Traveling with Your Pet

In our mobile society, chances are good that your pet will be transported during its lifetime. Whether for an annual visit to your veterinarian or a weekend trip, your pet will travel. To predict problems that may arise, consider the circumstances of a trip:

  • Is the trip more or less than 2-3 hours long?
  • If it is a long trip, will you have the opportunities to visit with your pet?
  • Will your pet be within view or secluded in a separate compartment?
  • Will your pet be confined to a carrier or crate?

When possible, prepare your pet by gradually exposing it to elements or sequences of the trip and then practice departures. If your pet is not used to traveling, brief, frequent trips are the best way to expose your pet to this experience.

For short trips, remove food at least 2 hours before starting the trip. For longer trips, remove food several hours before the trip. You may feed your pet after the trip. Offer small amounts of water until an hour before travel. Depending on the length of the trip, water bowls can be left in the carrier or removed.

Play with your pet to engage it in some kind of positive interaction before you leave home. Make sure your dog has a long walk or your cat has enough time to use the litter before its confinement. Your pet will be less likely to become nauseated or to soil itself during confinement if it is given the opportunity to void before departure. Most pets become adjusted to travel with frequent travel opportunities. They may feel more secure if they are confined to a sturdy and well-ventilated carrier. Large dogs may be confined behind special gates that section off the back of a motor vehicle.

Have your pet’s general health evaluated by a veterinarian before you leave on a long trip. Ideally, this should be scheduled well before an anticipated trip and not left for the last minute. Vaccinations should be updated. Make a list of your pet’s known physical disorders and any new problems that have developed since your last visit.

If you are going overseas, consult the embassy or consulate of the country you will visit for more information on any documents of special vaccinations that your pet will require. Have these documents with you at the veterinary appointment in order to clear your pet’s health status for customs officials.

If you are traveling within the United States, ask your veterinarian if there are any diseases in the area you will visit that are a threat to your pet’s health. When you return, take a stool sample for analysis in case your pet has acquired any intestinal parasites. You may wish to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to check for other parasites, such as heartworm or fleas, or any other problem noticed during the trip.

Fear and Anxiety During Travel

Regardless of the mode of transportation and the reasons for it, several behavioral problems may arise because of fear. Fear may cause hyper excitability and agitation, hyperventilation, vocalization (whining, meowing), attempts to escape or hide, aggressiveness, nausea, vomiting, defecation, and urination. A pet can turn its fear or anxiety against itself by excessive self-grooming during the trip.

Your pet may become fearful before a trip if it learns to recognize signs of impending departures. Very young or aging pets can show effects after travel. The stress of travel can decrease a pet’s resistance to disease. Intense fear can result in serious illness in animals with undiagnosed or unapparent ailments.

Use of Sedatives

Sedatives intended to ease your pet’s fear during transport were once commonly dispensed. Recently, veterinarians have discovered that most pets actually travel better without sedation. Sedatives can have side effects that modify your pet’s ability to adjust to the physical demands of travel. They may even worsen undiagnosed medical disorders that are further aggravated by the stress of travel. Such drugs should probably be reserved for pets that suffer from extreme fear or anxiety during travel, and should be used only at your veterinarian’s recommendation. The type of medication and its dosage must be appropriate for your pet’s age, basic temperament, degree of emotional upset during travel, duration of travel, and physical status. Most drugs used for this purpose are short acting, with a peak effect lasting only several hours. For longer trips, it may not be worthwhile to sedate your pet, though it may help it through the first part of the trip.

Surface Travel

Most pets travel in the family car. Instinctive fear or anxiety is most commonly seen in young pets that are unfamiliar with vehicle motion. You can teach your pet not fear traveling in the car. Give treats to reward calm behavior, or feed small portions of its regular meal, moving closer to the car. Feed your pet in the parked car, reassuring it with praise. Once the dog is calm in the parked car, turn on the motor and go for a short trip around the block. As your pet learns to tolerate this stage, extend your trips.

Pets that enjoy car travel can also pose problems. A pet that is allowed to move freely and jump around from lap to lap may distract the driver, injure itself and other passengers, and damage the car’s interior. Secure your pet in a carrier or have it restrained by another passenger.

Do not let your dog extend its head or lean out of a car’s open window or travel unrestrained in the back of a pickup truck. Wind, dust, and debris may injure your dog’s eyes, ears and nasal passages, causing infection, inflammation, or serious injury. Keep windows slightly open and lock doors. Seat belts designed for pets are an option for dogs that do not tolerate cages. Pets should be gradually accustomed to these before an extended trip. Never leave your pet unattended in a car. During warm weather, the car’s interior can heat up drastically and could kill your pet in a short time. If you must leave your pet for just a few minutes in the car during warm weather, park in a shady area and partially roll down the windows for adequate ventilation. During cold weather, leaving your pet in the car for extended periods is inhumane. Your pet is safer at home where it is protected from harsh conditions or theft.

Air Travel

Basic Research
If you are planning to fly with your pet, inquire first about the airline’s policy regarding transportation of pets. Speak with your travel agent and the air carrier’s representative when making your flight plans. Avoid making reservations first then discovering unacceptable conditions regarding your pet’s travel.

Crate Travel
Air travel always requires animals to travel in crates or carriers. The crate should be spacious enough to allow your pet to stand and turn around comfortably. It should not be overly large, however, as this could lead to injury. Some crates intended for cats or small dogs are designed to slide under your airplane seat. These crates are somewhat cramped, but many pets feels more secure in smaller spaces for short periods. A crate must allow for adequate ventilation. Labels should clearly indicate that the crate contains “Live Animals.”

Provide your cat with a small litter pan filled with enough filler to absorb any elimination but not so much that the filler makes a mess. Bedding should be soft and absorbent but not excessive. A favorite towel or blanket may reassure your pet, particularly if it holds your body odor. A small quantity of water and a favorite toy may be left in the crate. Depending on the length of the trip, you may be better off to leave the crate empty of everything but the pet. If your pet is sedated, DO NOT leave food or water in the crate.

Obtain the crate long before traveling day. Introduce your pet to the crate by allowing it to investigate. Place its food or water dish in the crate. Try to accustom your pet to remaining in the crate for longer periods. Discuss the pros and cons of sedating your pet. Follow your veterinarian’s advice not to give medications, particularly if your pet’s health is the reason. Just being near you may be all the reassurance your pet needs to remain calm.

Cabin Travel with You
If the pet is traveling in the passenger compartment, you will have the advantage of being nearby to reassure your pet that all is well. Should the tranquilizer’s effect begin to fade on longer trips, you will be nearby to repeat the dose according to your veterinarian’s instructions.

Baggage Compartments and your Pet
If your pet is to be kept in the baggage compartment, ask about the conditions there. If you are told that the temperature of the baggage compartment will be cooler than what your pet is used to, place an extra blanket in its crate. Unless your pet is used to wearing a coat, this is probably not a good time to start, as overheating is as uncomfortable as feeling cold. More health problems during travel are related to high ambient temperatures. Make sure the baggage compartment is climate controlled (with air conditioning, if possible), especially if you are traveling to warm climates. A healthy pet can well endure slight temperature fluctuations.

Ask whether anyone attends the pets in transit. Unless you are traveling for longer than a day or can take the pet out during stop-overs, it is probably best to keep visits to a minimum. Your pet may be made more anxious by seeing you, only to watch you leave. You will be reassured if an airline employee agrees to give you reports at regular intervals.

Air Travel Tips for your Pets

From the Seattle-King County Veterinary Medical Association:

  1. Airlines will not transport a sick or violent animal, and most require a health certificate from a veterinarian that’s been signed within 10 to 30 days of the trip.
  2. Be sure your pet wears a collar with complete identification, a license tag and rabies vaccination tag. Be aware of any quarantine regulations at your destination.
  3. Pug-nosed breeds often have difficulty breathing at high altitudes. Avoid transporting such animal by air.
  4. Tranquilizers and sedatives can have adverse effects on animals at high altitudes. Give medications to your pet only with the approval of your veterinarian.
  5. Let your airline know well in advance that you are planning to travel with your pet, and reconfirm 24-48 hours prior to your departure.
  6. Book pets on direct, non-stop flights to minimize travel time. Avoid flights in the middle of the day during the hot summer months.
  7. Pets must be transported inside a sturdy, well ventilated, USDA approved portable kennel. It must be big enough for your pet to stand up, turn around, and lie down. It must display the pet’s name, the owner’s name and address and the phone number of the pet’s destination.
  8. USDA requires that pets have food and water within 4 (four) hours of departure time. You must attach empty food and water dished to the inside of the kennel.
  9. Take along a leash so you may walk your pet before check-in and after arrival, but do not leave the leash with the kennel.
  10. Carry-on animals are usually limited to 10 pounds, and kennels must fit under the seat.

Adopted from information provided by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the American Humane Association (AHA), and the Air Transport Association (ATA).


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