Traveling with a Pet: 10 Critical Tips for Health, Safety, and Happiness

First step: Make sure you take them to the vet before you leave. Second step: Have plenty of treats and toys on hand to keep them happy.Read More

Vacation with pets can be a delight – if you do it right. (Source: iStock / kodachrome25)

Ah, vacation. While we love the thought of shuffling off to lands unknown and experiencing entirely new customs, cultures, and activities, we also loathe leaving our pets behind. But you don’t have to – in fact, we recommend making your pet part of your adventure – but be sure you do so responsibly. Traveling with a pet can be challenging, so follow our 10 tips below to keep you both in good spirits and excellent health.

1: Make sure your pet is healthy enough to travel.

This may stand to reason, but it’s actually something many pet owners forget – especially when they’re considering more leisurely travel like a road trip. Wherever your going, your pet will be exposed to new environments, new dogs, and new people, so make sure they are well protected.

Schedule a vet appointment no more than a week before departure to be sure they are generally in good health and all of their vaccinations are up-to-date. Also, be sure you request enough medication (if your pet requires it) to last your entire trip – with a little extra to be safe. Lastly, make sure they are microchipped; don’t risk permanently losing your pet in a strange place.

(If you’re particularly concerned about your pet’s anxiety during travel, you can request sedatives. It’s usually recommended that you use these sparingly and only when absolutely necessary, however; while they will calm your pet temporarily, they will likely also cause disorientation, producing more anxiety.)

2: Confirm your pet’s breed is allowed wherever you’re going.

Some pet breeds, like pit bulls, are prohibited in various cities, states, and countries. Don’t assume that your pet will be accepted without question; check the Department of Agriculture website for details on each state’s specific requirements for traveling with pets. Many require specific vaccines, health certificates, and screenings prior to entry.

If you’re traveling internationally, start with your destination country’s department of transportation or customs websites first. Then, consult this CDC page that houses resources from across the federal government.

Be sure to confirm your pet's breed is legally allowed to travel to other cities/states/countries. Some, like the pit bull, are banned in various locations. (Source: iStock / Roberto Galan)
Be sure to confirm your pet’s breed is legally allowed to travel to other cities/states/countries. Some, like the pit bull, are banned in various locations. (Source: iStock / Roberto Galan)

3: Make sure your kennel is cleared for transit (airplane, car, bus, train, or boat).

If you’re trekking in your own car, kennel size and features are not critical; just bring something that fits, can be easily secured, and you know your pet likes. If you’re traveling on public transit, however – a commercial craft – be sure you check regulations and restrictions first. For commercial airlines, trains, and cruise lines, check each company’s website. For buses and subways, review the website of the local transportation district.

As a guidepost, keep in mind that most small kennels allowed in airplane cabins are no more than 20″x20″x30″. Large kennels, which would need to be stowed in a separate ventilated hold area on the plane specifically for pets, usually run no larger than 30″x30″x40″. Also, note that many airlines prohibit pet travel during the hottest months of the year.

Here are some major airline websites for quick reference:

Traveling with a pet on American Airlines
Traveling with a pet on Delta
Traveling with a pet on United Airlines
Traveling with a pet on Southwest

For further guidance, review these tips and instructions from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

4: Ask to board early.

If traveling commercially, always ask to board early. Even if your beloved pet is well-behaved, squeezing between tight seats or along narrow aisles with your kennel can make other passengers uncomfortable. Avoid this by requesting to board before other travelers; most airline, boat, and train staff will accommodate you.

Crating? Board early – and make sure your pets have everything they need for a safe, comfortable trip. (Source: iStock / yokaew)
Crating? Board early – and make sure your pets have everything they need for a safe, comfortable trip. (Source: iStock / yokaew)

5: Have a water bowl and snacks handy.

While these life-savers are not necessarily useful when you’re in transit, they make all the difference during breaks in road trips, before and after flights, and in your accommodations. Remember: Your little critter is used to a certain routine, including their daily consumption of food and water, so do your best to keep that routine going, even during travel.

Oh, and a tip for those worried about bathroom time mid-trip: Consider fitting your pet with a diaper. They won’t love it, but it will help prevent a potential mess.

6: Bring small, non-squeaky toys with you to help entertain them.

When your pet is occupied with something they enjoy, they aren’t as unnerved by the changes in their environment – a common problem among pets who travel. To keep their minds of strange noises, people, and sensations, make sure they have a non-squeaky toy to enjoy. Ropes or other chew toys for dogs are great, while cats often enjoy plush toys with a bit of catnip.

If your pet is left alone in their kennel, it’s also a good idea to leave them something from home that carries your scent. This will calm them.

Nothing like a little nibble to distract from turbulence. (Source: Pixabay / DarkWorkX)
Nothing like a little nibble to distract from turbulence. (Source: Pixabay / DarkWorkX)

7: Practice taking small trips with your pet in their kennel while still at home.

It sounds silly, but the more you get your pet used to any new routine, the likelier they are to take to it easily. If you’re planning a big trip, get them used to the idea of travel with smaller treks. For example, kennel or crate them and take them to the park in your car. Reward them for good behavior with treats and make sure they associate their kennel/crate with comfort; you can do this by adding treats to their kennel, giving them toys to play with while they’re crated, and regularly praising them for being calm and quiet while en route.

If you have time, consider slowly increasing the amount of time you leave them created or kenneled; add 30 minutes each trip, as long as they are acclimating well.

8: Make sure your accommodations are pet-friendly.

As you plan your getaway, make sure that your accommodations will be able to comfortably handle your pet. Ensure that your room has ample ventilation and, if it’s summertime, air conditioning. Look for rooms that have at least one section uncarpeted where you can stow your pet’s kennel/crate. Also, be sure to read reviews on pet-centric sites like Pet Friendly Hotels.

Lastly, keep the neighborhood in mind. Consider booking a room near a park or green space where you can easily let your pet roam. Also, avoid high-traffic areas as these can be dangerous and frightening for animals.

9: Consider getting pet travel insurance – but only if using a commercial kennel.

We know – pet insurance is a joke. It can be argued that pet travel insurance is much the same. Not only do you have to prove your pet was healthy before payouts are approved, but their treatment is often only covered if you choose to board them in approved commercial kennels or pet care centers. If you can tick all those boxes, however, consider getting something from HTH Travel Insurance or a similar provider. Otherwise, skip it.

Make sure you know what vet resources are available to you when you arrive. (Source: Pixabay / 272447)
Make sure you know what vet resources are available to you when you arrive. (Source: Pixabay / 272447)

10: Research vet clinics in your destination city/region.

If the worst happens and your pet needs medical attention, you need to know where to go. Use a tool like Vet Specialists to pinpoint nearby professionals you can reach out to in an emergency. Also, be prepared to pay out of pocket for any services rendered.

Traveling with a pet this season? Let us know what you’re doing to make them comfortable – send us a note at editor@wideworldoftravel.com.

Also, be sure to check out our ideas for pet-centric vacations!