Jetset with Your Pet: Tips for Animal Travel

Extras, Getting There, Ideas, Planning, Staying There, Wildlife & Animals — By on April 28, 2011 at 10:00 am

Having a four-legged, furry friend as your trip buddy sounds fun, but preparing your pet for travel early on is essential. To best accommodate Kitty or Fido, read up on advice from pet-related professionals (and owners) on how you can get your pet set for the journey.

Before You Go

1. Weigh in your pet’s personality. Before you make reservations for two, consider how your pet might react to going on a trip. Their breed and temperament contributes to their response. “If your pet is skittish or emotional or hyper, you will need to practice taking them out of their environment ahead of time to effectively travel with them,” recommends Susan Smith, president and owner of Pet Travel Inc. If your dog has behavioral problems or a health issue, is older, or even perhaps overly protective or aggressive, then it might be better for him/her to stay home. With cats, Smith explains they often could be a bit more challenging as travel companions since their environments don’t change often. “They tend to be a bit more upset when [they're] removed from their daily routine.” Before departing, Lisa Peterson, director of communications for the American Kennel Club, recommends developing a regular routine that your dog could follow such as establishing certain feeding times. “Try to mimic as much as possible his normal routine on vacation as you would at home.”

2. Pay the vet a visit. Make an appointment with your pet’s veterinarian to get a clean bill of health and update his or her vaccinations, says Heather Hunter, a PR manager with AAA. Obtain a health certificate showing proof of up-to-date inoculations, particularly rabies, distemper, and kennel cough. While at the doctor, also ask about potential health risks at your destination and the necessary preventive measures. Even around the U.S., there are regions where certain strands of dog viruses or diseases can be found–such as Lyme disease on the northeast–that your dog could be susceptible to. Make sure you have proper documents when travel, recommends Hunter. When crossing state lines, certain states might acquire additional shots. Pet safety expert Christina Selter suggests saving these documents to My Travel Stix, a flash drive line with a particular one for pets. Smith recommends having a microchip installed in your pet; register the information with the manufacturer.

3. Do extra research on your destination. Hunter recommends to study up on your destination to find out what types of documentation will be required and check into quarantines or other restrictions well in advance. In destinations such as Hawaii, there can be lengthy quarantines or other restrictions that need to be carefully considered. If traveling internationally, be sure to check customs requirements. Reconfirm all travel plans within a few days of your departure. If you plan to visit state parks or attractions that accept pets on the premises, obtain their animal regulations in advance. If looking for a simpler option, consider a trip designed specifically for your pet such as dog camps or training classes, suggests Joan Hunter Mayer, a professional dog trainer. For help with finding suggestions on pet-friendly destinations, log onto sites such as PetFriendlyTravel, DogFriendly.com or Petswelcome.com

Pet-Friendly Lodging

4. Check and re-check on policies. As national hotel chains, resorts, B&Bs, and upscale locales are more welcoming about pets as guests, do your homework on what your place of stay truly offers them. Some may only accept certain pets or have weight restrictions, says Hunter. Fees for bringing a pet may apply and can vary. Consider hotel review websites with pet-friendly recommendations such as TripAdvisor and Oyster.com, or “Traveling with Your Pet: The AAA PetBook,” which lists AAA-approved lodgings in the U.S. and Canada. Notice the hotel staff’s reaction toward pets to see if their attitude reflects their policy, suggests Randy Fox, Red Roof’s regional vice president of operations (which welcomes pets). “You will clearly get an indication when you are talking to [them].” Another accommodation option is vacation rentals by owner, suggests Hunter Mayer, which may provide an easier alternative stay.

5. Think location and amenities. See what types of amenities your lodging offers pets such as bowls or beds or special services. Fox says to inquire about whether rooms are available on the first floor (which makes it easier if you have to take your dog out for a nighttime bathroom break) as well as if the staff can provide a list of local kennels and vets. Hunter Mayer recommends asking if the hotel provides doggy day care (or can provide a referral) and to look for grassy areas on or near the property. Inquire about pet-friendly places nearby your hotel’s location such as parks or jogging trails where you can take your dog, suggests Kelsey Blodget, an editor with Oyster.com. “It’s worth finding out if any specific areas of a hotel are off-limits to dogs,” she adds. For example, some hotels won’t allow them by the pool.

6. Prepare for the unattended. If you will need to leave your pet unattended you need to consider if that is allowed at the property, says Hunter. Some properties do not allow unattended pets, others will allow it if they are crated. Even if a crate is not required for unattended pets, consider crating your pet if unattended for safety reasons. “In general, it’s risky to leave your dog alone in the hotel,” Blodget says. Inquire with the staff about arranging for a dog sitter while you’re out. Selter says there are hotels that provide a unique “Do Not Disturb” door tag that alerts housekeeping about an animal in your room to avoid an accidental let-out. Or turn to pros connected with the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters, a nationwide membership organization.

In the Car

7. Get ready for the ride. Practice putting your pet in your auto first so he/she can get used to a road trip. “Take your pet somewhere fun (such as a dog park) to get him accustomed to riding in the car,” Smith adds. With cats, they mostly connect a car ride with going to the vet. “[You] want to keep your pet’s stress level down so that they don’t try to escape the car or have an accident,” adds Selter. Do short drives so the animal can get used to sounds of other cars or even big rig trucks passing by, suggests Selter. While still at home, Smith recommends getting your pet used to being in a carrier and/or crate by putting it on the floor and encourage him/her to enter inside. Put in familiar toys and treats; give your pet kudos when he/she spends time in there.

8. Securely buckle up or harness your pet. For safety reasons, Hunter explains pets should be confined to the back seat, either in a carrier or a harness attached to the car’s seat belt. George Luntz, co-founder of PetAlive, advises that dogs should be fitted with a seat belt and harness specifically made for pets. Be sure your pet is leashed before opening your car door to prevent her/him from unexpectedly breaking free and running away. Hunter points out that even the most obedient pet may become disoriented during travel or in strange places and attempt to set off for home. Peterson suggests keeping current photos of your dog with you just in case if your pet gets separated or lost.

9. Take frequent rest stop breaks. For car rides with her pet, Peterson brings along bottled water to avoid having her dog experience digestive issues from drinking what’s on tap locally. She recommend stopping about every 3 hours or so for everyone to stretch their legs and for your pet to go potty or have a drink. Luntz suggests to try to avoid giving your pet any food for about an hour or 2 before the journey and to bring a good supply of newspapers to prevent soiling inside your vehicle. Never leave an animal in a parked car, even if the windows are partially open, according to AAA guidelines. Also, animals left unattended in parked cars can be stolen.

At the Airport

10. Check with your airline on policies. Each major airline has its individual policy toward pet passengers, so learn from yours directly before booking. According to information provided by TSA public affairs manager Nico Melendez, typically pets less than 20 pounds, including the carrier they stay inside in during the flight, are allowed in the cabin under the seat in front of you. Check to make sure the carrier closes correctly; federal requirements prohibit putting a lock on the kennel’s door. And if your dog falls under cargo requirements, give yourself extra time for checking him/her in at baggage. There could be different drop off locations for cargo, so find out from your airline prior to arriving at the airport. Also before leaving for the airport, confirm with your airline to verify that temperatures are within acceptable ranges as pets may not travel as cargo in certain weather scenarios. Learn more about TSA requirements here. Another source is bringfido.com/travel, which provides a rundown of airlines’ pet policies.

11. Get your pet ready for inspection. Like humans, animals have to deal with airport checkpoint security. According to Melendez, pet owners may walk their animal through the metal detector. If this is not possible, your animal will undergo a secondary screening, including a visual and physical inspection. Don’t fret; your pet does not go through an X-ray machine. However, your carrier (which should be empty) is placed on it. If your dog doesn’t like to be touched by strangers such as TSA inspectors, hold his snout while being he’s been checked or put on a muzzle, recommends Selter.

12. Keep your pet calm before the flight. Immediately prior to your departure, Melendez recommends to take your pet for a walk. Selter suggests taking your dog to the airport’s short-term parking area to get him/her used to hearing common airport sounds such as engines. If your pet must travel in the luggage or cargo area, Luntz advises to book direct flights for you and your pet. Also, ask officials if you can watch your pet being loaded and unloaded. What’s crucial for your pet to have? According to Melendez, bring food or snacks, travel bowl, waste baggies, medicines, a pet photo ID card and a list of animal relief areas at connecting and destination airports. Most importantly, bring a collar and a leash.

Photos courtesy of AAA, Oyster.com and Red Roof Inn

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