Whether you and your pet are heading out on a planned holiday or taking a spontaneous road trip, there are ways to ensure your pet has a great vacation.
And when it comes to traveling with pets, I’ve got you covered. I’m Dr. Evan Antin, a practicing veterinarian at Conejo Valley Veterinary Hospital and an exotic, small and wildlife veterinarian.
Traveling with pets can sometimes be stressful (for all parties), but it doesn’t have to be with the proper guidance. Here’s how to prepare your dog or cat for plane and car trips and what to do if traveling isn’t their favorite activity.
First things first: Visit your veterinarian to make sure your pet is in acceptable health to travel. While at the appointment, ensure your pet has up-to-date vaccinations, a routine physical exam and any preventive medications necessary for the area you’re traveling to (think: leptospirosis vaccines or preventative heartworm medication).
Some pets may benefit from medication to prevent motion sickness or supplements, such as CBD products to soothe anxiety. If you know your pet struggles with motion sickness or anxiety, ask your veterinarian about options.
When traveling over state lines or abroad, ask your veterinarian about any health certificates that may be necessary for traveling (like proof of rabies vaccination and a declaration of a clean physical exam). These pet-related certificates are often requested by airlines at check-in (and may be asked for by law enforcement when traveling by car). If you’re traveling internationally, ask your veterinarian and research a country's specific laws and necessary documents when visiting with your pets. These vary from one country to another so definitely take the time to prepare yourself.
Make sure to pack plenty of your pet’s food. Your supply should last throughout the trip, unless you can buy more at your destination. Sticking with your dog’s regular diet on the road will help them avoid any gastrointestinal issues while you travel. A collapsible food dish and water bowl can make eating or drinking easier while traveling, too.
Packing your pet’s bed or blanket can make the trip (especially car rides) a little more comfortable as the seats in cars can be awkward for pets to sit in.
Your pet's carrier should be their safe space during your travels — it’s best to start cultivating a happy and positive association with the crate before traveling. For example, I leave my carrier open in the house so my pets can go in and out as they like. It’s important to let them relax and leave them alone while they’re in the carrier. They also create that positive association by placing treats in there, too.
You should also call your airline before traveling to make sure your pet fits all the travel requirements.
If your veterinarian recommends mild dog or cat sedatives for travel, make sure you give them to your pet at the appropriate time. Most airlines won’t allow sedated animals on flights, so ensure you have the proper dosage for your pet that doesn’t make them too loopy.
Make sure you have enough time before boarding the flight to let your pet have multiple bathroom breaks, too — usually entering the airport is your pet’s last chance until arriving at your destination. And know that flying can dehydrate pets, so make sure to offer water a couple times during your trip.
Before boarding the plane, ensure your pet’s carrier is set up with their toys to prevent boredom and blankets to increase their comfort on the flight. Pheromone sprays and wipes used in the carrier can be really helpful, too. These are scents that help calm pets, that can be sprayed or wiped in the carrier (or in the car if you’re going on a road trip). They're known to help 30 to 50% of pets relax.
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Get your pet used to the car by taking them for shorter car rides before the big trek. These mini road trips will indicate if your pet struggles with motion sickness so that you can talk to your veterinarian about a preventive plan before your big trip. It also desensitizes your pet to being in the car.
Make sure there’s space in your car for a litter box for cats, and plan a lot of bathroom breaks for dogs. It’s also good to make sure you plan stops for mealtimes and water breaks along the way.
While driving, it’s best to keep your pet confined to one area of the car, if pets move around during the drive it could become a safety hazard. For example, cats sometimes like to crawl underneath pedals, which is obviously a big no-no. Setting up your pet’s bed or crate may help them feel secure on the drive.
Make sure the temperature isn’t too hot or cold either, and adjust accordingly, so you and your pet are comfortable on the road and remember that your pet is potentially experiencing a different “climate” than you based on where they’re placed in the car.
When you arrive at your vacation spot, give your pet a chance to go to the bathroom and investigate their new environment. If your pet has anxiety, be sure to spend quality time with them by showing your undivided attention. It may not be necessary for all pets, but it certainly helps my Chihuahua mix, Henry.
Once they’ve had a chance to go to the bathroom, pull out their carrier. The crate will be their designated place to retreat if they’re scared or need alone time. If you’re visiting somewhere with little children or other pets, ensure your pet’s safe space is away from them.
Pets thrive on routines, which decrease anxiety because they know what’s coming. Try to maintain your normal at-home schedule by feeding your pet at their usual times, giving them their medication and taking regular bathroom breaks.
Always talk to your veterinarian before planning a trip with your pet — some pet conditions, like cardiac or kidney disease or arthritis, may make it harder for them to travel.
If your vet rules that it’s not the best idea to travel with your pet, many pets prefer their own home over boarding facilities. Look for live-in pet sitters to watch your pet (often, you can find veterinary technicians that double as pet sitters). If not, ask a trusted family member or friend to look after your pet.
Boarding facilities are also an option as long as they can meet your pet’s individual needs. Some pets love being social, while others don’t, so it’s important to research the facility before signing your pet up.
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