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Pets on the Go: Tips for Traveling With Your Pet

By Deborah C. Mandell

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 opt to bring Fido or Fluffy with them. While there are no exact figures available for the number of pets that travel with their human companions each year, with more and more hotels and lodges becoming pet friendly, it’s evident that bringing the family pet along is gaining popularity.

Those who do opt to travel with their pet reveal that their biggest fear of doing so is that their pet will get sick, hurt, or lost during the trip. When you’re hundreds of miles away from your veterinarian or other animal caregivers, the thought of searching an unfamiliar town for pet care help can be daunting. But with some careful planning and preparation, you can minimize your fears and make traveling with your pet an enjoyable experience. Use the following guidelines to help plan your next trip with your favorite four-legged friend.

1. Consider all your options: Many times your pet will be happier if allowed to travel with you. However, you must always balance this desire with your pet’s overall health and safety. Obviously if you’re moving to a new area, whether across town or across the country, you will need to take your pet with you and choose the safest mode of travel. But if you’re thinking about taking your pet with you 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 cause the pet to feel undo anxiety and stress. Or maybe your older pet who suffers from arthritis wouldn’t enjoy a long car trip to Maine in the dead of winter. Always do what’s best for your pet. And if you decide not to bring your animal companion with you, investigate local kennels and pet sitting services (may have requirements for vaccinations), and talk to friends, family, and neighbors about possibly watching your pet while you’re away. You really do have options for your furry friend.

2. Know what to pack: If you’ve decided that bringing your pet is indeed the best option, you need to pack for your pet, just as you pack for yourself. The essentials to pack 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 for yourself, have one bag or small suitcase just for your pet’s supplies. This will eliminate you needing to look through numerous bags to find a particular item.

3. Get the 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 your pet’s 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 or has a negative reaction to one. Find out in advance so your veterinarian can modify the prescription as necessary.

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. If these are not done according to the country’s requirements, your pet could be quarantined abroad for a lengthy period of time.

4. Know the rules of the road: With today’s heightened airline security and long airport wait times, car travel is definitely popular. Build extra time for stops into the trip so that your pet will be able to take frequent breaks, getting out to stretch his legs and have a drink of water. But before you simply put your dog 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 from 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 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, use 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.

Family Fun for All: Pets are definitely an important part of the family. In order to include them during your next trip or family vacation and make the experience enjoyable for all, be sure to take the time to plan and prepare for their travels. By knowing what to pack, what to expect, and what to do each step of the way, you minimize their chance of injury and ensure that your pet has a safe and stress-free trip.

Deborah C. Mandell, VMD, DACVECC, Pet Medical Advisor for the American Red Cross. Read other articles, find resources, or learn more about American Red Cross.

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