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Tips for Safe Travels with Dogs & Cats

how to travel with dogs and cats

After two summers of staying close to home due to the pandemic, travel is making a huge comeback.

Some surveys say that 46% of Americans are planning a trip this summer, which would have been considered high even in pre-pandemic times.

And yet another survey of 700 people showed that 58% are planning to travel with their pet.

Indeed, pets are part of the family—and if feasible, many owners are thrilled to include the “fur children” on vacation fun. If you’re in this group, here are some tips on how to safely and more easily travel with your pet.

Before You Leave

About two to three weeks before you leave, start planning out everything you need to do and bring for your pet.

  • Vaccinations. If your pet is not up-to-date on vaccinations, make an appointment with your veterinarian to get those taken care of at least one week before you travel. Regardless of whether you’re driving or flying, be sure to make a copy of the shot records and bring them with you.
  • ID. Make sure your pet’s collar has proper identification tags that include his name and your phone number. Better yet, consider getting your pet microchipped if he’s not already.
  • Pre-pack. If your pet takes medication, be sure to pack the amount you need as well as a few extra pills, in case one gets lost (or worse, thrown up!). Other things to pre-pack include waste bags (for dogs), litter/travel litter box (for cats), a couple favorite toys, a bed/pillow, leash, harness, food (pre-portioned out in individual baggies), bottled water, collapsible food bowls, and anything else you use on a daily basis.
  • Be prepared for emergencies by looking up the nearest veterinary urgent care clinic at your destination. Save that information in your phone or with your pet’s vaccine paperwork.
  • Practice. Get your pet used to the car by taking him out of the house for short drives. Preparing a pet for air travel is a little harder (more on that later), but a little practice in the car can help your furry friend get a comfortable with bumps, turns, noises, and other stimuli he’s not used to. Likewise, it’s a good idea to teach your dog to relieve himself on surfaces other than grass, since you don’t always know what’ll be around during rest stops.
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Traveling with Pets By Car

If you’re taking your dog or cat on a road trip this summer, here are some tips on how to make the car ride a little less stressful.

  • Keep your pet restrained. The safest place for pets is the back seat. For one, you need to focus on driving, and having a dog or cat roaming the car or sitting on your lap can be distracting and dangerous. Moreover, airbags can kill your pet if deployed. You can strap a dog harness or other type of restraint to the back seat with a seat belt to safely secure your dog. Cats are often comfortable in a small carrier. Make it a happy, invited space where kitty won’t mind lounging for a while!
  • Deal with anxiety naturally. If necessary, your vet can prescribe anti-anxiety medications if your dog or cat is an extremely anxious traveler. If the anxiety is on the milder side, try natural anxiety remedies instead.
  • Avoid car sickness by either feeding your pet four hours before your leave, or foregoing food altogether until you arrive at your destination.
  • Keep your pet entertained. Bring chew toys or other things that can keep your pet entertained and engaged. Not only can this prevent anxiety, it will also keep them from chewing on things they shouldn’t be chewing on—like your car!
  • Bring bottled water. Drinking tap water from new locations may give your pet an upset stomach, so bring plenty of bottled or filtered water from home with you.
  • Stop often for potty and exercise breaks. Pets, like humans, can only hold it for so long! Pull over or find rest stops every three hours so your dog can relieve himself and also get a bit of exercise and fresh air. If you don’t have a small litterbox in the cat carrier, perhaps walk your cat with a secure-fitting harness and leash – this may be easier said than done, so you may want to practice walking your cat prior to any long car trip.
  • Never leave your pet unattended in the car. Especially in the summer, the heat can (and often does) kill animals quickly.

Traveling with Pets by Plane

Flying with an animal presents unique challenges. Not only is it expensive to fly a dog or cat, it can be stressful to both you and your animal.

Think long and hard if it’s worth putting your pet through this kind of stress.

If you have an anxiety-prone dog or cat, it truly might be an emotionally and physically healthier choice to hire a sitter or ask a family member/friend to watch him while you’re away. Boarding is another option, but be sure to do your research and find a facility that you feel comfortable with.

If you’re traveling for several weeks or longer, though, it might make sense to bring your pet along.

Small pets will do better in carry-on pet carriers you slide under your seat. Be sure to check with your airline for specifications and/or recommendations. You don’t want to get to the airport only to learn the carrier is too big.

Larger animals will have to fly in a crate in the cargo hold, which can be very scary for them. While I am usually a proponent of natural anxiety relief, when it comes to flying, medication is sometimes a better idea in these types of situations. You know your pet better than anyone. If you think medication might be needed, discuss it with your vet. Also make sure sedatives aren’t prohibited by your airline.

Here are some other tips if flying with your pet:

  • Review all rules before flying so you aren’t surprised the day of. There are a lot of guidelines and regulations, and all airlines are different.
  • Choose nonstop flights only, if possible.
  • If required by your airline, get a health certificate from your vet stating your pet is healthy enough to fly and is up to date on shots.
  • Head immediately to the designated pickup location at the airport once you arrive. Most airports have pet relief stations throughout. Your dog will most likely have to go very badly!

Bringing pets along can certainly make travel a bit more complicated, but for many people it’s worth the hassle. Hopefully these tips help make it a little easier and more fun for you and your furry friends this summer!


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