By John Gilpatrick
Toys, a leash, important medication—these are no-brainers when you’re preparing to vacation with your dog or cat. Because such a vacation takes so much preparation—especially if you’re traveling with a pet for the first time—it’s virtually impossible to leave these essentials at home.
Other items? They might not even cross your mind. But without them, your vacation may get derailed before you even reach your destination.
Add these to your next travel checklist to ensure a happy and safe getaway for you and your furry friend.
A lot of travelers clear their photos off their phones before they go on vacation in order to leave as much space as possible for new memories. That’s fine, but leave at least a couple of pictures of your pet, says Erin Ballinger, a pet travel expert for BringFido.com.
Many shelters require visual confirmation of ownership in the event that your pet gets lost and you need to pick him up somewhere. Ballinger suggests travelers keep a variety of pictures with them to prevent any possible problems. “Take mug shots of your pet,” she says, “and make sure you have a clear picture of you and your pet together without anyone or anything else in the frame.” This isn’t something you’ll likely need, but you won’t want to get caught unprepared in case of emergency.
On a similar note, you should know where the nearest veterinarian or emergency pet health facility is at all times. Lindsey Wolko, founder of the Center for Pet Safety in Reston, Va., says most vets share records, but not all do. If you have to take your pet to the vet while you’re away, copies of his most recent medical records are vital. This is especially important for emergencies that happen after hours, since even facilities that share records won’t be able to send them at night.
While more and more hotels across America and the world are becoming pet friendly, that doesn’t mean they’ll tolerate extreme pet-related damage. Vacations are expensive enough already, so anything you can do to prevent extra charges should at least be considered.
Laying your own sheets and blankets out in a rental car or on hotel furniture is one way to make sure your pet doesn’t leave his or her hair everywhere, Ballinger says. “If [the sheets] haven’t been washed immediately before your trip, they have the added bonus of smelling like home, which ought to keep your pet calm in an unfamiliar place,” she adds.
Ziploc bags are basically a pet parent’s Swiss army knife. You can use them to pick up poop if necessary. You can also carry food in them (not the same ones used for poop!) if you’re going on a day trip and need to pack a backpack. “The last thing you want to do is carry a ten-pound bag of food with you on a hot day,” Ballinger says. “Pre-portion the food out and only carry what you need.” Make sure to pack bags of different sizes, along with some plastic shopping bags, as well.
The quality of tap water changes from city to city (sometimes drastically), and for pets who are accustomed to drinking from just one water source for their entire lives, even a slight change in quality for short period of time can upset their stomachs. “It’s not uncommon for pets to get diarrhea on vacation because of the unfamiliar water they’re drinking,” Wolko says. “Fill a gallon jug or two and bring them with you.”
If this is too difficult because you’re flying, Wolko recommends you consider preparing a package to ship ahead of you. “This is becoming more and more common with people who can’t carry everything they need for their pet on them,” she says. Water, food, and other bulkier essentials are good options to ship prior to your vacation.
If you’re driving a long distance, this item shouldn’t be a surprise, but you might be surprised to know how few devices actually do the job.
At Wolko’s Center for Pet Safety, she and her colleagues perform scientific tests on products already on the market. They’re looking for something that can truly keep your pet safe in the event of a crash, and you’ll be shocked to learn how many devices have earned their certification.
“Five,” she says. “Many pet parents just assume that products like this have some sort of approval process to go through before they get to market, but the truth is that there’s virtually no oversight, meaning many products won’t do what you need them to in the event of an emergency.”
Before you buy, look for the “CPS” certification, and spend at least a few weeks getting your pet accustomed to whatever device you choose. “Make the car feel like home however you can – toys, blankets, familiar smells all do the trick,” Wolko says. “He’ll ride calmly, and you’ll drive more safely.”