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How Travel Safely with Pets

If we use our imaginations when we think about traveling with our pets, it seems like a lot of fun. We see our dog basking in the sun in the backseat of the car. We envision a game of fetch on a beach or kicking back in a rustic cabin while the cat purrs on the bed, the warmth of a fireplace heating the room. Heck – we can imagine jet-setting with our furry friends to exotic locations across the country and even the world.

But, hold-up: Reality check.

The truth is, for many of us, present company included, a quick trip to the veterinarian is a stressful endeavor. Our other pet travel plans, most of which involve a trip to an aunt’s house for the holidays – of course, no fewer than three people are allergic to your pooch – are borderline panic-inducing.

Usually, most efforts to travel with our pets involve fewer wind-through-the-hair moments and more whining with anxiety in the backseat – and I’m not only talking about our four-legged family members. It’s just how it goes: traveling with pets is difficult and requires a lot of planning and forward thinking. But there are some useful ways to make traveling with your furry family members safe and less stressful.

how to prepare to travel with pets _ dog in a suitcase

Prepare for the Journey

There are a lot of things to consider before traveling with your pet. The first question you might want to ask yourself is: Does my pet even like to travel? If the answer is “no,” you may want to consider making alternative arrangements for your pal. Consider using a pet sitter or finding a boarding facility in your area.

Other considerations are their age, medical history, and temperament. No one knows your pets better than you, and that’s why you need to make the right decision based on their needs and lifestyle.

Even if your pets like traveling, as many do, it’s still essential to address a few things in order to make the trip a good (and safe!) one. Before traveling with your pets, consider the following:

  • Do your pets have up-to-date tags and registrations? This includes your contact information, which is important if you and your pet are ever separated.
  • Is your pet microchipped? It’s certainly no fun to think about, but if your pet were to get accidentally lost while traveling, a microchip could help reunite the two of you once your pet is found.
  • Do you know the rules and laws of your destination? If you are crossing state or international borders, certain forms of documentation may be required, including a health certificate. International travel even requires USDA endorsement to verify the health of your pet.

When you are preparing to travel with your pet, knowing about your destination is key. It’s not only about understanding the local laws and requirements but also being aware of the fact that your pet will possibly be encountering a new environment and they may frighten easily. And when a pet is scared, they may bolt. This is certainly scary to think of, but you want to take every precaution in case this happens, so your pet can be returned to you when they’re found. It’s all about being prepared, which can help ensure your travels are enjoyable or at least less stressful.

printable travel checklist

On the Journey

Whether you prefer to travel by plane, train, or automobile, there are a few things to consider when you’re on the road (or in the air, etc.). Here are a few tips, based on your preferred mode of transportation, for traveling with your pet:

Car

Probably the most frequently used form of pet transportation, the car offers fewer hassles and lowers costs when traveling with your pal. There are a few things to keep in mind when traveling with your pets in the car.

For starters, you will want to restrain your pets when they’re in the vehicle. Cats should be kept in a crate while in the car and dogs should be buckled or harnessed in place. And both canine comrades and feline friends should be placed in the backseat for their protection. When it comes to our pooches, it’s important that they don’t put their head out the window, which will help them avoid flying debris and other airborne risks.

And while it may go without saying, you should never leave your pets in the car unattended to avoid overheating or freezing – depending on the weather. Also, when you’re on the road with your pets, make plenty of pit stops for bathroom and water breaks and to give your pal a chance to stretch their legs.

Plane

There really is no other way to say this: air travel can be very risky for pets, especially for brachycephalic pets, a type of cat or dog that should never fly due to the pushed-in nature of their face. Think of English Bulldogs or Persian cats.

If you can’t drive to your destination, it may be in your pet’s best interest to find a place to board them or someone who you trust to pet sit. If you must travel by plane, your best option is to fly with your pal in the cabin with you. Most airlines will allow smaller dogs to fly with their owners in the cabin for a small fee.

If you must place your dog in the cargo hold, please familiarize yourself with the inherent dangers of a pet being in the cargo hold during flight, including encountering extreme temperatures, poor air flow and quality, and rough handling.

Here are a few other tips for air travel with your pets:

  • Prepare for your pet to go through security with you
  • Use direct flights when possible
  • Travel on the same flight as your pet
  • Put a collar on your pet that can’t get hung up on carrier doors and other objects
  • Label your travel carrier
  • Clip your pet’s nails prior to traveling
  • Refrain from feeding your pet six hours before you travel

Again, if you can avoid traveling with your pet by plane, it’s probably your safest bet. If you have no other options, do everything you can to make sure your pet is comfortable to avoid any unfortunate incidents when flying.

Boat

Excluding service animals, few boats, including cruise lines, allow pets aboard. You should contact the cruise line and ask about their pet policies before booking your trip. There are a few exceptions, however.

Some cruises allow pets for ocean crossings only, while others allow for pets in private cabins or a kennel area. In general, it is best to consult the cruise line or boat service prior to making any plans that involve your pets.

Train

Trains, like boats, have varying pet travel policies. While many trains allow smaller breeds and service animals aboard, it’s best to check each train’s pet policy before travel.

how to be a good houseguest with a pet _ two dogs cuddling in a pet bed

Once You’ve Arrived

You made it! You finally made it! But that doesn’t mean the work is over, unfortunately. Let’s assume that your host is expecting you to bring your pet (always ask before showing up with an unexpected guest) and has the right accommodations for them. Here are a few tips for being a good houseguest:

  • Keep your pet calm in the new (highly stimulating) environment
  • Introduce your pet to the host pets to avoid any unpleasant encounters
  • Know the expectations and rules where you’re staying
  • Clean up after your pets
  • Have a backup plan, like a pet-friendly hotel, just in case issues arise

Once you’ve gone through all the hassle of traveling with your pet, you want to make sure you enjoy the fruits of your labor. This includes being a pleasant guest if you’re staying with someone and knowing the rules and regulations for pets wherever you’re staying. Again, traveling with our pets, while fun, is a lot of work. You just want to make sure everything goes smoothly – from start to finish.


One of the keys to traveling with our furry family members is their health. An ASPCA Pet Health Insurance plan can help cover the cost associated with your pal’s care. Get a personalized quote today!



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