable about your destination’s environment

"Certain environments are too cold, hot, or humid, or filled with ectoparasites (mosquitoes or flies), loud noises, and stressful situations that make them inappropriate places to take a companion canine or feline," explains Dr. Mahaney. Research your trip and know the ins and outs of your destination. And while you’re at the vet, make sure you talk to your doctor about specific medications or vaccinations that your pet will need to prevent and/or combat infectious diseases or drastic climate changes.

Have proper documentation

Once you are aware of the airline’s prerequisites, your veterinarian (and possibly the United States Department of Agriculture) can help you find and complete appropriate documentation needed for domestic or international pet travel. Again, knowledge is power so speak to your vet and do your research early since different states and countries have different policies and regulations when it comes to pet travel. What’s more, filling out the proper paperwork and having your pet undergo the proper immunization or testing can take weeks or months to complete. The quicker you learn what’s specifically needed for your trip, the quicker you can complete everything that is required.

Pack enough meds

If your pet is already on medication or supplements or needs some specifically for the trip, make sure she has enough to last throughout the trip. Dr. Mahaney says that, since some medications cannot be easily shipped from your veterinarian or local compounding pharmacy, it’s important to pack the appropriate amount to keep her safe for the whole trip. You should also know where the nearest pet hospital is located so you can easily call and access the clinic if an emergency arises.

Call ahead

If a hotel stay is on the agenda, call ahead to verify the hotel’s pet policy, suggests Dr. Petryk. Verify pet fees, the policy on leaving pets alone in the room, and if there are size or breed restrictions so you won’t be blindsided. In fact, it’s best to ask the customer service representative from the hotel to email the information because then it will be in writing (which will save you and your pet if they try to argue with you upon check-in). And try your best to find a pet-friendly hotel, not just ones that allow pets. Look for a hotel with a large grassy area nearby for walks and one that offers extra services such as dog walking or luxurious, comfy pet beds for use during the stay. After all, it’s his vacation, too!

Prepare for the worst

Since you’re in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people, it’s important to keep your pet near you at all times. Have him tagged (on his collar or harness with current information like his name, your name, and your phone number) and microchipped in case he does get loose. The AKC suggests bringing a recent photo of your dog along with you on the trip. While traveling outside of your home or neighborhood, a higher likelihood exists that your pet will have an increased challenge finding his way back or being returned to you if proper identification is lacking, explains Dr. Mahaney.

Provide proper travel restraints

When traveling in a car or plane, restraints like seat belt harnesses or airline-approved carriers (a properly ventilated one, of course) provide safe containment and reduce the likelihood your pet will be injured during an accident or escape. Crates or carriers should be strong, durable, leak-proof, and large enough for him to stand, turn, and lie down. And in order to prevent strangulation, never put his leash in his crate with him. (Dr. Petryk says that although the best option is to only fly if the pet can be in the cabin, most airlines will only allow this with many conditions. It’s important to keep him safely secured in his crate if he’s not next to you on the plane.)

Pack enough food and water

Because there is nothing worse than foodborne illness on vacation, pack enough of her food so her diet can remain consistent and familiar. Dietary changes – even simple, subtle changes – can affect her stomach and cause digestive upset resulting in stomachaches, vomiting, or diarrhea. And make sure you bring enough water (especially if you’re going on a long road trip) to keep her hydrated.

Don't forget bathroom trips

Before you go through security at the airport or jump in the car for a long road trip, let your dog pee and poop on an on-site grassy patch or other pet elimination site. And let your cat use her litter box before you leave and bring it along with you for travel. You can scoop and dispose at rest stops. It’s also a good idea to reduce her food and water intake about twelve hours before you leave so she’s less likely to pee or poop during travel, says Dr. Mahaney. Additionally – if your pet is nervous or prone to motion sickness – an empty stomach will reduce the chance of in-transit vomiting.

Get some exercise before departure

If you exercise or stimulate your pet twelve to twenty-four hours before you leave, she will more tired on the trip. Tired pets are typically better behaved pets. To tire her out, take her on a more vigorous walk, engage in a rousing bout of toy-based fun, or plan a date with a suitable play partner.

Respect those around you

Not everyone is a pet person so be courteous as you travel and once you reach your destination. Always make sure she’s leashed, and keep her away from others while she’s using the bathroom or entering the hotel. And never leave your pet unattended in the car; it’s cruel to leave her alone in a cold or hot car. If you have to leave your pet in the room, make sure she’s happy and comfortable. Once she’s acclimated, she may even prefer some alone time, especially if your pet is a cat. Although most hotels require pets to be crated when you leave the room, ask the front desk attendant to call you if he hears any noise like crying, barking, or scratching. It’s important to respect other guests who are in the hotel.

Keep your pet calm

The best way to keep your pet calm is by remaining calm yourself. However, you can also bring along her favorite familiar toy or blanket to help ease her fears. For your dog, a doggy massage with lavender oil or a Thundershirt can also help alleviate her anxiety. And if you have a cat, stress remedies like Feliway or Bach’s Rescue Remedy Cat work great to calm her down. It’s also important to keep her comfortable and make sure she has plenty of water and bathroom breaks along the way.

Going on vacation with your pet is truly awesome. It’s amazing to see him outside of his comfort zone and exploring new territory. And traveling with him can be great, too, if you research and plan accordingly. By taking him to the vet, planning and calling ahead, and making sure he has plenty of food, water, and medicine for the trip, you and your pet will have a happy, healthy, and safe vacation.

Image: Charlie Ferruz