Traveling With Your Pet
By Alberta Frost
Summer is just around the corner and for many people that means vacation travel. It could also mean deciding whether to take your pet with you or leave them at home under the care of someone else. Years ago, the author Peter Gethers regaled us in his book The Cat Who Went to Paris with his many travel adventures with his cat Norton. Since he had never had a cat, he thought nothing of putting his young pet in a cloth bag and carrying him onto a flight from New York to California. Then, there is the street cat named Bob (of the movie of the same name), who followed his person onto a London bus because he did not want to be left behind during the workday. Fun stuff, but it may come as no surprise to you that traveling with pets; be it by plane, train or car has become a more complex proposition these days and one that requires research and advance planning.
The first consideration, of course, is the health, temperament, and size of your animal. Some pets are simply too fragile or large for some forms of travel. You should consult with a veterinarian when considering a trip with your pet. Assuming the vet believes your pet is a suitable travel companion (or because you are moving and have no choice) then the real research and planning process starts. The mode of transportation you choose and your destination obviously bear on your preparations, however, some common denominators are that you need to assure that all your pet’s vaccinations are current, that you have a health certificate from your vet, and, ideally, that your animal is microchipped with current information. If you are traveling outside the United States or even to a different state you need to check the requirements for bringing animals into their jurisdiction. The web sites for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service), and the American Veterinary Medical Association are good sources on this subject. It is also good to prepare for emergencies by making a copy of your pet’s medical records, assuring that the pet’s collar, tags, and carrier have both identifying and destination information, that you have a current photo, and that you know where emergency vet services are available along your route.
You will also need a pet travel kit and a carrier that is sturdy and the right size. Mode of transportation and the length of the trip will certainly dictate some of this but do consider including a first aid kit, extra leashes, baby wipes, a towel, waste bags and pee pads, and possibly shredded paper or pine shavings for the bottom of the carrier. At a minimum you will need food (dry is best for travel), bowels, water, treats, meds, toys, and for cats, litter and a litter box.
Now to the subject of sedating your pet. The American Veterinary Medical Association strongly recommends against it and, according to one professional pet transport company, they and airlines will not accept pets who have been sedated. If you believe your pet needs something, consult your vet to consider other options and stress relievers.
If you love trains, know that Amtrak accepts only dogs and cats up to 20 pounds (the combined weight of the animal and the carrier) for trips up to 7 hours. It is also best to check in more detail because animals are barred from some routes. Your pet needs to be with you and caged at all times unless it is a service animal.
If you are flying, the Federal Aviation Agency and the Department of Transportation do have regulations governing various aspects of pet air travel (check their web sites), but in general airlines have a great deal of policy latitude and do differ from one another. You can find ratings for both airlines and airports on various web sites. In general, however, try for the shortest, most direct flights, come to the airport as late as you safely can, know where the bathroom areas are, and exercise your animal before putting them in the carrier. Carriers must either fit under your seat or the animal will have to fly as checked baggage. Some airlines will not fly animals in cargo or prohibit those with snub noses. Carriers intended for cargo must meet certain specifications and be labeled “live animal”. Familiarize your animal with its crate and even, if possible, with the airport. Make all these arrangements well in advance as airlines frequently limit the number of pets per flight.
Now to cars – presumably the easiest way for your pet to travel. Well, maybe, as this too is dependent on your pet and your destination. Animals need to be either in a carrier secured by a seat belt, pet car seat, or harness in the backseat. Pets should not be placed in the passenger seat in case there is an accident and the airbag activates. In no event, should animals be allowed to move freely around the car. Map out a route in advance that includes regular stops (especially for dogs), try to keep to their regular feeding schedule, keep your pet hydrated, and know which hotels are pet friendly.
All this planning may seem too much– but it will be worth it if you and your pet truly want to enjoy each other’s company. When you first adopt your furry friend start taking them on brief trips from the start. For major trips consider using a specialized transport service. In all cases, know your animal, consult your vet, and practice with the carrier (in the car, the airport, or the train station) well in advance so your pet is familiar with what is coming next and can enjoy the experience as much as possible. Bon Voyage!
About the Author: Alberta Frost is a long-time caregiver at King Street Cats and animal lover in general.