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Everything You Need to Know About Traveling With Your Pet

By Celia Shatzman
May 10, 2017
Traveling dog
Flydragonfly/Dreamstime
What’s better than going on a dream getaway? Taking your best furry friend along for the ride. These expert tips will save you time and money, keep your pet safe and happy, and help you have more fun than EVER.

Picture your perfect pet-friendly travel scenario: Maybe you're barefoot on the beach, tossing a stick to your canine best friend, who couldn't be happier as she chases it up and down, making paw prints in the gently lapping surf. Sounds pretty idyllic, right?

Before you set off on your dream journey, though, the 12 items below are crucial to think about prior to taking a trip with your pet. First things first: Nobody knows her like you do. If you think she'll enjoy the open road or friendly skies, she'll likely be a great travel companion, especially if “you’re an adventure traveler and have a dog who is high energy and loves to run around,” says KC Theisen, director of pet-care issues for the Humane Society of the United States. “But if your dog is getting older or is anxious, he might be happier lounging on the couch at home or taking a weekend at the doggy spa. And it’s unlikely your cat is going to enjoy a vacation.” (Don't worry; we have tips for kitty travel too if your cat is a jet-setter.)

While you’re still in the planning stages, call your hotel, airline, rental-car company, and any local establishments that you’re hoping will allow your pooch to join you. “‘Dog friendly’ has so many meanings today, from 'tolerated' to 'welcome with treats or toys or facilities specific to dogs,'” says Melissa Halliburton, founder and CEO of BringFido.com. Personally, we’re hoping for doggy yoga (a.k.a. "doga") at the next hotel we stay at! Yep, it's a thing.

1. Tote along the right supplies.

Here’s a basic pet packing list: a leash and harness, bed, crate, shot records, litter box, familiar toys, food and water bowls, bottled water, food, treats, any prescriptions, and poop bags. "Water is something you can’t have too much of,” Theisen says. “Often nervous pets will spill their water or decide not to drink all day, and then they need a gallon when they get to the hotel. Also, write your cellphone number on your pet’s collar in big numbers.” If your pet likes to snuggle with you at night, Halliburton suggests bringing a towel or bedsheet to protect hotel linens. And comfort from home goes a long way. “If they have a sleeping bed or blanket, definitely bring it,” Halliburton says. “Any reminders from home will lower their stress level.”

2. Don’t forget the paperwork.

Before you hit the road, make sure all of your pet’s tags, including his identification and rabies, are up to date. Be prepared for emergencies by bringing copies of medical records and vaccinations. Air travel requires a health certificate and possibly other documents depending on the airline and destination; if you’re traveling internationally, check with that country for requirements specific to their region. (That’s critical. None of us wants to face the legal predicament Johnny Depp’s wife Amber Heard is in after she flew her Yorkshire terriers, Pistol and Boo, to Australia without going through customs or heeding the country’s quarantine rules.) It’s also a good idea to have your pet microchipped—and make sure the record is current—in case you get separated.

3. Stock a first aid kit.

Whether your and your pet are going hiking or just driving to visit grandma, it’s important to have a first aid kit on hand. “Buy a pre-packaged kit with essentials such as gauze, gloves, medical tape, bandages, cleaning wipes, and disinfectant,” Halliburton says. “I suggest also bringing Benadryl for possible allergic reactions, hydrogen peroxide to induce vomiting in the event that your pet has gotten ahold of something he shouldn’t have, and in case your pet has damaged a nail, cornstarch will stop the bleeding.” Download the Pet First Aid app from the Red Cross for tips on how to handle various injuries (free, redcross.org). 

4. Print out a picture.

Practically every pet owner’s phone is filled with pictures of their furball—and that can come in handy. “But you can’t print that out and give it to someone,” Theisen says. “You can’t make a poster or flier when you’re in a panic and on the road. Carrying a printed photo is an additional level of security.” It’s also helpful when you’re trying to find your pet at the airport at cargo pickup.

5. Book the right hotel.

Not only should you make sure that your lodging is pet-friendly, but you should ask a few key questions too. “Check if there is a weight requirement; many pet-friendly hotels have a weight restriction,” advises Eric Halliday, general manager of the Lodge at Tiburon in Tiburon, California (from $179 per night, lodgeattiburon.com). “Communicate with the hotel about when you would like your room cleaned. We advise the guest at check-in that we will only clean the room if the pet is with the guest or in his cage.”

Halliday also suggests inquiring about dog-walking areas in advance so that you know what to expect. “Ask about the local community—is it pet friendly? Will you be able to take your dog most places?” And just so you’re not saddled with any surprise charges, inquire if there are additional fees, which are common. For example, the Lodge at Tiburon has a one-time non-refundable pet fee of $75, though that includes a pet package with a special bandanna, dog bowl, treats, and access to the dedicated dog-run area on property. 

6. Prepare for takeoff.

While we get snacks and movies on demand, flying isn’t nearly as fun for animals. In fact, Theisen says that unless airline travel is necessary, you’re better off leaving them at home or finding another mode of transportation. Typically, only dogs and cats under 10 pounds are allowed in the cabin, and larger ones must go in the cargo hold. Be sure to check with the airline before you book, as rules vary widely—as do fees and number of pets allowed.

Most airlines don’t allow you to put anything in the transport crate besides food, water, and a blanket due to ingestion risk, but a blanket that smells like home can help relax them. “Figure out which water bowl you’re going to use, freeze treats and kibble in that dish, and then when it’s loaded into the plane, the water doesn’t spill, and it’s encouraging for them to work on the ice block to get to treats and keep them occupied,” suggests Theisen, who says it's her go-to trick.

7. Do a trial trip.

To keep your pet calm and comfortable during the big journey, do a few practice runs beforehand. “Start by simply having her get in the carrier and rewarding her,” Halliburton says. “Do this often, and increase the amount of time she is in the carrier each time. Then have her practice being in the carrier while you drive around the block or go to the dog park. It’s important to place toys in the carrier and reward her often for behaving well during this practice. Generally, dogs will come to think of their carrier or crate as a safe place.” If they’re going to be on a plane, you can adjust this technique. “Load your dog in a carrier and put it on a rocking chair, or put it in a car squished up on floorboard,” Theisen says.

8. MacGyver a special seat for the car.

It’s adorable when you spot a dog sticking his head out the car window and taking in the breeze—but it’s dangerous too. “Unfortunately, a pet loose in the car at a very minimum is a distraction to driver and may interfere with your ability to drive safely,” Theisen says. “A cat goes right under the gas pedal, while dogs run into your field of vision. Pets are best secured in a carrier or crate. Not only are they prevented from distracting you, but they have a level of protection in case of an accident or crash.” There are plenty of options, from harnesses to booster seats to seat belts for pets. But Theisen cautions that there have been very few studies on the safety of these products. Often, the easiest solution is just stowing them in their carrier and securing it with a regular seat belt.

9. Keep Fluffy entertained.

Bringing your pet’s favorite toy along is a given, but a trip is a special occasion, so why not wow him with something new? “An interactive toy will keep him occupied during long trips,” Halliburton says. “The PetSafe Busy Buddy Barnacle [from $4.50, amazon.com] is durable and has multiple holes for dispensing different-sized treats during play. Outward Hound has several great options as well.” To ensure safety, take your pet’s mode of transport into account. If your dog will be unattended, like in a carrier in the backseat of your car alone while you’re behind the wheel, stay away from anything he might choke on, like bones or hooves.

10. Take plenty of breaks on the road.

As a rule of thumb, humans usually need a break every two and a half hours on a road trip, and the same applies to your pet. It’s also a good time to make sure he’s still safe and content in his carrier and hasn’t had any accidents. Try to visit a dog park to let Lassie stretch her legs. “You can use the BringFido app (free, itunes.com) to locate dog parks near you when you travel through new cities,” Halliburton says. The app also helps point travelers toward pet-friendly hotels, eateries, and attractions like pets-welcome hiking trails. Many towns hold "yappy hours" at parks or restaurants where dog owners can socialize with each other and their pets.

11. Prevent motion sickness.

“If your dog or cat gets motion sickness easily, they might want to stay home,” Theisen says. Avoid feeding your pet within three to four hours of travel, and give her controlled amounts of water. Ask your vet if there are any medications or supplements. “Motion sickness is more common in puppies than older dogs, and most puppies will outgrow it, similarly to human children,” Halliburton says. “Like people, facing forward, lowering the windows a bit, or distracting them with a toy all help to alleviate nausea.”

12. Don’t sedate your pet.

It might seem like a good idea to give Max something to make him drowsy, but it can be harmful. “We do not support tranquilizing or sedating your pet, especially for air travel, because cargo holds have different air pressurization and temperature than the cabin,” Theisen says. “Your pet needs all his faculties to handle that stress. When pets are over-sedated, there is no one to see your pet if something goes wrong.” Never give your pet painkillers from his last surgery. Instead, ask your veterinarian for a prescription if your animal is very anxious or has other needs. 

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