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Traveling with an Animal Companion

Are you thinking of taking your best furry friend traveling? You might have any number of reasons: relocation, the joy of adventure, the unavailability of a reliable and affordable pet-sitter, or holiday visits to Grandma’s house. (My dog Fin loves to be spoiled by Nana with pug-nog and cookies.) But before you book a flight to Switzerland to hike the Alps with Little Hans, your German shepherd, there are a few things you should consider.

Safety and Comfort

These are the first and second priorities when traveling with your pet. I recommend all dogs and cats be acclimated to a crate or carrier from a young age. That way, they will feel comfortable in a familiar environment while secured on the road or in a plane. If your pet is already an adult, you can still reinforce that the carrier is a place of comfort by spending several minutes per day encouraging them to climb in and out or by carrying them around your home. Use a reward such as a high value treat or a favorite toy to promote a positive association.

Before departure, check with your veterinarian to ensure that your pet is up to date on all recommended vaccinations and parasite preventions. You’ll also want to make sure that your companion is wearing identification tags and a microchip in case they get lost away from home.

A Note on Pet Ownership for Jet Setters

If you’re thinking of acquiring a dog and your lifestyle involves frequent travel, it would be wise to consider the temperament and size of the breed before adoption. Pets are (like) people: some are homebodies and others are more adventuresome. Bringing a normally anxious dog on a long car ride or flight is likely to be stressful for both you and your friend.

Traveling with Anxious Pets

Of course, there are times when you simply must travel with your pet, no matter how much you’d both rather stay at home and watch Netflix. If you find yourself in this predicament, I recommend consulting your veterinarian, who will be able to develop a treatment plan with a combination of handling techniques, supplements, or prescription medications to help lessen your pet’s stress. (In this case, one size does not fit all.) Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to practice the techniques and test the effect of medications at home prior to your departure date. Animals, like people, are less likely to be anxious in familiar environments.

Modes of Transport

1. Car

When traveling by car, always properly restrain your companion. Free-roaming pets are prone to injury and might try to escape when fearful or startled. Small dogs and cats should be confined to a carrier, and larger dogs may be secured in a special harness that attaches to the seat belt.

Plan to stop more frequently than usual for bathroom breaks and rehydration.

Never leave pets unattended in your vehicle in hot or cold temperatures. Temperature inside the vehicle may quickly rise or fall to dangerous, potentially life-threatening levels.

2. Plane

If you plan to travel by plane, contact the airline well in advance to ensure that your pet meets all requirements. A health certificate is often required to transport pets via airplane.

The cargo hold is not temperature-controlled, so it’s advisable to take your pet with you in the cabin. This is especially important for brachycephalic (smush-faced) breeds such as pugs and French bulldogs, and for Persian cats, who are highly sensitive to heat and stress.

Never administer sedative medications to pets if they will be confined to the cargo hold. Sedatives may diminish their ability to dissipate heat and regulate body temperature.

International Travel

International travel can be more complicated for a variety of reasons and requires detailed attention to each destination’s requirements to ensure a smooth trip. Contact your airline and veterinarian as soon as you’ve planned a trip to discuss what you’ll need prior to departure.

Depending on your destination, it may take three months or more to complete the required tests before your pet is eligible for entry into the country. In general, all pets are required to be microchipped, vaccinated, and treated for internal and external parasites. Sometimes a special blood test called a FAVN (rabies titer test) is required.

Remember when bringing your pet outside the U.S. that you’ll be subject to the laws of the foreign nation. Infractions can result in fines, quarantine, or even confiscation of your pet.

When you make the decision to travel with your pet, remember that safety and comfort are most important. Many cats are happier at home. If your dog is typically anxious or if you won’t be able to spend much time together while away, they might also be more comfortable in the care of family, friends, or at a trusted boarding facility. When in doubt, consult your veterinarian.