Whether you’re leaving town for pleasure, business, or to move, we have some tips to help ensure that trips with your furry companions go as smoothly as possible. We will cover the do’s and don’ts of car and plane travel, and point out the documentation you may need to bring your pet in and out of the state or country. However, before you even begin planning your trip, it pays to take a moment to consider the most important question…
Should I bring my pet with me on a trip in the first place?
Or, to ask the question another way: will my pet be happier at home or away with me while I travel? Travel is stressful for everyone, including our pets, and, depending on the trip, the amount of distress your pet (and, by extension, you) may have to contend with on the journey may outweigh the benefits of taking your pet along. Often, the best option is simply to leave your pet at home or with a boarding facility, especially if multi-day car or air travel is involved.
If you’re having trouble deciding what to do, the rest of this article will highlight some of the challenges that come with pet travel. Consulting your veterinarian can also help you decide on the best course of action. If you do decide to bring your pets with you, we think the following tips will help make your trip as stress-free as possible.
Road Tripping: What to know about bringing your pet in the car with you
The two problems most commonly experienced by animals when traveling by car are anxiety and nausea. Both of these conditions can often be addressed through some combination of training, herbal supplements, and, if necessary, pharmaceuticals. Since some animals do better in cars than others, take your pet for a drive to first see how they handle car travel.
If you know or suspect that being in a car can make your pet anxious, there are ways to desensitize them to car rides. For example, trainers suggest that by regularly putting your pet in your car when it’s parked and not moving, your pet will begin to think of the car as a safe and calm place, rather than a stressful and scary one. When you do start driving with your dog, take them to places that they enjoy like the park; if you only put your pet in the car to go on a long trip or to go to the vet, they are likely going to develop a negative association with car travel. Getting your pet used to being in a moving vehicle before you leave on your trip will make your journey much easier.
Cats are generally going to be much less comfortable than dogs in a car, and you can pretty much expect that they will not enjoy the process. As with dogs, we highly recommend getting them accustomed to being in a car before you begin a longer trip. Cats should generally be kept in their carrier during car rides, and you can practice for the car by simply having them spend time in their carrier when you aren’t going anywhere (again, the idea is to create a calm and stress-free association with being in their carrier in the car).
If your cat is having trouble settling in their carrier, you can try spraying special pheromones formulated to soothe and relax cats. This is another way to promote a positive association with the car.
Despite our best efforts, some dogs and cats may still find car rides nauseating and anxiety provoking. If all other options to treat these conditions have been exhausted, there are supplements and pharmaceuticals available.
For nausea, over the counter medicines such as Dramamine can be given to your animal; although over the counter, you should still consult with your veterinarian before using them. For anxiety medications, you need to see a veterinarian.
We highly recommend that, before your trip, you test out any medication to see how your pet reacts be aware that all these medicines have potential adverse side-effects. For example, some pets will actually begin to vocalize more when given a sedative, and discovering this while you are on your trip is obviously not an ideal situation. When you have an afternoon or day when you’re not doing much, give your pet their med and observe how they do, or better yet, run some errands with the pet in your car as a test run.
One final note of caution with respect to car travel: be extremely cautious when stopping at rest areas or gas stations along the way. If there’s a cat in the car, you’ve got to make sure they’re in their carrier. If there’s a dog, you’ve got to make sure they’re leashed before opening the door.
As Doctor Richter says, “If you’re on a highway rest stop or in the middle of nowhere and your pet darts out of the car, that’s a nightmare situation. The same goes for open windows—your pets are going to be stressed and if they see you get out of the car they may well try to come after you.” So, always make sure that your pet won’t be able to jump out of the car before getting out yourself.
Pet Jet Set: Traveling by plane with your dog or cat
Some of what we have discussed for car travel also applies to traveling by plane. For example, take the time before you travel to find out what treats, pheromones, herbs, or medicines will calm your pet. Check with the airline to determine whether or not your pet can stay with you in the cabin, or if they will have to be placed in the cargo hold of the plane.
If they are going underneath the plane, we highly recommend not giving them any kind of sedatives before the trip. The reason for this is the cargo hold in a plane is not nearly as temperature regulated as the cabin; although this is generally not a problem while an aircraft is in flight, it can be very dangerous if your plane happens to get stuck for a long period of time on the tarmac waiting to take off. During this idle time, the hold can get very hot or very cold depending on the weather outside. Unfortunately, when an animal is on a sedative, they may not properly temperature regulate their bodies, and this can lead to severe consequences such as over-heating or hypothermia.
If you will be taking your pet in the cabin with you, check with the airline to see what they require in order to bring your pet onboard in the cabin. For example, most airlines will require you to keep the animal in a carrier, and that carrier will have to be within a certain size range. Airlines often make exceptions to these rules for those who are traveling with a service animal, but it is always a good idea to work out these details as far ahead of your flight as possible.
And, just like when stopping at a rest stop during a road trip, make sure that you have as firm a grasp as possible on your animal if you are asked to remove them from their carrier while going through security.
Finally, let’s talk about the most tedious aspect of traveling with your pet: the paper work.
The Paper Trail: Making sure you have the proper documentation for out of state travel
Depending on where you are traveling with your pet, you may need to complete documentation in advance of your trip. For many flights both domestic and international, you will likely need to have a veterinarian complete a document called a health certificate (a document which confirms that your pet isn’t carrying any communicable diseases). The health certificate itself and what kind of tests are required from your veterinarian vary from state to state and country to country.
Often, you will need to have vaccinated your pet and have blood work done within a specified window of time before the trip. For this reason, we strongly recommend that you start investigating what needs to be done at least 6 months before your trip. The consequences for not completing a health certificate properly and on-time can be quite severe. Hawaii, for example, will quarantine a pet that arrives without proper documentation for 6 weeks! This is because Hawaii is the only rabies-free state, and they want to keep it that way. Other countries are equally circumspect when it comes to letting animals cross their borders, and this is why it’s critical to make sure you have a properly completed health certificate.
We hope this article has given you a better sense for what’s involved when traveling with your pet, and will assist you in deciding whether to travel with your furry companion.
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