The holidays are nearly here, which means that many Americans—over 90 million of them, by some estimates—will hit the road or take to the skies for holiday travel. If you’re one of these intrepid travelers and are also one of the 43 million households that have a dog (or one of the 36 million households that have a cat), you’re faced with an important dilemma: What to do with your pet as you travel? Leave him with a friend? Find a boarding kennel? Or—maybe—bring him along on the trip?
Traveling with pets isn’t always easy, but it can be a rewarding experience. These travel tips will help ensure a smooth journey for you and your pet.
Gather appropriate paperwork
Many people don’t realize the importance of the paperwork that may be required for interstate travel. Every state has different requirements with regard to health certificates, proof of vaccination, etc., so be sure to do your homework before you travel and find out what items are required for the states that you’ll be traveling through. (Acclimation certifications may also be required if traveling by air.)
Your pet will also need to wear a collar with proper identification tags. The American Veterinary Medical Association recommends an ID tag that includes your name, home address, and phone number, as well as a travel ID tag that includes a local contact phone number and address as well as the contact information for your accommodations.
Choose the correct carrier or crate
A travel carrier or crate is like your pet’s own little home-away-from-home. Choose a carrier or crate of the appropriate size for your pet’s comfort, and be sure to restrain it properly in your vehicle. (Note: If you’re traveling by plane, you’ll need to research the specifics of airline-approved crates and carriers as they are carefully regulated.)
If your pet is not used to spending time in a carrier or crate, help her get used to it ahead of time. This will minimize stress during your journey. Plan short trips—into town, down to the post office, even just down the road and back—to make sure your pet becomes comfortable with traveling and riding in the carrier or crate.
Pack the essentials
Some pets love to travel and thrive on excitement and “car rides” (just ask my Corgi, Peaches). But for many pets, traveling is an extremely stressful situation. Do your best to minimize the stress by maintaining your pet’s routine—when possible—as you travel. Surround him with familiar things—like his favorite toys and blankets—and try to stay on his regular schedule for meals, walks, etc. Bring an ample supply of the food that your pet is used to eating, along with any treats that your pet regularly eats.
It’s also wise to bring a supply of water from home. Some pets are reluctant to drink water from unfamiliar locations (slight variations in taste and smell can be off-putting to pets), so bringing water from home can help your pet stay hydrated while he becomes accustomed to the unfamiliar water.
Don’t forget other essential items: leashes, collars, bowls for food and water, litter boxes and paraphernalia for cats, medications, etc…
Talk to your veterinarian
Before your trip, talk to your veterinarian about your plans and travel schedule (are you traveling by car? Plane? Train?). Ask for advice and recommendations about microchipping your pet prior to travel. In the unfortunate event that your pet becomes lost (and when traveling in an unfamiliar location, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility), a microchip can be an important step in reuniting you with your pet.
Your vet will also determine whether or not your pet will require any vaccines prior to traveling. A licensed and accredited veterinarian can also issue your pet’s health certificate after conducting an examination.
If your pet has a history of being car sick, your veterinarian may be able to suggest medications to alleviate symptoms during travel.
Plan accommodations in advance
If your travels will require an overnight stay on the way to your destination, then it’s wise to plan your accommodations in advance. Seek out pet-friendly hotels that will welcome your furry family member (not every place of lodging is eager to see pets, so find one that is).
If you’re planning to stay with friends or family members at your destination or along the way, make sure that they’re okay with having your pet in their home. Existing factors—like allergies, small children, or other pets in the home—may determine whether or not your pet will be a welcome guest, so find out before you arrive.
Bonus tip: Never leave your pet in a parked vehicle
Temperature extremes are a definite issue in a parked vehicle, regardless of the time of year. While many people understand the dangers of leaving pets in a hot vehicle during the summer (the temperatures can rise to dangerous levels in a very short period of time), it’s also important to understand the dangers of leaving a pet in a cold vehicle during the winter. Temperatures can drop to dangerous levels in cold weather, so never leave your pet unattended in a parked vehicle, regardless of the season.
As you travel over the river and through the woods (“to Grandmother’s house we go”), enjoy the special time of family (and pet!) togetherness and the memories you’re making along the way. Remember—it’s not just the destination that’s important: The journey is, too.
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