Tips for Traveling with a Pet

Before taking your pet with you on a trip, consider the following advice, drawn from several publications, including the American Automobile Association’s guide Traveling With Your Pet.

For Any Travel

  • Take note of your pet’s capabilities, and prepare your pet for the trip. Don’t plan a camping trip with arduous hikes if your pet leads a sedentary lifestyle.
  • Before the trip, take your pet to the vet for a check-up, and make sure all vaccinations are current. Most states require proof of vaccinations for rabies.
  • Obtain a health certificate from your vet no earlier than 10 days before departure.
  • Make sure your pet has a collar ID with its name, your name, home address, and phone number.
  • If you will be using a crate, make sure it is large enough for your pet to stand, sit, and change positions.
  • Bring familiar toys or bedding to make your pet more comfortable in an unfamiliar environment. Maintain your dog’s regular feeding and exercise schedules, and stop often to let your dog stretch and urinate.
  • Sedatives and tranquilizers may be harmful to your pet. Drug your pet only if your veterinarian recommends it.
  • Don’t forget food and water bowls, a brush or a comb, towels to wipe muddy paws, and plastic bags.

For Air Travel

  • Although many air passengers travel with their pets without incident, risks do exist.
  • Pets can experience breathing difficulties at high altitudes.
  • Pets may suffer from exposure to temperature extremes. Tarmac and cargo holds where pets wait—first to be loaded onto the plane and then for the plane to taxi to the runway, take off, or unload—are subject to extreme temperatures. Heat emanating from a cement surface, coupled with the heat from plane engines, can quickly cause heat exhaustion and dehydration. Even after the sun goes down, cargo holds can retain and emit heat. Delay can be a problem: The temperature in the cargo hold can become too hot (or too cold, depending on the season) when a plane waits at the gate or on the runway for extended periods.
  • Airline staff make mistakes. Pets have been forgotten and left on the tarmac in extreme temperatures. Pets have been sent to the wrong destination, requiring long and harrowing trips to correct the error.
  • Pets can suffer from nervous disorders and trauma. Noise in the cargo hold can be frightening to pets. Also, air turbulence can traumatize them, and pets can suffer from air sickness.
  • Not all destinations will welcome your pet. Quarantine laws in Hawaii and many foreign destinations require pets to be sequestered before joining you. Some forbid the entry of pets altogether.
  • If your pet must fly, follow these steps to ensure your pet’s safety:
  • Call the airline or visit its website to determine the policies, procedures, and restrictions for flying with a pet.
  • Try to book nonstop flights.
  • Check to see if your pet can fly with you in the passenger cabin as carry-on luggage. Most airlines now allow this for a limited number of pets per plane in carriers small enough to fit underneath passenger seats. You’ll need to make a reservation.
  • Call the airline the day before your trip to reconfirm your pet’s reservation.
  • Check whether the airline requires a health certificate for your pet—most now require them for pets checked as baggage but not for pets carried on. If necessary, get your veterinarian to supply a certificate.
  • If you must fly during the warm season (or to warm climates), try to fly early in the morning or late at night; if you fly during winter, try to fly during the day.
  • Make sure the crate for your pet is USDA-approved for shipping animals. The crate should be large enough so your pet can stand up, turn around, and lie down. Be sure its latches are in working order. Also, make sure the crate is securely closed, but don’t lock the crate—in case your pet must be removed in an emergency.
  • Line the crate with absorbent material.
  • Write “LIVE ANIMAL” in large letters on the top of the crate and on at least one side. Draw arrows to indicate prominently the upright position of the crate.
  • Make sure all the airline tags on your pet’s crate have the correct destination airport.
  • If you’re checking the pet as baggage, secure an empty food and water dish to the inside of the crate. For trips longer than 12 hours, attach a plastic bag containing dry food and feeding instructions. These items (which should be attached to the crate) must be accessible to airline personnel.

For Car Travel

  • Never leave a pet alone in a car.
  • Think about whether your pet’s age and temperament are appropriate for the trip. Young dogs or cats that may not have sufficient training can become burdens. Older dogs may not be physically fit for the rigors of a long trip.
  • For safety, it is important that a dog responds to such voice commands as “Sit,” “Stay,” and “Down.”
  • A crate-trained pet is more likely to feel safe in an unfamiliar environment, and hotel/motel staff may be more inclined to admit your pet if you tell them the pet is crated.
  • When you call for a reservation in a hotel, motel, or bed and breakfast, determine whether pets are allowed. If so, ask about the facility’s rules and whether you will be charged any additional fees.