Traveling with your Pet

Bailey’s 2 Biscuits…

    Ever since my family brought me home last September (2010), I have not traveled well in the car. When I do, my tummy feels all queasy and I usually throw up before the end of the car trip…no matter how short a trip it is. There was one time that I didn’t get sick — it was a day that I had an appointment with the doctor. But the lady in the room gave me lots of treats while I was there, and so I felt extra queasy for the ride home, and wouldn’t you know it…I threw it all up. I’m not sure what it is about the car that makes me so nervous. Nala has no trouble riding in the car…she really LOVES the car! Just saying the word, “car” makes Nala jump all around, bark and go nuts! I wish I liked the car as much as she does. Maybe one day I will… 🙂

Traveling with your Pet

Whether it’s a short drive to the beach, or a plane ride to see relatives, most pets (and their owners) can learn to enjoy the change but planning ahead and acclimating your pet is a must.

If you are planning your trip by car, spend several weeks prior to the trip getting your pet used to the car ride. Begin by introducing him to the interior of the car to allow him to become acquainted with the smell, and atmosphere. Sit in the car with him and be sure to pet him and encourage him to be calm and relaxed. If he is very nervous, this may take some patient coaxing over several days. He should always associate the car with lavish rewards and praise. And be patient!

Start out with very short trips- maybe just around the block. The main thing is to keep it fun! If your pet associates car riding only with unpleasant events (like perhaps going to see his doctor!) then he will always become nervous at the prospect of getting in the car. Teach him that the car can mean going to the park or visiting friends. Or call your veterinary office and ask them if it’s okay just to drop by. The staff can pet him, praise him and give him a treat. Then take him home. That way he won’t always associate a drive to the doctor with something unpleasant. When he’s first learning to ride in the car, don’t feed him for several hours before his trip. Make sure he’s walked before starting out. Keep it pleasant and repeat this as often as possible, slowly leading up to the long trip.

The day of the big trip walk him well and place something special, like a favorite blanket, on the back seat. You have already taught him during his training sessions that he must ride quietly and not jump into the front seat. It is very dangerous to have a pet get in the way of the driver, especially in an emergency situation. If you are traveling with a cat, it is probably best to use a roomy cat carrier during the trip or harness him in the back. Purchase a special restraint or car seat for your pet for use when in the car. I recommend them; in the case of an accident your pet will not be thrown forward and possibly injured. In addition, the pet will be secured away from the driver.

If you are planning on traveling by pickup truck, even just for a short distance, please do your dog a favor and keep him in the cab with you. Never let your pet travel unsecured in an open truck bed. Any sudden start, stop or turn can throw your pet out onto the highway. If the high speed impact doesn’t hurt or kill him, then being run over by oncoming vehicular traffic probably will. There are other dangers as well. The wind whizzing past his face can blow pieces of debris or grit into his eyes, lodge in his nasal passages or get sucked into his windpipe. This is also the reason why your pet should not ride inside the vehicle with his head hanging out the window.

If you can’t allow your dog to ride inside the cab with you, then put him inside a crate that has been securely tied to the walls of the truck bed preventing it from sliding or getting thrown out. If the dog is tethered, make sure that the line is not long enough to reach over the vehicle’s sides. The animal could jump out and hang itself.

On very long car trips, plan a rest stop every few hours. Make sure you never leave your pet alone in the car for any period of time, especially on warm days as your car can become an oven and cause fatal heatstroke. At the rest stops provide your pet with some cool water. I advise carrying a gallon jug of water with you. Some pets may be finicky when offered strange water. Dogs should be taken out on a leash for a long walk and some exercise. Cats should be allowed to stretch their legs also and should be offered a litter box. Please be sure to keep your pet leashed. Many unhappy families have returned home from ruined vacations without their beloved pet. Pets can become easily frightened in strange places and run off.

Pets that are used to riding in the car usually love it! The simple jingling of car keys or the word “ride” sends them into a frenzy. Even if it’s just a short ride to the corner market, it can be pure happiness and a way to spend some extra enjoyable time with your pet.

If you are planning your trip by plane, taking your pet can be an anxious experience. A few pointers may help ease the situation. Walk your dog well before the trip. For an early morning trip don’t feed anything after your pet’s dinner the night before. Otherwise, a light meal six hours before take-off is okay, but don’t let your pet eat after that. Don’t let him drink water within two hours unless it is very hot outside. Make sure the airline kennel that you purchase is sturdy and large enough for your pet to stand and turn around in. Be sure to firmly attach a name and address tag to the kennel and make sure your pet is wearing a collar with a tag.

Your pet can travel three ways with many of the airlines: baggage, air freight, and carry-on. As baggage, your pet will travel with the passengers’ luggage which has the same pressurization and temperature as the passenger cabins. The kennels are usually kept separate from other luggage and near the doors for easy access. If your pet is not traveling with you, then he goes air freight. The same pressurized compartments are used. Some airlines will allow a small pet to travel in the passenger cabin with you. The kennel must be small enough to fit under the seat. Check with each individual airline concerning their regulations.

Usually, problems associated with air travel occur if a pet is left exposed to extreme heat or cold for long periods of time while waiting for a plane either during the initial part of the trip or during a layover. I recommend that you find out from the airline the latest possible time you can leave your pet to minimize the chance of this occurring. If your pet is traveling air freight and it is not a direct flight, check with the airline for special services that they may offer. For instance, I checked with Delta last year and they told me they have a service called Dash which allows the pet to take the very next available flight out. I was assured at that time that the layover would never be more than an hour with this service, otherwise the wait is up to four hours long. Of course, the ideal situation would be to travel with your pet and book a non-stop flight. And of course, make sure your pet is healthy before beginning a journey that will be very stressful to your pet.

Be sure to check with the airline you are planning to travel with. Most airlines do require a health certificate. The U.S. Department of Agriculture sets up guidelines for airlines to follow regarding shipping of animals, so if you feel that your pet was not properly handled, file a complaint with this agency.

Before you and your pet take to the skies consider the following additional tips:

  • If your pet is pregnant, extremely nervous, or recovering from an illness it may not be wise to take it along. If you must take it along, consult with your veterinarian as to what medications and arrangements might best suit your pet’s needs.
  • Make sure all your pet’s inoculations are up-to-date – not only for its protection but because other states and countries may require certificates and other documents or you may be subject to quarantine and fines. If traveling in the United States take along your rabies vaccination certificate and a health certificate. If traveling to other countries you should check to find out what documents are required.
  • Dogs and cats should be at least 8 weeks old and should have been weaned for at least 5 days before they travel. Ideally, birds should be weaned as well.
  • Check with individual airlines regarding their regulations and the reservation of a proper travel kennel. Recheck a few days in advance and arrive at the airport early to allow yourself plenty of time to adjust any mistakes.
  • Check with your veterinarian regarding any medications or tranquilizers for the trip.
  • Remember to have plenty of identification attached to the kennel and your pet. A tag on a collar (no choke collars, please) and a microchip will ensure prompt and indisputable identification.

If you decide not to take your pet with you on your trip, reserve at a good kennel early and be sure your pet is up-to-date on all vaccinations to prevent the spread of disease. Take him to a kennel where you know the staff and feel that he will be properly fed, exercised and pampered to make his stay away from you as pleasant as possible.


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