Each year millions of Americans hit the road or hop a plane in search of relaxation, adventure, or just some peaceful time with distant relatives. And many of those travelers bring their faithful, furry companions with them.
A common concern of people who travel with their pets is that the animal will get sick, hurt, or lost during the trip. The thought of searching an unfamiliar town for help can be daunting. But with careful planning and preparation, you can minimize your fears and make traveling with your pet an enjoyable experience. Our tips can help you plan your next trip with your four-legged friend.
1. Consider all your options – including leaving your pet at home.
It can be fun to travel with your pet – for both of you. But your pet's overall health and safety has to come first. Before taking your pet on vacation, consider the pet's health, age, whether your pet likes to travel, where you'll be staying, and the time of year. For example, perhaps your pet does fine on short day or weekend trips, but longer trips would cause anxiety and stress. Or maybe your older pet suffers from arthritis and wouldn't enjoy a long car trip to Maine in the dead of winter. Always do what's best for your pet.
2. Know what to pack.
If you decide to bring your pet on your trip, you need to pack for your pet, just as you pack for yourself. The essentials include medications and medical records, food and bowls, a pet First Aid kit, bedding, leash, collar and tags, grooming supplies, current pet photo (in case your pet gets lost), a favorite toy or two, a sturdy and well ventilated carrier, litter and a litter box (for cats). To make things easier, have one bag or small suitcase just for your pet's supplies – this way you won’t have to look through your other luggage to find a particular item.
3. Get your pet's papers and medications in order.
Before any trip, have your pet examined by your veterinarian. Get any required legal travel documents (for air travel, contact the airlines for specifics that you'll need), make sure vaccinations are up to date, and get any medications your pet might need during the trip. If you're giving your pet medication specifically for travel, such as to reduce anxiety or travel sickness symptoms, test them on your pet several days in advance to ensure that your pet doesn't suffer any adverse side effects. You don't want to be several hours away from home only to realize that your pet is allergic to a new medication.
If you are traveling overseas, there are very strict and detailed regulations for transporting pets. Be sure that vaccination steps are taken in the appropriate order. Otherwise, your pet could be quarantined for a lengthy period of time.
4. Know the rules of the road.
If you’ll be traveling by car, build frequent stops into the trip so that your pet will be able to stretch his legs and have a drink of water. But before you simply put your animal in the car and go, you need to understand some basic car safety guidelines that will keep your pet safe. First, all cats should be in a crate or carrier. Dogs can be either in crate or carrier, or restrained in a special harness that attaches to the seat belt. If you use a pet barrier in the back seat or deck of your SUV, be sure it is sturdy and firmly attached so it does not collapse on your pet. Also, never allow your pet to ride in the front passenger seat (especially one that is airbag equipped), and never let your pet out of the car without proper restraint. And although most dogs love to ride with their head out the window, don't allow it; they could get hurt by flying debris. Finally, never leave your pet alone in a parked car. He or she will be vulnerable to heat distress or theft.
5. Make the skies pet friendly.
Although thousands of pets fly on airlines without problems, there are definitely some risks. Therefore, don't fly with your pet unless it's absolutely necessary. If you decide that air travel is necessary, make your travel arrangements well in advance and ask about all regulations, including any quarantine requirements at your destination. If your pet is small, you may be able to carry him or her onboard with you (in a crate—check airline rules). If your pet must travel in the luggage or cargo area, take a direct flight, travel on the same flight as your pet, don't travel when temperatures are above 85 degrees Fahrenheit or below 45 degrees Fahrenheit, and ask to watch your pet being loaded and unloaded. Additionally, notify the captain and at least one flight attendant that your pet is in the cargo area. If the plane has to taxi for a longer than normal time, ask that a temperature check be taken on the cargo area. Pets have been harmed because cargo area temperatures got too hot or too cold while the airplane taxied.