Updated: Dec 20, 2019
What’s better than going on vacation? Bringing your fur baby along for the fun, of course. But before you make travel plans that involve your pet, know that having an animal at your side can make things more complicated. Here’s what you should know about traveling with pets.
How To Prep Your Pet For Travel
According to Jodi Ziskin, a holistic pet coach and the director of communications for Treatibles, a company that sells hemp-derived CBD products for pets, you should research pet travel requirements for the country or countries you are visiting ahead of time. A simple Google search can help you find government sites that offer pet immigration information. “Make sure you read carefully,” she said. “Some countries require vaccinations several months before travel; some require parasite testing 24-48 hours before your visit.”
You should also introduce your pet to the carrier you plan to use well in advance of the travel day. Ziskin advised allowing your cat or dog time to get used to the shape and smell of the carrier. “Put treats inside. Encourage your pet to take a nap,” she said. “The more comfortable they feel in the carrier, the less stressful travel will be for them and you.”
Traveling With A Pet By Plane
Note that when you get to the airport, the Transportation Screening Administration has special screening rules for pets. You’ll need to take them out of their carrier just prior to beginning the screening process and carry them with you (the empty carrier will pass through the bag screener separately). If you’re concerned that your pet will be too frightened or poorly behaved to go through the regular security checkpoint, you can request a private room, which Ziskin recommended.
“There’s a lot of consideration when traveling on a plane,” said Andrea Chavez, founder and CEO of Pawscout, a company that makes Bluetooth-enabled pet tags. Rules vary by airline, so be sure to check with yours before booking your ticket. If it’s possible, have your pet fly with you in the cabin. “The cargo area can be problematic for pets,” she said. Pet deaths in the cargo area are relatively rare: In 2017, more than 500,000 pets flew safely in cargo on U.S. flights. Even so, 24 pets died in the air, with 18 of those deaths occurring on United flights. Putting pets in cargo is always a risk, even if it’s a small one.
Unless your pet is a service animal, it can’t travel in the cabin unless it can fit in a carrier under the seat in front of you with enough room to stand up and turn around. You’ll also be required to pay an additional pet fee of about $200. Chavez noted that airlines only allocate a few spots for pets per flight, so you’ll need to make a reservation for your pet well in advance, before those spots fill up.
If your pet is too large to meet the size requirements, you’ll have to fly them in the cargo area. Keep in mind, however, that not all airlines allow this option. For those that do, the fee will likely be higher than flying in the cabin.
“It’s always a good idea, if you can, to talk to the pilot, because they have control over the cargo heating and cooling,” Chavez said. So if you can befriend an attendant or even grab a couple of minutes with the pilot, make them aware that your pet is on the plane and you’re concerned about their comfort and safety.
You’ll also need to prepare your pet’s carrier. Ensure there is a “live animal” sticker on every side of the carrier, and attach a note with your name, flight number, contact information and dog information. Consider attaching an extra bag of food to the outside of the carrier in case there are any major delays. Again, the carrier should be big enough that your pet can stand, turn around and lie down easily.
Regardless of whether your pet flies cabin or cargo, you’ll need to time your pet’s feeding and potty breaks just right. In fact, Chavez recommended getting in plenty of exercise the night before, feeding them that evening and avoiding food the day of travel (a little water is OK). Many major airports have pet relief areas so animals can go one more time before boarding, but if that’s not an option, you will need to bring potty pads in their carrier.
Chavez also said there are certain breeds that really shouldn’t fly at all, namely, brachycephalic or snub-nosed breeds such as bulldogs, pugs and others with flat faces that make breathing difficult. In fact, some airlines won’t allow them on the plane due to safety reasons.
Taking Your Pet On A Road Trip
Before a long road trip, take your pet on short car rides to gauge how they handle the car. “Once they get used to the car, take them frequently on short rides to get them used to the car,” said Erin Bokuniewicz, product buyer at Pet Supplies Plus. Familiar smells from home can keep your pet more relaxed, so bring along your pet’s favorite toys and bedding.
Once you’re on the road, taking breaks is important. Bokuniewicz said you should always put on a harness and/or leash before exiting the car for safety reasons. If you’re traveling with a cat, it might be easier to place a litter box on the floor behind the seats rather than risk taking them out of the car.
Always keep windows and the sunroof closed when traveling with pets to avoid them escaping. “Pet owners should also consider pet seat belts in their vehicles, as some states require pet owners to keep their animal safely restrained in vehicles,” she added.
Finally, never leave your pet alone in the vehicle, even if the temperature seems tolerable. The interior of a car can heat up to 100 degrees or more within minutes.
Rooming With Your Pet In A Hotel
If you’ll be staying in a hotel with your pet, it’s important to book with a pet-friendly hotel that’s also budget-friendly. Not all hotels allow pets and those that do usually charge an extra fee per night, per animal. That fee will depend on the particular hotel.
Some of the best pet-friendly hotel chains include Motel 6, Best Western, DoubleTree by Hilton, Four Seasons, Kimpton Hotels and Marriott, according to the American Kennel Club. However, there are plenty of boutique hotels, bed-and-breakfasts and other types of lodging that welcome pets, too.
Even if your hotel is pet-friendly, animals won’t be able to take run of the place like they would at home. “Understand and obey pet rules at your hotel,” Ziskin said. Often, pets aren’t allowed to be left in the room unattended, or must be crated if they are. “If your pet cannot be left unattended, arrange for a pet sitter ahead of time. You can use a service like Rover or ask the hotel to make recommendations,” Ziskin said. “Remember, a hotel can force you to leave if you do not follow protocol.”
Keeping Your Pet Calm And Safe While Traveling
No matter what method you’re using to travel, there are a few safety precautions you can take to make sure your pet is always safe.
Ziskin said it’s a good idea when traveling with pets to pack a first-aid kit containing the following:
You should also identify the emergency veterinarian clinics closest to your hotel, just in case there’s a medical issue you can’t treat yourself. If you need help identifying a nearby clinic, contact the hotel concierge for recommendations.
Finally, make sure your pet has proper identification. Ziskin suggested putting your own name and cellphone number on your pet’s tag rather than its name. For example, the tag might say “Call Joe @ 555-555-5555.” If your pet is microchipped, double-check that the information on file is up to date.
As far as keeping your pet relatively calm, there are a few things you can try. Items such as a favorite blanket or a T-shirt you recently wore can alleviate some of the stress of traveling by bringing the smell of home along for the ride. However, keep in mind that you should only bring these items along in the car; toys, blankets and other items in your pet’s carrier can present a safety hazard during air travel.
Some pet owners also find success with using a ThunderShirt. “The weighted jackets provide comfort just as swaddling a baby in blankets would,” Bokuniewicz said.
If your pet is food motivated, you might try a calming treat. “These typically contain calming and natural extracts like lavender and chamomile,” Bokuniewicz said. CBD is also a popular calming ingredient in some treats. Just be sure to discuss this ahead of time with your vet and be sure the treats agree with your pet. Also, avoid feeding your pet if it won’t be able to relieve itself for an extended period of time.
When In Doubt, Keep Your Pet At Home
As much as you’d like to keep your furry loved ones at your side at all times, travel can be too risky and stressful for some animals. If your pet is particularly nervous, susceptible to changes in temperature or could use a couple of rounds of obedience training, it’s probably best for you both to leave them at home with a trusted sitter.