According to a 2009 survey by AAA and Best Western International, more than three-quarters of respondents said they want to take their pet with them on vacation. We love our pets and want them to experience the excitement of exploring new destinations right alongside us. And with more and more pet-friendly accommodations available, it’s becoming easier to pack up the entire family for an adventure.
The key to traveling with your pet: planning! If you want to create a fun, hassle-free experience, do your research before you leave. These tips can help.
Assemble the Necessary Documentation
Dogs and cats must have all required vaccinations to travel. Airlines and even some states require you to carry a signed certificate from your veterinarian documenting your pet’s health and vaccination history.
When flying, check with your airlines well in advance to determine what’s needed to get your pet on board. Some airlines require that your pet’s health certificate be issued within 10 days of departure. Other carriers may ask for an acclimation statement when they can’t guarantee compliance with animal welfare regulations — like minimum temperature guidelines — while transporting your pet. These guidelines protect pets during their move from the terminal to the aircraft and in holding areas. It’s typically a concern during hot summer months or in cold locales. If you are asked to submit an acclimation statement before flying, work with your veterinarian to assess the potential risks of bringing Rex on board. The American Veterinary Medical Association website also recommends specific wording that owners can use to amend the document and help ensure safer transport.
Stem Your Pet’s Anxiety
If you think your pet experiences anxiety while traveling, talk to your veterinarian about anxiety-easing medications and supplements, which may ease mild fears and calm nervous travelers. Your veterinarian may want you to test out these products before your trip to see if they produce the desired effect and to fine-tune the dosage.
Sedating an animal for air travel isn’t recommended, because there is an increased risk of injury and oxygen deprivation, especially for shorter-nosed breeds. Other options for keeping pets calm while in your care include compression garments and anxiety wraps, available for both dogs and cats, which offer a gentle way of soothing pets.
Pet pheromones may also have a calming effect and can be spritzed onto the pet’s bedding area or diffused in a car or hotel room.
Make the Most of ID Tags and Microchips
Make sure the information on your pet’s ID tags hasn’t worn away and that you have the most updated information on them, including a cell phone number, since you’ll be away from home. You can also purchase temporary travel tags to provide supplemental contact information — like the name of your campground, hotel, or alternate residence — not imprinted on your pet’s metal tags.
If your pet is microchipped, be sure to register with a national microchip registry, rather than just your local veterinary clinic. And if your pet doesn’t have a microchip, get one!
Packing an updated picture of your pet in your wallet or suitcase will make finding, identifying, and returning a lost pet that much easier. And keeping a digital photo on your cell phone will allow you to share your pet’s image in a flash.
Book Travel Early, and Read the Fine Print
Even pet-friendly businesses may have limits on the number of pets allowed at their destination or on a particular mode of transportation. For instance, airlines limit the number of pets traveling in the cabin per flight. And certain hotels may have a limited number of pet-friendly rooms.
It’s common for hotels to charge extra for pets. Just be sure to read the fine print, as some simply require a refundable deposit while others charge a non-refundable flat fee. Also, ask if there is a safe place to leave your pet if you have to step out alone. In addition, some hotels have restrictions on the type or size of pets (small dogs only, for example).
Before you leave home, make sure your pet will be welcome at your destination and the surrounding area. For example, pets may only be allowed in certain areas of your hotel, RV park, or campground. And protected state or national parks may post-trail restrictions that could limit your family’s hiking opportunities. Several websites offer dog-friendly campground and park guides to help you choose the best destination for your desired activities.
When traveling to another city, find out if your dog is allowed on restaurant patios or inside shopping or dining venues. This search will also help you identify some pet-friendly dining options before you ever leave home. If few options exist, create a backup plan: Will the hotel allow you to leave your pet crated in the hotel room? Or can you order in food or even prepare your own meals in your room?
Regardless of where you’re traveling, be sure to comply with local leash laws and always clean up after your pet as a courtesy to others who are sharing the public or private space.
Prep Your Hosts
If you’re planning to stay with a family or friend along the way, be upfront about your pet’s needs so there are no surprises. You’ll also need to ask about the house rules:
- Are pets allowed on the furniture?
- Can dogs do their business in the yard, or would your hosts prefer that you go for a morning and evening walk?
- Is the yard fenced?
- Do your friends have other animals in the home? Do they have kids?
- Is there a safe room for your pet to stay if you leave the house, or will you need to bring along a crate?
- All of these questions will help make your stay more peaceful and comfortable for everyone.
Choose Your Mode of Transportation
Many traditional travel options are off-limits to pets. Here are some considerations when planning your trip:
- Rental cars: The majority of rental car agencies have pet-friendly policies and allow dogs and cats in the car. Some may require your pet to be crated during travel, and agencies may apply extra fees for any damage or necessary cleaning.
- Buses: Certain cities like Seattle have pet-friendly policies that allow leashed dogs on public transportation. But most national bus chains don’t allow animals.
Subways: Check your local destinations for their pet policies. Some subways allow leashed or contained animals to ride when accompanied by their owner.
- Ferry lines: Most ferry lines allow pets on board if they remain with their humans in the car, and some have adopted policies that allow animals in specific areas of the vessel.
- Trains: Most trains will not allow pets on board or in cargo areas. However, there are always exceptions. Certain European countries have more open travel options for pets.
- Cruises: While many small carriers offer one- to three-hour “sightseeing” cruises for people and their pets, animals aren’t traditionally welcome on ocean liners. One exception is Cunard’s Queen Mary 2, which offers a transatlantic voyage starting or ending in New York, as well as European voyages. The ship boasts an onboard kennel area for housing dogs and cats, space for walking dogs, and designated areas for guests to spend time with their pets.
- Airlines: Each airline has its own restrictions and fees when it comes to transporting pets, and the size of your pet is a big consideration. Small pets traveling in the cabin will need to fit within the seat space. If your pet is too big to fit under the seat, you’ll need an airline-approved crate with proper ventilation for transporting your pal in one of the plane’s climate-controlled cargo areas.
Restrictions also apply to certain breeds. For instance, snub-nosed breeds of dogs and cats — like Pugs, Bulldogs, and Persian or Burmese cats — may be restricted from flying in cargo areas, depending on several factors, including the ambient temperature at that time of the year. Other airlines limit cabin travel for so-called “dangerous” breeds.
As for fees, expect to pay between $100 and $200 to transport your pet one way, depending on his size.
When booking your ticket, also consider leaving layover time for potty breaks if your pet is traveling with you in the cabin. Many airports offer dog relief areas so you can make a pit stop before boarding your next flight. Be prepared to go back through security if the rest areas aren’t adjacent to your concourse.
Make Car Safety a Priority
It’s important to keep pets secured in the back-seat area to prevent them from distracting the driver. Also, the front seat is more dangerous for dogs and cats because the front airbags can seriously hurt or kill pets on impact.
When looking at car restraints, it’s important to consider their two primary functions: keeping the animal contained and protecting him in the event of a crash. The only restraint harness that has been approved for its crash test safety for dogs by the Center for Pet Safety (CPS) is the Sleepypod Clickit Utility harness. Other harnesses failed crash tests and provided little protection — or they actually made the crash more dangerous than it would have been without restraint.
Booster seats can also be a potential risk to the pet and people in the car. But if using a booster, consider using the RC Pet Canine Friendly Safety Harness, which is recommended by the CPS and can be buckled into a booster.
No travel crates have been proven safe in crash tests. But tests suggest that buckling in the crate can be more dangerous to the animal because the seatbelt can potentially crush the crate and hurt the animal. Instead, the CPS suggests placing the crate on the floor behind the driver or passenger seat.
Head Off Carsickness
Carsickness is one of the reasons dogs and cats may become anxious on car trips because nausea causes distress, unease, and discomfort. If you’re concerned your pet may be prone to carsickness, talk to your veterinarian about medications that can help.
It’s not unusual for these pets to develop negative feelings about car rides, which only adds to their stress and unease. To counteract this negative association, you may be able to counter-condition your pet and help develop a positive perception of car rides. Try short trips with your pet while giving him a palatable reward, such as canned food in a stuffed Kong. If the animal gets sick right from the start, place him in the car, give the reward, then end the session. As you progress, you can advance to turning on the car, then driving for short periods before returning home.
Pets who aren’t prone to carsickness may still experience anxiety during car rides. For these pets, decreasing visual stimuli — by covering your cat’s crate, for example — may ease their discomfort. E-cones (Elizabethan collars like those worn by animals after surgery) may block your dog or cat’s vision and help reduce anxiety. Or try a calming cap that slides onto your pet’s head, limiting his vision. Your veterinarian may also prescribe anxiety medication if your pet is overly anxious during rides.
Planning Makes Perfect
Taking our pets on vacation isn’t something to take lightly. It’s our responsibility to help ensure their safety and their enjoyment on the road. So commit to planning ahead for a fun and memorable adventure.
This article originally appeared in the Summer 2015 issue of HealthyPet magazine.