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Happy Tails: Traveling With Pets

Updated on March 21, 2011

Since traveling can be stressful to pets and owners alike, the best way to have happy pets on a trip is to prepare well. Of course, some animals aren't ever at ease while traveling; if you know that your pet will be extremely uncomfortable or afraid, you might want to consider leaving her home with a caregiver or a well-run kennel.

Planning can decrease anxiety and make even a nervous dog or cat feel more at home. By simply bringing a favorite toy, treat, or food and water bowls, you can provide some familiarity to settle fears.

Good planning will also ensure that your pet is welcome at your destination: a friend's house, a hotel, motel, or campground. You should call in advance and ask about any rules or regulations at these places. There are many resources for pet-friendly accommodation listings are on the web, but your friends' homes won't be listed, so make sure you let them know exactly how many guests they will have - and what species they are!

For safety reasons, and to comply with state regulations and border laws, make sure that you carry your pet's rabies vaccination certificate and a health certificate, and have the dog or cat wear a collar with identification tags as well as license and rabies tags. State regulations vary, as do international border laws in which quarantine may be required. To avoid difficulty, you should check all of these things before setting out on your trip.

Road Trips

When we imagine road trips, the tongue-lolling dog with its head stuck out the window comes to mind, but riding in automobiles can be less than joyful for many animals - including dogs. The stress of leaving home can contribute to your pet's discomfort, as can the necessity to be still for long periods of time. For this reason, you might want to consider the following:

  • If your pet isn't used to riding in the car, take her for a few short rides before the trip to acquaint her with the routine. Likewise, if she will be crated and is not used to this, practice crating her on the short rides. Give her treats and praise her for calm behavior. This will help her to associate good things with both the crate and travel.
  • Cats usually don't like riding in the car, as their distressed meows will tell you. Because of this, it's better to keep them in a carrying case during the trip. Otherwise, they might roam around and jeopardize your ability to drive safely.

  • Stick to your pet's regular feeding routine as much as possible, but never feed your pet from an already opened can of food unless you are absolutely sure it has been refrigerated well.
  • Plan to stop every few hours with a dog for exercise and the great al fresco outhouse.
  • Bring fresh cold water in a jug for your pet.
  • If you're bringing a dog, don't forget to pack a leash!
  • If your dog is accustomed to being groomed and having his nails trimmed, these things may make him more comfortable on the trip.
  • Never leave your pet in a parked car if it's warm or humid outside! On warm days, the temperature in your car can rise to 160 degrees in a matter of minutes, even with the windows opened slightly for good ventilation. It doesn't take long for an animal to become overheated (or get hypothermia on cold days). Remember, too, that metal water dishes and other such items can become heated by the sun or frozen from the cold.
  • If you absolutely have to leave a pet in the car, make sure the windows on both sides of the car are opened enough to allow good ventilation, but not enough to allow the animal to jump out of the car or get his head stuck. Finding a shady parking spot is a great idea, but again - never leave your pet in a parked car if it's warm or too cold outside!

Flying With Pets

Airlines have services as well as regulations that you should know about before planning to take your pet on the plane. For instance, only a certain number of animals are allowed on each flight, so you should make reservations early (mid-week flights are generally best). There are outdoor temperature regulations for the safety of pet passengers, as well as age restrictions that apply to puppies and kittens. If pets are small enough and can fit easily into an airline-approved carrier under the seat in front of them, they may ride in the cabin with passengers on some airlines.

Many dog and cat owners assume that the best thing to do is sedate or tranquilize their animal. But both the American Humane Society and the American Veterinary Medical Association discourage it in most cases because it affects the animal's ability to balance and maintain equilibrium. This means that in transit your pet may not be able to brace himself to prevent being injured. In addition, increased altitude can create cardiovascular and respiratory problems in sedated or tranquilized dogs and cats. Instead, practice crating a nervous animal; reward him for calm behavior and give him treats so that he associates good things with the crate.

Finally, when you arrive, you should plan to pick up your pet as quickly as possible.

Flying Checklist

  • Have you given the dog or cat enough exercise before the flight?
  • Have you booked either a direct non-stop flight or one with minimal stops?
  • If the weather is warm, have you chosen an early morning or late night flight?
  • Have you asked about other cargo on the plane that might be harmful to my cat or dog?
  • Does my cat or dog have a proper cage?
  • Is it big enough for him to stand, turn, and lie down?
  • Is it strong?
  • Is its design safe on the inside?
  • Does it have handles or grips for easy carrying?
  • Does it have a leak-proof bottom?
  • Is there an absorbent blanket or towel on the bottom?
  • Does is have good ventilation on opposite sides?
  • Does the crate itself prevent blocked air flow? (Air holes on some crates can be blocked by boxes or luggage that have been pressed up against them. Look for a crate that is specially shaped to avoid this.)

Just by making a few preparations, your trip can be enjoyable for both you and your pet!


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