Traveling With a Pet

Tips for Safe Travel with Pets

Travel is an amazing experience that can broaden your mind, recharge your batteries, and create memories that last a lifetime. Wouldn’t it be great to share that with your furry family members, too?

Well, maybe. But first you need to ask yourself whether your furry friend actually likes traveling. Does he or she enjoy being in the car and seeing new people and places? If these experiences stress your pet out, it will probably be kinder to leave him in the care of a boarding kennel or professional pet sitter. Many restaurants and tourist attractions also do not allow pets. If you’re not prepared to go the extra mile to accommodate your pet during travel, he or she may be safer and happier at home.

If your pet loves exploring new things and you decide to take him with you on vacation, start planning the trip early. You’ll need to determine if your pet will need a health certificate (and pre-vacation veterinary exam), and you’ll need to research accommodation and transport options that welcome pets.

The following are some tips on traveling with your animal companion. Always carry proof of a current rabies vaccination.

Traveling by Car:

  • Always be sure that your pet is safely restrained in the car. There are safety harnesses for dogs that function like a seatbelt (it’s best to get your dog comfortable with these in advance), or you can use a well-ventilated, hard-sided kennel. Cats should always be kept in their carriers when traveling by car, to avoid distracting the driver. All animals are safer in the back seat.
  • Don’t let your dog stick her head out the window when the vehicle is moving; she could be hit by flying debris or passing vehicles. Never transport any pet in the back of a pickup truck.
  • Always provide frequent bathroom and exercise breaks. When outside the car, make sure your pet stays on a leash and wearing a collar and ID tag at all times.
  • Never leave your pet unattended in a parked car. On warm days, the temperature in your car can rise to 120 degrees in minutes, even with the windows slightly open. An animal left alone in a car is also an open invitation to pet thieves.

Traveling by Plane:
The Humane Society of United States recommends that pets be transported by air only if absolutely necessary. According to the Airline Transportation Association, an estimated 5,000 animals are killed, injured or lost during airline travel each year. Most injuries and deaths to animals traveling by airplane are due to extreme heat or cold, poorly ventilated cargo holds, mishandling by baggage personnel, and damage to kennels. If you must travel by air with your pet, keep the following in mind:

  • Take small animals on board with you in carriers that fit under the seat. Contact airlines for specific requirements, including approved types and sizes of carrier, for taking your pet on board.
  • Take direct flights to avoid mistakes and delays that occur with transfers.
  • Schedule flights early or late in the day to avoid extreme heat.
  • Fit your pet with a collar that can’t get caught in carrier doors. Instead of a dangling tag, attach identification to the collar strap and the carrier with your name, address, and phone number, as well as a temporary travel ID with the address and phone number where you can be reached at your travel destination.

Traveling by Ship or Train:

  • Most cruise lines don’t accept pets, with the exception of service/assistance dogs. Contact cruise lines in advance about their policies and kennel facilities. If you must use the ship’s kennel, make sure it is protected from the elements.
  • Many trains in Europe allow pets. Amtrak, however, currently does not accept pets for transport unless they are service/assistance dogs. There may be smaller U.S. rail companies that permit animals on board their trains.

Travel Carrier Tips

  • Travel carriers are useful when your pet is traveling by car; they are mandatory when your pet is traveling by air.
  • Your pet’s carrier should be durable and smooth-edged with opaque (not see-through) sides, a grille door, and several ventilation holes on each of the four sides. Choose a carrier with a secure door and door latch.
  • Choose a carrier that has enough room for your pet to sit and lie down, but is not large enough to allow him to be tossed around during travel. You can make the carrier more comfortable by lining the interior with shredded newspaper or a towel.
  • If you are traveling by air, your carrier should have food and water dishes. Pet carriers with dishes can be purchased from pet-supply stores or bought directly from domestic airlines.
  • It’s best to acclimate your pet to the carrier in the months or weeks leading up to your trip. Let your pet explore the carrier. Put our pet’s food dish inside the carrier, and confine him or her in it for short periods as practice. If you’ll be traveling by car, put your pet in the carrier and take short drives around the neighborhood. If you introduce car travel with short trips in this way, most dogs and cats will quickly adjust to and even enjoy car trips.

Careful Preparation is the Key

  • When packing, don’t forget your pet’s food, food and water dishes, bedding, litter and litter box, leash, collar and tags, grooming supplies, a pet first-aid kit, and any necessary medications. Always have a container of drinking water with you.
  • Your pet should wear a sturdy collar with ID tags throughout the trip. The tags should have both your permanent address and telephone number and an address and telephone number where you or a contact can be reached during your travels. Ideally, your pet should also be microchipped in case the collar and tags get lost.
  • Traveling can be upsetting to your pet’s stomach. Take along ice cubes, which are easier on your pet than large amounts of water. You should keep feeding to a minimum during travel. (Provide a light meal for your pet two to three hours before you leave, if you are traveling by car, or four to six hours before departure if traveling by air.) Allow small amounts of water periodically in the hours before the trip.
  • Always carry your pet’s current rabies vaccination certificate, and a current photograph of your pet with you. If your pet is lost during a trip, a photograph will make it easier for others (airline employees, the police, shelter workers, and others) to help you find him.

Additional information can be found here.

Adapted from the Denver Dumb Friends League and Humane Society of the United States.

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