Traveling With Your Pet: Removing the Mystery

Pets are bigger members of our families than ever before, which brings endless benefits. It can, however, also bring stress for responsible pet parents who want to do what’s best for their companion. When it comes time to travel, many pet parents struggle with what to do with their pet: do they board them? Get a pet sitter? Bring them along?

Until you actually travel with a pet, the entire process can seem frustrating and mystifying. While sometimes boarding or getting a sitter for your pet is truly the right answer, traveling with your pet can be a fun and rewarding experience.

Is travel right for your pet?

Firstly, it’s important to make sure that the details of your trip lend themselves to traveling with your pet. Some things to consider are:

  • Some destinations have restrictions on what pets can be brought there and for how long. For example, in some places, pets must be quarantined before being allowed to roam freely with their pet parent. In others, there might be a limit of how many days they can be present before the law requires more verification for their stay. (More on this below.)

  • Does the location have stressors that are very different from your home? If your pet is used to having free reign of a yard and has never experienced doing its business in a loud concrete jungle, this might cause anxiety for them. Going from the wilds of Montana to the middle of Manhattan can be a sudden, difficult adjustment for a pet.

  • What kind of time will you have to devote to your pet’s care and exercise? It can be easy to underestimate how much free time you will have when traveling. To avoid stress for both you and your pet, make sure to plan out beforehand how you will attend to your pet while also enjoying yourself!

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Talk to your veterinarian

No two pets are the same, and for some pets longer air or road trips may not be healthy. Be sure to consult with your veterinarian to make your pet’s travel-worthiness won’t be affected by their age, breed, size, or any other medical issues (such as diabetes or thyroid disorder) they may have.

Your veterinarian can also make travel easier for your pet. If your companion is stress-prone, your veterinarian may prescribe a light sedative to make sure your pet is feeling relaxed on the journey. Your veterinarian may also provide anti-nausea medications if your pet has issues with motion sickness.

Check rules and regulations

It is vital that you know the rules and regulations of any place your pet will be traveling through. There are very few pet related restrictions when traveling through the continental United States. However, Hawaii has very specific restrictions on how long pets can be on the islands before they are quarantined. Other non-US destinations also have specific restrictions on whether pets must immediately be quarantined, what documentation they need for entry, and how long they can remain in the country.

National Parks in the United States also place some restrictions on where pets can roam. In general, all pets must be leashed at all times or contained in a crate or carrier. However, some national parks have more stringent restrictions that block pets from being on trails or in areas where animals might be present. This information is listed on the website for each National Park.

Handling the airport

If you’re traveling by plane, you should check with your airline to find out what their rules are for traveling with pets. For most domestic airlines, pets require a reservation and a service fee in advance of your travel (not required for documented Emotional Support Animals or Service Animals). On most commercial airlines, cats and small dogs must be stowed underneath the seat in front of you, while large dogs must fly underneath the cabin with the checked luggage. For in-cabin pets, it’s advised to carry a record of vaccination in case it’s requested. For dogs that will travel underneath the cabin, most if not all airlines require a Health Certificate from a veterinarian 10 days prior to departure.

Going through TSA security checkpoints can be stressful for both pets and pet parents. In most cases, small animals such as cats or small dogs must be removed from their carriers and carried through metal detectors by their owners, while carriers go through the x-ray belt. Large service dogs can be walked through the detector.

Pets are also required to remain in their carriers at all times except when in designated pet relief areas.

Make the journey safe and fun

In the days and weeks before you travel, make sure that your pet feels comfortable in their travel carrier. You can do this at home by rewarding them in their carrier with treats and gentle petting, and you can also take them around your area in the carrier to destinations they like so they associate their travel carrier with happiness.

If traveling by plane, give your pet the occasional treat or praise if they wake up during the flight. Place a favorite stuffed animal, toy, or blanket in their carrier so they have something familiar to cuddle with.

Photo by Reera Yoo

Photo by Reera Yoo

If traveling by road, make sure to give your pet regular breaks for food, water, and the bathroom. Also make sure to give them as much regular activity as possible; at stops along your journey, give them frequent walks or play with them.

In both instances, you might want to bring a safe chew-toy for dogs so that they can occupy themselves. You will also want to monitor their temperature to make sure they are comfortable. Both planes and cars can either get too hot or too cold, so it’s good to plan for their comfort.

Bring a bit of home with you

Dogs and cats are creatures of comfort, and for many pets a change of scenery can be jarring or stressful. In order to minimize the shock, it’s a good idea to bring some of your pet’s favorite things from home with you. If your dog is crate trained, bringing their home crate is a fast and easy way to get them comfortable with a new environment.

Regardless, be sure to bring lots of your pet’s favorite toys and bedding to your destination to help them stay on their routine. Food and feeding schedules should also remain consistent, and depending on your location you should consider providing your pet with purified water, not tap water, to prevent upset stomach.

In conclusion…

The most important thing to remember is that when we’re visibly anxious, our pets can feed on that energy. The best way to keep your furry companion calm and comfortable during any travel is to plan ahead so you can be calm and comfortable yourself! Your confidence and composure will signal to your pet that everything is fine and that there’s no reason to worry.