How to Travel Safely With Pets

The Basics of Pet Travel Safety

  • Make sure your pet is up for the trip. “The first thing you want to ask yourself is, ‘Are you sure your pet really wants to go?’” says Patricia B. McConnell, PhD, a certified applied animal behaviorist and author of The Education of Will. “I’ve seen people who believed their dog would be fine or they wanted their cat to go with them, but the animal was terrified of strangers or a wreck in noisy places. So think about your pet’s personality and remember that traveling will involve exposure to new people and changing environments.” Also, consult with your vet if you have any doubt as to whether or not your pet is healthy enough to handle the adventure.
  • Book in advance. And confirm! Book your hotel or rental property early—and call to confirm you can get a pet-friendly room. “A lot of times hotels will only have a certain number of rooms available for pet use,” says Amy Burkert, co-founder of GoPetFriendly.com. Airlines and trains also have a set capacity for pets on each trip, so reserve ahead of time to be sure there’s a spot for your animal.
  • Get a (space-age) pet ID. “Your animal should always travel with tags that carry his name and your cell number. And ideally, your dog or cat should have a microchip,” says Dr. McConnell. Yes: a microchip. They’re about the size of a grain of rice, they’re programmed with a unique ID number, and they’re easily injected beneath your pet’s skin. If he gets lost, a simple scan can identify you as his owner. This isn’t just about keeping your tech edge—a 2009 study showed that microchipped dogs are more than twice as likely to be reunited with their owners as non-microchipped dogs, and microchipped cats are more than 20 times as likely to be returned home. Just be sure to keep your contact information current with the microchip registry database.
  • Get an approved pet carrier. Make sure the airline or railway has officially sanctioned your carrier by checking the requirements on the website. Then label the carrier with your pet’s name as well as your name and contact info. Mark it clearly and prominently with the words “Live Animal,” so nobody can mistake it for regular luggage.
  • Acclimate your pet to the carrier. As soon as you’ve got your carrier, start enticing your dog or cat to use it. “A lot of the hard carriers come in two pieces, so I recommend setting out just the bottom piece and placing your pet’s bedding—and even treats—in there to make your pet feel comfortable with it,” says Susan Smith, president and CEO of PetTravel.com. “Then put the top on and leave the door open at home. We have owners whose pets would prefer to sleep in the crate than the bed.”
  • Bring medical records. Gather health records, medication information, and proof of vaccinations from your vet—and carry them with you. Rules vary by airline and country, so check for any “pet passport” requirements (more below) long before it’s time to leave. You might even need your pet’s medical documents when driving across state lines, or to make an emergency visit to the vet. “I’ve scanned my dogs’ entire medical records to a USB drive and I keep that with us all the time on the road,” says Burkert. It’s also wise to attach your dog’s rabies tag to her collar (which proves vaccination), and to treat your pet with preventive flea and tick medication before you go.
  • Get the right gear. Invest in collapsible water bowls, waste bags, a safety harness, and a leash. Don’t forget comfort items like a dog bed and toys. “Bring things that feel like home because even for a dog who is used to traveling, the first days of a trip can be unnerving,” says Dr. McConnell. “Always travel with bedding that the animal has slept on or with one of your t-shirts placed in the crate because it smells like home and like you, which is calming to your pet.” The pet bed or crate can then serve as a cozy sleeping spot once you’re at your destination.
  • Stay on schedule. Try to feed your animal at the same times of day as you would at home. “Dogs get some of their security from staying on their routine,” says Burkert. Don’t overfeed before a long journey; a light meal a few hours before leaving can help avoid nausea during the trip.
  • Avoid adventurous eating. Bring your pet’s food from home, and stick to bottled water—changes in diet can cause GI upset in pets just as they can in owners.
  • Mark your territory. Once you’re at your destination, stick with your pet for a while to help get her settled. “If we’re staying in a new rental property, we don’t leave the dogs alone until we’ve been there for 24 hours,” says Burkert. “If we’ve unpacked and slept there, the dogs get a feel that this is home and we’re coming back.” When you do head out without her, consider using an X-pen or baby gate to keep her confined to a safe area. Or use the crate if that’s where she feels safe and comfortable.

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