The holiday season is one of the busiest times to travel.
As family and friends travel home for the holidays, it is important to remember the comfort and safety of the furry member of the family. Today, there are more pet-friendly travel options than ever before, and with the right preparation, pet owners can happily bring pets along by car, plane, or train.
Garret Pachtinger, VMD, DACVECC, emergency and critical care clinician at BluePearl/VSEC in Levittown, Pa., recommends keeping your pet at a boarding kennel or home during the holidays to prevent or reduce the stress that traveling brings.
If you plan to bring your pet with you, driving is usually the best option. If you can’t travel by car, than it is probably best to leave your pet behind under the care of a pet sitter or in a boarding kennel,” said Dr. Pachtinger. “This is especially true for cats. Cats develop strong bonds with their environment, so traveling in any form can cause stress.”
If you decide to bring your furry pal along this holiday season, follow these tips to ensure a safe and low-stress trip.
If traveling by car…
- Don’t allow pets to roam in the car. Not only can pets injure themselves while loose the car, but they can be a distraction to the driver, and even become a projectile that hits human occupants in an accident. Keep pets in a crate or carrier and anchor it to the vehicle using a seat belt or other secure means. The carrier or crate must have enough room for your pet to stand and turn around.
- Keep your pet in the back seat. Whether your pet is harnessed or kept in a carrier or crate, it is best to keep them in backseat because, like small children, they can be injured by front-seat airbags.
- Don’t allow pets to stick their heads out of the window. Dogs and cats should be kept inside the car. Pets who stick their heads out the window are exposed to dangerous debris that can cause injury, and in colder climates, air can be forced into their lungs, causing illness. Also, never transport a pet in the back of an open pickup truck.
- Plan rest stops ahead of time. Plan rest stops ahead of traveling to allow your pet to stretch, eliminate, and hydrate. Pets can easily become dehydrated on long road trips, so bring along a portable bowl and frequently stop to let your pet drink.
- Equip your pet with identification. Make sure your pet has a collar, ID tag, and leash, and never let them leave the car without it. Consider microchipping your pet ahead of travel. That way, a simple scan can identify you as their owner if they become lost.
- Never leave your pet alone in a car. Excessively cold or hot temperatures can pose serious health hazards for pets, including hypothermia or heat stroke. Be sure to keep your pet supervised at all times while traveling (even if that means taking turns with a friend or family member at a rest stop).
- Stick to their normal diet.Changes in diet can cause GI distress in pets. Bring bottled water and your pet’s food from home to avoid digestive upset.
There are certain dog and cat breeds that are particularly susceptible to the hazards that air travel can bring.
Traveling by plane can be particularly hazardous for animals with pushed-in faces, such as bulldogs, pugs, Boston terriers, and Himalayan and Persian cats,” explained Dr. Pachtinger. “These brachycephalic animals have short nasal passages and more narrow airways, which puts them at higher risk for breathing difficulty and heat stroke, especially in poorly ventilated or temperature controlled areas.”
If traveling by plane…
- Opt for cabin over cargo, if possible. Most airlines allow cats or small dogs in the cabin for an additional fee. There are limits to the number of animals permitted in the cabin, so make reservations well in advance.
- Use direct flights. Transferring flights can be stressful for both you and your pet. This is especially true if your pet must travel in the cargo hold. If cargo is the case, and you will be traveling in summer or winter months, choose flights that will accommodate temperature extremes. For example, in summer months, early morning or late evening flights are best; in the winter, choose mid-afternoon flights.
- Acclimate your pet to the carrier. Give your pet several weeks to become familiar with the travel carrier. Hard carriers usually come in two pieces, so try placing your pet’s bedding in the bottom piece—with the top detached—to make your pet feel comfortable.
- Attach a travel label to your carrier. Mix-ups can happen. Equip the carrier with an identification label that includes your name, permanent address, telephone number, final destination, and where you or a contact person can be reached as soon as the flight arrives.
- Refrain from feeding before the flight. A full stomach might cause your pet to be uncomfortable during travel, so refrain from feeding them two to four hours before a flight. However, you should give your pet water right up to your travel time.
However you travel, when you arrive at your destination, open the carrier as soon as you are in a safe place and examine your pet,” said Dr. Pachtinger. “If anything seems wrong, take your pet to be examined by a veterinarian immediately.”
Regardless of how you travel make sure your pet’s medical needs are met. Make certain to pack enough of your pet’s medications to last, plus a bit more, in case your plans change. If the medication must be refrigerated, plan to bring a small, insulated travel cooler to keep the medications cool.
Finally, research your destination. Make sure to locate veterinary hospitals in the area. In case of an emergency, you have a plan in place rather than worrying about where to have your pet evaluated.