Pet Travel Tips
Adrienne Hergen, DVM
Shirlington Animal Hospital

With the summer months upon us, more and more people will be going on vacation.  In recent years, pet owners have been taking their pets along in greater numbers when they travel.  According to a poll conducted by Travel Industry Association of America, over the past 3 years 29.1 million Americans have shared their travel experiences with their pets. 

Always consider your pet’s personality when thinking about taking him or her out of their normal surroundings.  This can be shocking for pets and be very stressful for them depending on how adaptable they are.  Think carefully about traveling with very young, very old, sick, injured pets, or animals that are prone to high levels of anxiety.  If you are in doubt, please discuss this with your veterinarian.

Also always consider the mode of travel carefully.  While driving is the most common form of transportation, many others will fly.  Trains and buses don’t allow pets, but service animals are allowed.  If you are planning to drive to your vacation destination and your dog or cat is unaccustomed to the car we recommend doing shorter practice runs ahead of time.

When driving, dogs should always be restrained using either a carrier or harness and cats should always be in carriers.  Puppy pads can be helpful to line the carrier because they can be easily disposed of and replaced if they become soiled.  If your pet is unfamiliar with the carrier it is a good idea to leave it out for a few days beforehand with the door open, so that they can become comfortable with it.  Placing a favorite toy or treat inside can entice them to explore it further.

Dogs should never sit in the front seat as they can be hurt by a deployed airbag.  Also dogs should not put their heads out the window.  They can be injured by roadside debris and other flying objects.  Opening the window just a few inches to allow them to feel the breeze is ok.

Skipping the meal immediately prior to your trip or at least waiting a few hours after a meal to travel can minimize the chance of your pet getting carsick.  Ice cubes are also a good thing to have on hand as they are easier to manage than a bowl of water.  Never leave your pet unattended in the car for any period of time.  Even in the shade with the windows cracked, the temperature can rise quickly to dangerous, life-threatening levels.

Flying with your pet will require additional planning.  Certain regulations restrict the age of pets allowed to fly.  They must be at least eight weeks old and weaned at least five days before travel.  You will need to have your veterinarian examine them, usually within ten days of travel.  It is always best to check with your specific airline for timelines and policies just to be on the safe side.  The very best option is to have your pet ride in the cabin with you, if they are small enough to fit in a carrier under the seat.  Alternatively, larger pets will have to go in cargo. 

If your pet has to go in cargo there are some additional considerations.  Some airlines will not accept pets as cargo during certain months of the year when outside temperatures are extremely hot or cold.  In the summer, it is best to try and schedule flights in the early morning or late evening when temperatures are cooler.  Directs flights are the best to minimize transfers and delays.  The pet’s carrier should be clearly labeled with your contact information.  Do not take your pet out of its carrier while inside the terminal unless instructed to do so when going through the TSA check point.

Once arriving at your destination it will be important to consider where you and your pet will be staying.  Many pet-friendly hotels are available but they do include additional fees.  If staying with a friend or relative, you want to make sure that pets are welcome and that allergies aren’t a concern.  Think carefully about whether your pet will be comfortable in unfamiliar surroundings when left alone.  If they might be destructive or bothersome to others, it may be a better option to look into having a pet-sitter come to your house.  If staying in a hotel, be sure to secure pets when leaving them unattended.  Place the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door when out, so that the cleaning service doesn’t inadvertently allow your pet to slip out the door and get lost.

Lastly, always make sure your pet has a collar on with a current id tag.  We also would recommend a microchip that would serve as a permanent form of identification if they were lost or separated from you.

If you have any questions about traveling with your pet or need a health certificate issued please don’t hesitate to call us at Shirlington Animal Hospital.  We are always happy to help.