Traveling with Your Pet

Author: Alecia Pirulis  

Dog in Crate

Dog in a wire crate strapped into a car for safe traveling Taken by Elf (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Your dog is the best apartment mate you could ask for — he is always ridiculously happy to see you walk through the front door, he’s always up for a walk or a game of tug, and he never complains about that reality show television marathon. Likewise, your cat has found you worthy enough to share her domain with you, and will occasionally let you know you are still acceptable with a brush against your legs. So when you decide to travel, you may find it difficult to leave your pet with a pet sitter or in a kennel. If you find you just can’t leave your four-legged pal behind, take him with you! Traveling with your pet can be a fun and rewarding experience if you plan ahead and take a few extra precautions.

Before leaving, take your pet to the veterinarian and get him checked out. Make sure he is healthy and up-to-date with his vaccinations, and ask your vet for an updated health certificate (especially if you are traveling outside of the US). When leaving the country, you may need more than just a health certificate. Your veterinarian will be able to tell you what’s required depending on where you are going. Also, if traveling with your pet is a new experience and you don’t know how he’ll handle it or if your pet is skittish, you may want to ask your vet to prescribe a sedative. If your pet isn’t micro-chipped, consider asking your vet about having that done before leaving, just in case you and your pet get separated.

The ASPCA doesn’t recommend taking your pet on a plane, but if you must, try to book a direct flight so your pet isn’t left on the tarmac in bad or extreme weather or is being tossed about by baggage handlers. Be sure the shipping crate is USDA-approved and that your pet has room to stand, sit, and turn around comfortably. Make sure your pet has water to prevent dehydration. Freeze a small bowl of water and put it in his crate — this way, it won’t spill and it will melt by the time your dog is thirsty.

If the flight is long or there is a layover, tape a bag of food to the outside of the crate so baggage handlers can feed your pet. Tape a picture of your pet to the top of the crate and write “live animal” in big, bold letters with arrows pointing to the top of the crate. The picture will help identify your pet if he escapes his crate. Keep a picture of your pet with you, as well.

Traveling by plane can be stressful for your pet. Be sure the crate has proper ventilation on both sides and put a water-absorbing pad in the bottom of the crate. Add your pet’s favorite toy, blanket, or mat. Be sure to check with your airline about their rules regarding pets — many airlines will allow small pets to ride in the cabin under your seat as long as they are in an approved crate. Being next to you will reduce your pet’s stress, so this is the best option for plane travel with a small dog or cat.

Road trips can be great with your pet. Most dogs love car rides, but if your pet isn’t used to the car, be sure to take some short “test drives” before you leave for vacation. This will get him used to the car and will alert you to any issues, such as car sickness. If your pet isn’t used to being harnessed in the car or spending time in a crate, you’ll also want to get them used to that. You don’t want to head out the door on vacation and have a freaked-out cat trying to escape her crate or a scared dog who whines when you try to harness him. You’ll still want to keep pictures of your pet, consider having him micro-chipped, or make sure his tags have your updated contact information in case your pet gets lost.

Don’t forget to pack for your pet! You want your pet’s updated health records in case your pet bites someone or gets bitten. Bring along your pet’s favorite toy, some treats, a portable water dish, enough dog food for the length of the trip, a scooper and bags for pit-stop clean-up, and any first aid items your dog may need. Don’t feed your pet in a moving car — feed him a few hours before leaving and then wait until you stop to feed them again. He should, however, have water accessible in the car, either by water bottle or with a collapsible travel bowl. (Bring your pet’s water from home — water from unfamiliar areas could cause stomach distress.)

You may envision driving down the open road with your best pal’s head hanging out the window, tongue flapping — but that can actually be dangerous. Your dog could be hit by flying debris and the wind could cause an ear infection. Also, your dog may pull a daredevil move and leap out — leading to serious injury or even death. Be sure to stop frequently at rest areas and take your dog for a walk on a leash so he can get some exercise, sniff around, and take care of business.

When traveling a long distance with your pet, you’ll want to start researching pet-friendly hotels along your route to determine where you’ll want to stop and book your rooms in advance. Don’t think you can just find a hotel when you are ready to stop — not every hotel is pet-friendly and you don’t want to risk driving around an unfamiliar area looking for a place to stay after a long day of traveling. Never, ever leave your pet alone in a parked vehicle. The temperature in your car on a warm day can easily reach 120 degrees in a matter of minutes, even if you leave the window open.

You’ll get hungry during the drive and leaving your dog or cat in the car while you dash into even a fast-food restaurant is extremely dangerous for your pet. Instead, consider picnics along the way — drive through if you don’t have something packed and take your meal to a rest area or nearby park. Or, pack a cooler before you leave and eat outdoors at a picnic area. When making even a quick stop, always keep your pet leashed. It is an unfamiliar area and you can’t be sure how your pet will react to the strange surroundings, so keep him safe by keeping him leashed.

Remember — traveling puts your pet in unfamiliar surroundings and disrupts his day-to-day routine. His one constant is you, and he may become anxious if you leave him alone in an unfamiliar setting. Try not to leave him alone in the hotel room, and always keep him leashed outdoors. By planning ahead and taking some precautions, your dog (and yes, even your cat) will much prefer being with you than being left behind.