(Photo by Wolfgang Lonien)
No, this is not a travel-safe cat carrier… even if cats do love boxes!
Essential Ways to Travel Safely With Your Pet
Traveling is a fun, exciting, and wonderful change to your normal routine. Many people suffer from homesickness when they travel, however, and one of the reasons why is because they miss their pets. Pets are like family, and leaving them behind can be sad for both of you! Fortunately, most travel options include consideration of pets these days, so you can bring Fido or Fluffy along. Just keep in mind that travel can be unsafe for pets. Don’t travel with your pet until you’ve learned some essential travel safety tips! Before I get into some specific mode-of-travel safety tips, allow me to discuss some general travel tips first. These tips apply to you and your beloved pet no matter how or where you are traveling.
Don’t Be Selfish
Yes, you are going to miss Fido or Fluffy, and Fido or Fluffy is going to miss you, too. This does not mean, however, that you should bring them along if the travel experience is going to be stressful for the animal. Before your book your trip, weigh the pros and cons of taking your pet with you, and if your pet does not travel well – I’m talking really doesn’t travel well – and would be happier staying at home with a pet sitter, don’t take it along. It’s not worth making the animal sick.
Take it to the Vet
Before you can travel anywhere with your pet, you must have it examined by its veterinarian, properly vaccinated, and properly treated for fleas and other parasites, and you should have its claws trimmed. It doesn’t matter where you are traveling – your pet must be given the okay to travel, and you must have paperwork from your vet confirming that your pet is healthy, vaccinated, and parasite-free. Make copies of all paperwork or scan it into an electronic file you can access on your cell phone so you are adequately prepared to prove that your dog or cat is healthy.
Research All Pet Travel Rules
Before you pack your pet’s bags, make certain that you understand everything everyone will expect from you and your pet. You might be traveling overseas and want to bring your animal along, only to find out that your destination requires your pet to be quarantined for a period of time. You might find that your mode of travel or accommodations has breed restrictions. You might find that your accommodations won’t allow your dog to bark… at all! Make certain you know every rule and regulation prior to traveling with your pet. Your vacation will be traumatic for both of you if your pet is stuck in a cage in quarantine instead of vacationing with you!
Get Your Pet Identification in Order
Even if you are just taking a weekend camping trip, ensure that should you two be separated, you’ll be a quick phone call away from retrieving your beloved animal. Get ID tags and collars for both your dogs and cats and make certain they are wearing them at all times. Get your pet a microchip implant as well. Not only is this an added layer of protection should your pet become lost, but many modes of transit will not allow your pet to travel unless it has a microchip. Make certain that all carriers, harnesses, and anything related to your pet also has identification on it just in case these pieces get lost in transit.
Pack Your Pet’s Necessities
You have a list of the stuff you need to pack for yourself, so make sure you have a list of your pet’s stuff, too! Pack your pet’s medications and food, and pack extra just in case you are stuck somewhere during your travels. Remember, you won’t be able to buy cat or dog food in the airport if your flight is delayed!
Make sure you also pack your pet’s leash, a strong tether, and a safety harness. Keeping your pet secure at all times is critical, and your pet should never be unleashed when you are out during your travels. You should also pack carriers and safety/exercise crates. You might find yourself in a situation where pet needs to be crated or is more comfortable staying in its crate. Make sure you have it with you.
Pack your pet’s favorite toys, its favorite treats, and, if you’re traveling with your dog, chew toys or edible chews to keep its mouth occupied when it’s tempted to chew or bark. Cats need to have their scratching posts or scratching mats with them when they want to expend some of their travel stress by scratching. Catnip is also a good idea to help calm their nerves.
Okay, let’s talk about some essential safety tips for your mode of transportation!
Talk to your vet about the risks of your pet traveling by air. Certain sizes and breeds of dogs and all cats can suffer from respiratory issues once they are up in the air. Make sure your pet can handle the thinner air while in flight if it is required to travel in the airplane’s cargo hold instead of being allowed to travel in the pressurized cabin with you. Also, discuss the advantages and disadvantages of safely sedating your pet if you or its vet believe that might be necessary.
Also, talk with the airline and discuss their specific travel rules for pets. Some airlines won’t take certain breeds and sizes of dogs. Others won’t take puppies or kittens. Still others won’t allow your pet to travel with you in the cabin. Some won’t allow your pet to travel at all during certain times of the year. You must find out if your pet can travel with you in the first place, and if so, what happens next. Will your cat or dog be required to travel in the cargo hold? If so, you might want to think twice about bringing your pet along.
Make sure you have all of the required travel documentation I discussed in the general section in advance. Airlines, and travel destinations, for that matter, will require your pet to have been seen a certain period of time prior to your travel dates. Why? Because some illness and parasites have an incubation period and won’t show up during your pet’s checkup for several weeks.
Keep a wary eye on your animal before, during, and after travel. Even if Fido or Fluffy is safely sedated and resting in its carrier in happy-la-la-land, you need to keep an eye on the animal at all times to ensure that it doesn’t begin to exhibit a reaction to any sedative or the travel itself. Remember, you might be excited about your vacation to Hawaii (a place that might require quarantine, by the way), but your pet might not. If it begins to behave strangely, including panting or pacing excessively, acting lethargic, or exhibiting some other unusual or strange behavior, get it to a local vet right away.
Just as you need to buckle up, so does your pet. There are pet carriers and specialized harnesses you can buy that will buckle your pet safely into your vehicle… use them! Should you get into an accident, your pet is in as much danger as you are of being injured or killed if it isn’t buckled in properly. Buckle your dog or cat into the backseat as you would your infant to avoid passenger airbag danger.
Do not let your dog hang its head out the window. Sure, many of us grin widely when we see a dog enjoying the rush of air from a traveling vehicle with its tongue flapping in the wind. But the problem is that flying debris can literally kill your dog should it be hit by it. And if you are in an accident, your dog is far more susceptible to injury and/or death if it already has its head out the window.
Don’t put your dog in the bed of your truck or a trailer. It is dangerous for your dog to be riding in the bed of your truck or in a latched trailer, and it’s even illegal in some states. Should your dog become agitated or panicked, it might attempt to jump out. If you are in an accident, your dog does not have the benefit of the automobile’s cage around it to protect it. Even if you have your dog or cat in a carrier tied into the bed of the vehicle, it can still be thrown and injured or killed.
Never leave your dog or cat unattended in the car, especially if the weather is too hot or too cold. You might think it’s okay to grab some lunch at a fast-food joint right off the freeway and leave the animal in the car for the brief amount of time you are in the restaurant chowing down a burger, but it’s not! Not only could your animal suffer from heat stroke or hypothermia, but it might also be the victim of a snatching or injured should someone hit your parked car. Eat at places where you can have your animal outside with you, or eat in the car and keep traveling.
You should stop every two hours to give your dog a break, allow it to stretch its legs, and go to the bathroom. You also want to encourage your animal to drink water during the breaks so it doesn’t become dehydrated during your travels. Keep your animal on its regular feeding schedule, and feed it a light meal four to six hours before you leave any destination. This helps avoid carsickness and major disruptions to your animal’s routine, which will reduce stress.
Aside from all of the cautionary measures above, when traveling by train, my only other tip is to check and ensure that your pet will be allowed to travel with you. Amtrak, for example, has just launched a testing program to allow your pet to travel with you. The program, initiated May 5, 2014, is severely restricted. Before planning to take your pet on vacation with you when traveling by train, check with the carrier first and understand all of the rules!