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26 tips for traveling safely with your pets

Sometimes we travel with our pets because we’re on the vacation of a lifetime. Other times, we may have hastily packed up the car to drive away from a hurricane or another danger. Either way, it’s important to keep your pets safe while on the road.

Dr. Samantha Nelson of BluePearl Veterinary Partners has compiled this fantastic list of 26 tips for safe pet travel. It’s one of the most comprehensive tip sheets we’ve seen, and we believe it will help you travel safely with the pets in your family. Feel free to print out Dr. Nelson’s list for future reference. And enjoy your trip!

Dr. Samantha Nelson of BluePearl Veterinary Partners, with her dog Finn

  1. Update your pet’s microchip information. It’s important to get your pet microchipped, because it’s the best way to ensure that a lost pet comes back to you. But many people don’t realize how important it is to update your microchip registration ever year, as this article explains. Microchips have led to countless happy reunions with people and pets. And don’t forget a collar with identification as well.
  2. Protect your pet against disease and critters. Different regions of the country have different pests, vermin and diseases compared to your local area. Talk to your veterinarian about additional flea, tick and heartworm control, as well as rattlesnake vaccine, additional parasite control and more.
  3. Prepare for the cold or the heat. Hot and humid weather can be especially dangerous. Keep in mind your pets’ heat or cold tolerance when planning outdoor activities and travel, especially when they are not used to these conditions.
  4. Your dog may need an exercise program. If your dog is normally more of a couch potato or weekend warrior, consider training and conditioning workouts ahead of your adventure. This will build up your dog’s cardiovascular health as well as her paw pads. Local parks and hiking trails are great training venues. Just like us humans, some dogs love the outdoors, some do not and prefer their couch or back yard.  Keep this in mind when planning your adventures – you want them to be fun for you and Fido. Cats can be adventurers too – here is one good resource for ideas.
  5. Beware of car sickness. Talk to your veterinarian about medications for car sickness and anti-anxiety medications (not necessarily sedatives).
  6. Bring your pets’ medical records. This should include the names of any medicines and contact information for your veterinarian. This can be helpful and in some cases critical information in emergencies, especially ones that occur after-hours. Carry a copy of vaccine certificates and update your pet’s vaccinations at least a month before travel.
  7. Bring the appropriate health certificates for foreign travel. Talk with your veterinarian about the country of origin entry requirements and possible quarantine requirements.
  8. Carry a pet first aid kit. Use a pet first aid kit for help with immediate injuries. But all injuries should be quickly evaluated by a veterinarian.
  9. Do NOT give your pets medicine that is meant for people. Unless your veterinarian has previously said it’s OK. Definitely do not give Advil, Aleve, or Tylenol to your dogs or cats.
  10. Use care when choosing a restraint. A harness or safety belt for your dog sounds like a good idea, but some have been shown to offer inadequate or inappropriate restraint if there is an accident or hard brake, resulting in injury. Research them carefully and ask your veterinarian for advice.
  11. Use crates only if appropriate for your dogs. Crates can provide safety, but they should only be used for pets who are not unduly anxious or worked up in the crate. Sometimes crates can cause more problems for dogs than they help.
  12. Cats, on the other hand, generally should travel in crates. Except for the most carefree and adventurous felines, cats should be confined in crates. They are masters of escape and can quickly dart from a car when scared.
  13. Don’t forget the litter box. Carry a litter box and a system for providing your cat with a safe, quiet spot for litter box breaks.
  14. Anti-anxiety medicine helps some pets. Talk with your veterinarian about anti-anxiety medications that may soothe your dog or cat during travel.
  15. Plan ahead for pet-friendly lodging. Many hotels don’t take pets and those that do sometimes charge extra and fill up quickly. Include pet-friendly hotels and campgrounds on your itinerary.
  16. Be a good pet citizen. As much as we love our pets and think they are the best thing ever, many people are afraid of dogs or see them as a nuisance. As our pets are doing more and more things with us outside of the home, it is up to us to keep a good name for them so they can continue to enjoy our shared areas.  Let people know if your pet is not great around strangers. Do not let your happy-go-lucky Fido exuberantly jump or run up to all their new “friends” – other people or dogs may not be so excited to meet them.  Keep your pet on-leash at all times unless you’re in a designated off-leash area.
  17. Pick up the poop. Carry poop bags at all times – no one wants to step in it, and it can pollute water for wildlife. Also, leaving waste behind tends to give pet owners a bad name and might lead to pets being banned from certain parks in the future.
  18. Talk to your airline. Learn everything you can about where and how your pet will be accommodated during air travel. Plan ahead – taking Kitty in the cabin in a stow-away carrier requires different considerations than traveling in cargo.
  19. Reserve your pet’s spot on the plane well in advance. Most airlines have only a limited number of spots in the cabin or cargo, if pets are allowed at all.
  20. Generally, sedatives or medications are not allowed or advised for air travel. If you think it may be necessary, talk with your veterinarian about safe options.
  21. Some dogs should not fly. If your dog is a short-nosed breed (bulldogs, pugs, etc.), or if he is elderly or ill or has any respiratory or cardiovascular disease or is very anxious, avoid air travel. It could be dangerous and may not even be allowed, especially in cargo.
  22. Use extreme caution if your pet travels in cargo. Avoid it if possible. But if traveling in cargo is necessary for your pet, talk with your airline about its safety record and where and how pets will be cared for on layovers and potty breaks. The airline should provide guidelines for air-travel crates, food and water dishes and supplies of food and water. Especially avoid cargo travel in warmer months (if it is even allowed).
  23. Bring all of your pet’s medications with you on the plane. Have an adequate supply for the duration of the trip, especially if it is a critical medication such as insulin or heart medicine. It may not be possible to quickly get refills of medications if they are forgotten at home.
  24. Pad your pet’s carrier with potty pads. And have extras on hand. Some airports have pet-relief stations, but not all do.
  25.   Give your pet some practice time in the crate. If your pet will need to be in a crate for travel, try acclimating them to their crate well ahead of your trip. There are many helpful internet videos showing crate training and acclimation tips. Your veterinarian also will have good advice.  Make sure the crate is the appropriate size for your pet so they can be comfortable and not overly stressed.  Anxiety and stress can lead to breathing problems or exacerbate them.

  26.   Bring the blankey. Having a piece of home in the kennel can be very soothing for your pet.