Pet Travel Tips
Traveling with Your Pet
Planning and Preparation
Planning and preparation are necessary when traveling with family pets. Consider whether your pet is comfortable when traveling. Some animals, like some people, function better in familiar surroundings. A car-sick animal can make a trip miserable for everyone. Some ill or physically impaired dogs and cats cannot withstand the rigors of travel. If this is the case, discuss with your veterinarian the option of using reliable petsitter or a clean, well-managed boarding facility.
Be considerate when traveling with your pet. Find out in advance if your pet is welcome at your friend or family’s house, or at hotels, motels, parks, and campgrounds. Always check whether pets are allowed or kennel facilities are available. If your pet must be left alone in a hotel room, place a "Do Not Disturb" sign on the door and inform the maid and the front desk. Consider bringing along a portable kennel for use in hotel rooms or the homes of friends or relatives who are not comfortable with your pet loose when no one is home. It is unfair to other hotel guests or friends and family if your pet has separation anxiety and barks or howls when you are away. Find an alternative option if this occurs.
A few general tips apply whether you travel by car or plane. Be sure your pet is properly identified with a collar, current rabies tag, name tag, and/or a microchip. Grooming your pet (bathing, combing, trimming nails) before a trip may make it more pleasant for your pet and your hosts. To make your pet more comfortable while traveling, consider having your their favorite food, toys, and dishes available. Carry proof of rabies and other required vaccinations, such as distemper-parvovirus and kennel cough, and a current health certificate with you when crossing state or international borders. In addition, your pet should be treated appropriately based on your veterinarian’s recommendations for heartworm, flea, tick, and gastrointestinal parasites. Before going on any trip, schedule an examination with your veterinarian to make sure that all required vaccinations are up-to-date and to receive a health certificate within ten days of travel. In addition, if your pet is young, healthy, and does not have any health problems, consult your veterinarian about the use of sedatives for your pet during travel.
Travel by Air
Air travel is of most concern to pet owners. You can minimize the chances of an unpleasant experience by following a few guidelines.
Federal regulations require that pets be at least eight weeks old and weaned at least five days before flying. Generally, a health certificate (which is not more than ten days old) must be available before pets will be permitted to fly. A valid rabies vaccination certificate will also be required.
Contact the airline in advance for specific regulations such as breed restrictions and crate sizes and to secure your pet's reservation. Try to book a nonstop, midweek flight and during warm weather, choose early morning or late evening flights, as your pet’s crate or carrier may be sitting out in the sun. In colder months, choose midday flights to avoid the colder temperatures at night.
Arrive at the airport early so you have time to exercise your pet, personally place it in crate, and pick it up promptly upon arrival. Do not take leashed animals on escalators and remember that pets are restricted to certain airport locations.
Transport crates are available at most airlines or pet shops and must:
- Be large enough to allow the animal to stand without touching the top of the cage, turn around, and lie down
- Be strong and free of interior protrusions and have with handles or grips
- Have a leakproof bottom that is covered with absorbent material
- Be purchased in advance so the pet can get used to the crate prior to travel
- Be appropriately and clearly labeled. Include your name, home address, home phone number, and destination contact information, as well as a designation of "Live Animals," with arrows indicating the crate's upright position
- Be ventilated on opposite sides, with exterior rims and knobs so that airflow is not impeded.
- Make sure your pet’s water bowl is secure inside the crate
Ask your veterinarian for specific feeding instructions. For your pet's comfort, air travel on an almost empty stomach is usually recommended. The age and size of your pet, time and distance of the flight, and your pet's regular dietary routine will be considered when feeding recommendations are given.
Travel By Car
If your pet is not accustomed to car travel, take it for a few short rides several days before your trip to help get them used to the car. Cats should be confined to a cage or crate to allow them to feel secure and to avoid dangerous driving conditions such as having a pet under your feet while driving. Pets should not be allowed to ride with their heads outside car windows nor in the back of pickup trucks without a crate, due to risk of injury or escape. In addition, particles of dirt can enter the eyes, ears, and nose, causing injury or infection.
Stick to your regular feeding routine and give the main meal at the end of the day or when you reach your destination. Feeding dry food will be more convenient, assuming your pet readily consumes it. Dispose of unused canned food unless it can be refrigerated. Take along a plastic jug of cold water in case reliable water sources are not available. Depending on how long your trip is, give small portions of food and water and plan to stop approximately every four hours to exercise you dog. Remember to include a leash and secure collar with your pet's traveling supplies.
If you must leave your pet in a parked car, make sure it is only for a few minutes at a time. Even if the windows of the car are open, dogs and cats can quickly die of heat exhaustion. If you must leave them for a short period of time, make sure to lock all doors, park in a shady area, and open windows wide enough to provide ventilation without enabling your pet to jump out or get its head caught. Be aware of weather conditions. You should never leave your pet in a parked car when the temperature and/or humidity are high or when temperatures are near or below freezing.
Travel by Bus or Train
Most states prohibit animals from riding on buses and similar regulations restrict travel on trains. Exceptions are made for guide and service dogs accompanying blind and disabled persons. Consult your local carriers in advance for information.
Camping with Pets
Traveling to country settings with your pet can present its own challenges. Skunks, raccoons, porcupines, snakes, and other wildlife can bite or injure your pet. Parasites, such as ticks and fleas can infest your pet. Some pets do not tolerate being left in a tent and can easily escape. Be considerate of other campers, keep your pet within sight and in control on a leash and clean up after them.
Additional Pet Travel and Health Tips
- When traveling by car, pack a simple pet first-aid kit that includes assorted bandages, antiseptic cream, antidiarrheal medication that is safe for pets (ask your veterinarian to suggest a product), gauze squares, and the phone numbers of your veterinarian, a national poison control hotline, and a 24-hour emergency veterinary hospital in the area.
- In addition to a standard identification tag (which should be labeled with your name, home address and phone number), your pet's collar should include a travel tag with information on where you are staying while away from home. Should your pet become lost, this will allow you to be contacted locally.
- Perform a daily "health check" on your pet when away from home. In unfamiliar surroundings, your pet's appetite, energy, and disposition may change. Watch for unusual discharges from the nose and eyes, excessive scratching or biting of any body part, unusual lumps, limping, loss of appetite, abnormal elimination, or excessive water consumption. Visit a local veterinarian if you are concerned about any physical or behavioral changes.
Content provided by the American Association of Veterinary Medicine www.avma.org.