The Basics of Pet Travel

  • Make sure your pet’s up for the trip “The first thing you want to ask yourself is, ‘Are you sure your pet really wants to go?’” says Patricia B. McConnell, PhD, a certified applied animal behaviorist and author of The Education of Will. “I’ve seen people who believed their dog would be fine or they wanted their cat to go with them, but the animal was terrified of strangers or a wreck in noisy places. So think about your pet’s personality and remember that traveling will involve exposure to new people and changing environments.” Also, consult with your vet if you have any doubt as to whether or not your pet is healthy enough to handle the adventure.
  • Book in advance. And confirm! Book your hotel or rental property early—and call to confirm you can get a pet-friendly room. “A lot of times hotels will only have a certain number of rooms available for pet use,” says Amy Burkert, co-founder of GoPetFriendly.com. Airlines and trains also have a set capacity for pets on each trip, so reserve ahead of time to be sure there’s a spot for your animal.
  • Get a (space-age) pet ID. “Your animal should always travel with tags that carry his name and your cell number. And ideally, your dog or cat should have a microchip,” says Dr. McConnell. Yes: a microchip. They’re about the size of a grain of rice, they’re programmed with a unique ID number, and they’re easily injected beneath your pet’s skin. If he gets lost, a simple scan can identify you as his owner. This isn’t just about keeping your tech edge—a 2018 study showed that microchipped dogs are more than twice as likely to be reunited with their owners as non-microchipped dogs, and microchipped cats are more than 20 times as likely to be returned home. Just be sure to keep your contact information current with the microchip registry database.
  • Get an approved pet carrier. Make sure the airline or railway has officially sanctioned your carrier by checking the requirements on the website. Then label the carrier with your pet’s name as well as your name and contact info. Mark it clearly and prominently with the words “Live Animal,” so nobody can mistake it for regular luggage.
  • Acclimate your pet to the carrier. As soon as you’ve got your carrier, start enticing your dog or cat to use it. “A lot of the hard carriers come in two pieces, so I recommend setting out just the bottom piece and placing your pet’s bedding—and even treats—in there to make your pet feel comfortable with it,” says Susan Smith, president and CEO of PetTravel.com. “Then put the top on and leave the door open at home. We have owners whose pets would prefer to sleep in the crate than the bed.”
  • Bring medical records. Gather health records, medication information, and proof of vaccinations from your vet—and carry them with you. Rules vary by airline and country, so check for any “pet passport” requirements (more below) long before it’s time to leave. You might even need your pet’s medical documents when driving across state lines, or to make an emergency visit to the vet. “I’ve scanned my dogs’ entire medical records to a USB drive and I keep that with us all the time on the road,” says Burkert. It’s also wise to attach your dog’s rabies tag to her collar (which proves vaccination), and to treat your pet with preventive flea and tick medication before you go.
  • Get the right gear. Invest in collapsible water bowls, waste bags, a safety harness, and a leash. Don’t forget comfort items like a dog bed and toys. “Bring things that feel like home because even for a dog who is used to traveling, the first days of a trip can be unnerving,” says Dr. McConnell. “Always travel with bedding that the animal has slept on or with one of your t-shirts placed in the crate because it smells like home and like you, which is calming to your pet.” The pet bed or crate can then serve as a cozy sleeping spot once you’re at your destination.
  • Stay on schedule. Try to feed your animal at the same times of day as you would at home. “Dogs get some of their security from staying on their routine,” says Burkert. Don’t overfeed before a long journey; a light meal a few hours before leaving can help avoid nausea during the trip.
  • Avoid adventurous eating. Bring your pet’s food from home, and stick to bottled water—changes in diet can cause GI upset in pets just as they can in owners.
  • Mark your territory. Once you’re at your destination, stick with your pet for a while to help get her settled. “If we’re staying in a new rental property, we don’t leave the dogs alone until we’ve been there for 24 hours,” says Burkert. “If we’ve unpacked and slept there, the dogs get a feel that this is home and we’re coming back.” When you do head out without her, consider using an X-pen or baby gate to keep her confined to a safe area. Or use the crate if that’s where she feels safe and comfortable.

Road Tripping with Pets

Follow these rules of the road:

  • Buckle up. You buckle yourself and your children into the car; a pet should be no different. “Animals should be restrained with a harness or a carrier that is secured to the vehicle for your pet’s safety and for your safety,” says Lindsey A. Wolko, founder of Center for Pet Safety (CPS), a nonprofit that crash tests and certifies pet harnesses, carriers, and travel crates. “An unharnessed pet can be a driving distraction, and during a crash can become a projectile that hits human occupants. Check the the laws for were you are going before you hit the road. Also, choose a certified restraint that’s sized for your pet—and position it in the backseat of your car because animals, like small children, can be injured by front-seat airbags.
  • Take pit stops. This one might go without saying, but it’s worth reminding yourself to stop every few hours to let your pet stretch his legs and relieve himself. “Give your dog time to sniff new sniffs,” says Smith. “And always keep him on leash because dogs may try to bolt in unfamiliar environments.”
  • Don’t leave your pet alone in a car. “Any animal is at risk of overheating if left in a locked car on a summer day; unfortunately we see this in the clinic frequently,” says Diana Fellen, DVM, On hot days, the temperature inside a car can reach over 40 degrees in 10 to 15 minutes, even with the windows ajar. That can be deadly. But it isn’t just a problem on hot days. On mild days—low 30’s, say—the temperature inside a closed car can surpass 40 degrees in an hour. On cold days the risk is reversed but equally dangerous, with temps in parked cars dipping below freezing. Partially opened windows also raise the possibility that pets might try to jump out, or that passersby will try to stick their hands in, which can scare animals and provoke them to bite. If you’re driving solo and you absolutely, positively *must *use a restroom, Burket suggests locking your dog in the car with a bowl of water and setting a five-minute timer so you’re reminded to get back as fast as possible.

Pets on Trains

Trains can be a great way to travel with pets, especially when they’re small. Please check the train carrier what rules apply as every country is different.

Some basic rules:

  • Pets must ride beneath seats in approved, labeled pet carriers. The maximum size for carriers is 19″ long, 14″ wide, and 10.5″ high—and your pet must be able to sit and lie down inside it without touching the sides.
  • Pets have to be at least 8 weeks old, healthy, and harmless.
  • Owners are required to sign a document certifying that their pets’ vaccinations are current, and accepting liability for their pet’s well being.

It’s a good idea to give your pet a long walk to tire her out before settling into her carrier. Then, once you’re aboard, be nice to her. Check on her frequently to make sure she has water; talk to her gently to remind her you’re nearby. “Just be sure to use a low, soothing voice when talking to your pet,” says Dr. McConnell. “Our voices can create calm or anxiety, so sing a lullaby to your best friend instead of a grunge rock song and it really might help keep her relaxed.”

Pets on Planes

The safest place for your pet is with you in the plane’s cabin. Please check with the airline is they allow animals to ride there, and they have to fit into a carrier that’s small enough to stay beneath the seat throughout the flight. Check the airline’s policies to be sure your carrier is approved. What’s more, your pet must have enough room inside the carrier to be able to stand and turn around—which means in-cabin travel is only an option for small animals like cats, small-breed dogs, and rabbits. Note that the guidelines for flying with emotional support animals or service animals are different, so it’s best to confirm the airline’s policies well before your travel date.

If you’re traveling internationally, regulations and fees will vary according to the airline and the laws in your final destination. Most countries require you to have a pet health certificate, please check with the airline or embassy from your intended destination for the correct advice.  If you can, book a window seat. “It’ll keep your pet away from the action in the aisle,” says Smith.

Of course, many pets are too big to fly in the cabin. So unless you’ve got both the time and the money to spend on a pet-friendly cruise aboard the Queen Mary 2, your pet will have to fly in cargo. In that case, follow these tips to help keep your pet safe:

  • Travel when the weather’s milder, ideally in fall or spring when it’s less likely your pet will encounter extremes of heat or cold during the flight.
  • As with other kinds of travel, use the right carrier—one that’s sturdy and IATA approved. Here, too, the crate needs to be roomy enough to let your pet stand up and turn around, and should to be labeled with “Live Animal” stickers, your contact information, and your pet’s name. Smith also recommends attaching a photo of your pet to the crate to avoid animal mix-ups. Use removable zip ties to close the crate securely; the last thing you want is for your pet to break free and get into the cargo hold, where the risk of injury is significant.
  • Freeze a small bowl of water and place it inside the crate. The ice won’t spill during loading, but it’ll be drinkable as it defrosts during the flight. If you’ve got a layover and someone else will need to feed your pet enroute, put the pet food in a plastic bag and secure it to the outside of the crate along with feeding instructions—and attach an empty food bowl inside the crate.
  • Similar to train travel, don’t overfeed your pet before flying. Give your animal a light meal several hours before take off to avoid nausea during the flight. And if you can, walk your dog before the journey to help him expend some energy pre-boarding.
  • Don’t sedate your pet. “Sedatives during air travel can increase the risk of heart or respiratory issues potentially caused by changing altitudes and atmospheric pressures,” says Kurt Venator, DVM, PhD, Purina’s chief veterinary officer. “Sedatives may also interfere with your pet’s balance or equilibrium while being transported in a carrier or crate.”
  • When you board, tell the flight attendants and pilots that your pet is in cargo so they can be extra mindful of the temperature and air pressure there.
  • Don’t be shy; advocate for your pet. Ask airline staff about her status as soon as you land.