During the hot summer months, it’s not uncommon to travel with our pets while we’re planning our vacation. After all, 45 percent of pet owners1 would now consider taking their family vacations with their dog. That said, is it always best to travel with your pet, and if you do, what’s the safest, least stressful way? Here are a few tips about safe travel facts that you should consider before transporting your #1 baggage.
First, ask yourself if it’s worth putting your pet through the stress of traveling if you’re only going for a few days — if your pet doesn’t travel well, it’s not worth the risk or stress. Honestly, he’d prefer to be sleeping at home instead of spending the trip confused and fearful of loud noises (think of it as his vacation away from you). Get a house- and pet-sitter instead.
If you do decide to travel with your pet, make sure your pet is healthy by scheduling an appointment with your veterinarian. If you travel out of the state (depending on the state) or out of the country, you’ll need a current health certificate (dated within ten days of travel) to verify that he’s healthy, isn’t carrying any external or internal parasites (fleas, ticks, or gastrointestinal worms), and is current on his vaccines. If you’re going somewhere endemic to mosquitoes or heartworms, your pet should be on a heartworm preventative or appropriate flea/tick medication, also.
Next, plan the route in advance. Find several emergency veterinarians along the way (if you’re driving), or at your destination, in case anything happens. Have your veterinarian’s phone number and Pet Poison Helpline pre-programmed in your cell phone in case of emergency. And route out several hotels that are pet-friendly (Motel 6 always is!).
Lastly, if your pet is the type to get stressed from travel and you just must travel with him, talk to your veterinarian about a sedative (like torbugesic, diphenhydramine [Benadryl], or acepromazine) or anti-nausea medication (like maropitant), as pets get car sick too! This’ll make everyone’s trip go a little bit smoother and your pet more comfortable. My recommendation? Experiment with a "trial period" at home several days before the trip so you know how your pet reacts to the medication. Remember the meds will likely need to be given orally at least 1-1.5 hours prior to the trip start, so there’s time for it to kick in!
If you’re traveling by car:
Some pets are more used to cars (dogs) than others (cats). If your pet isn’t, try to avoid unnecessary transportation unless it’s imperative. More importantly, make sure you are aware of the dangers of traveling with pets in cars. First, don’t drive with your pet in your lap – it may even be illegal in your state, and it’s distracting to you, makes you a less safe driver, and puts everyone’s lives in danger. For you cat owners, make sure your cat is secured in the cat carrier. While you may think it’s fun to let him roam, if he wanders near your brake pad, a serious accident could result. I’ve also seen cats freak out and rapidly escape an ajar door or window, getting lost somewhere in the middle of Iowa forever. If you’re taking a quick bathroom break while traveling, make sure to do the same for your dog – but leash him before you open the car door, in case he tries to make a break for it.
If you’re a cat owner and are making a long car ride, make sure to have a kitty litter box available in the car at all times too! Finally, always make sure your pet has cool water available at all times when you stop, or offered frequently. If you have to run in for a quick meal, it’s imperative to park in the shade, secure your pet, leave water in the car, and the windows open (or the A/C running) – cars can heat up rapidly in hot temperatures (even with the windows partially opened), resulting in fatal heat stroke, and a potentially broken window from a well-intentioned animal lover!
If you’re traveling by plane:
When it comes to planes, pets don’t understand the loud noises, vibrations, feelings of nausea, and general concept behind traveling. If you do need to fly with your pet, make sure to thoroughly investigate travel plans with your airline company. Different airlines have various requirements from breed or crate restrictions, requirements for specific crate types or brands, temperature restrictions, identification or labeling protocols, and water and food requirements. Please check with the airline weeks in advance to make sure you aren’t scrambling at the last minute. Check to see if the airline will allow you to take your cat or miniscule dogs on board in a soft-sided carrier. This often requires a $50-100 animal fee, and your pet must stay in the carrier under the seat at all times (which may require lots of sedation) – that’s to help out those allergic around you too. Make sure to book a direct flight to minimize long layovers on the tarmac in extreme conditions, and ideally pick flights that are early morning or late evening to avoid peak heat hours.
As soon as you arrive to baggage claim, make sure to check that your pet is safe, and offer him some water. Wait until your pet settles down before offering any food. By the way, most airports won’t allow pets to be released from their crate until they are outside. Just make sure your #1 baggage has made it safe and sound. Alternatively, investigate pet-specific airlines such as PetAirways, where your pet flies in the cabin, not the cargo space!
A few key tips:
- It’s important to acclimate your pet to a crate or carrier slowly weeks before your travel, so it’s not a stressful experience.
- Provided your pet is healthy, try not to feed your pet 4-6 hours before traveling so there’s no vomit or nausea to deal with.
- Prepare ahead – it’s already stressful planning for vacation. Take some extra time to find the animal drop-off area and deal with pre-travel pet hysteria.
Dr. Justine Lee