Travelling Safely with Your Pet
Whether you plan to travel with your pet by plane, train, automobile or boat, taking appropriate precautions and making necessary preparations are essential to ensuring a safe and enjoyable journey for you and your pet - be it down the street, cross country or across the globe.
On the road
Road trips are generally the easiest and most relaxing way to travel with your pet. Train your pet to travel in a car by taking her on lots of short car trips to places she loves. For your pet's safety and your own, confine her to the back seat, either in a carrier or pet seatbelt (a special harness that attaches to the car's seatbelt).
To keep your pet comfortable throughout the trip:
- Keep the car at a comfortable temperature using air conditioning or heat when necessary (never leave your pet alone inside the vehicle, even with windows partially open, it only takes minutes for an animal to develop heatstroke or freeze);
- Feed your pet a light meal at least four hours before the trip (to help prevent car sickness);
- Prevent your pet from sticking her head out the window (sudden stops and debris can cause injury);
- Schedule rest stops every two to four hours for exercise, bathroom and water breaks (bring a litter box for cats);
- Attach your pet's leash before opening the car door (to prevent accidental escapes);
- If your pet's not used to travelling use a harness (it's more difficult for your pet to wriggle out of);
- If crossing borders bring a copy of any required documents (e.g. proof of vaccinations); and
- Keep the car sound system volume moderate due to the sensitivity of dogs' and cats' hearing.
While some pets take to the sky with the air of seasoned veterans, many pets find flying a stressful experience. The largest impact on your pet's comfort and safety will be where he is contained while travelling in the plane. Small pets can often be taken into the passenger cabin with your carry-on luggage and kept under the seat in front of you throughout the flight. Less fortunate are larger pets that must travel in the cargo hold.
Your pet may be at risk of heatstroke or hypothermia before the plane leaves the runway if placed inside the cargo hold too early in warm or cold weather - airlines generally don't turn on the air conditioning or heat in the cargo hold until take off. Animals prone to severe respiratory difficulties in an airplane's poorly ventilated cargo hold, including cats, snub-nosed dogs (boxers, pugs etc.) and long-nosed dogs (collies, shelties etc.), should be kept in the passenger cabin with their owner if possible. To help ease the stress of travel:
- Take your pet to the veterinarian to update all vaccinations and obtain any legal documents needed (very old, very young, pregnant, ill and injured animals should not fly);
- Purchase a durable travel carrier that is large enough for your pet to stand up and turn around in (check with the airline to determine size allowances and special requirements);
- Help your pet adjust to the carrier several weeks before your flight (start by leaving the door open and placing treats, meals or toys inside);
- Exercise your pet before leaving for the airport and feed a light meal three to four hours before take-off;
- Give your pet water right up to the time of travel, and, if the airline allows, take your pet for a walk and bathroom break shortly before boarding;
- Ask if it's possible for you to observe your pet being loaded onto the plane;
- Inform the flight crew that your pet is travelling in the cargo hold (they may take special precautions or trips to check on your pet and ensure heating/air conditioning is functioning); and
- If you are not on a direct flight, ask to check on your pet during the layover.
Navigating the waterways
During the summer months boating is a popular activity, especially in cottage country. If you plan to take your pet out on the water with you be sure to invest in a pet life jacket - even good swimmers can tire easily in rough water, and banks may be slippery or steep to climb. Life jackets not only keep your pet afloat if she's "jumped ship," they can help protect against hypothermia in cold water and can make it easier to pull her onboard. It's also important to remember that it can get very hot on the water so be sure to provide a shaded area for your pet to rest, and bring plenty of fresh water to prevent dehydration and heat stroke. If you are planning to be on the water for a long period of time you may need to bring a portable potty system (a square piece of turf may work for some dogs or look up "pets and portable potty system" on the Internet). It is also advisable to call the marina in advance to determine their policies regarding pets.
Riding the rails
If you are planning to travel by train the same precautions and guidelines should be followed as with the other forms of travel. Some train companies do not allow pets on board so research their pet travel policies before booking your trip.
At your destination
Today a surprising number of accommodations welcome pets. Before booking ask about pet policies. Lodgings may have restrictions on the types or size of pets allowed, or they may designate only certain rooms for animals. Properties may also have policies that pets must be crated when unattended, or not left alone at all. If you're travelling with a dog ask for a room on the first floor with direct access outside, ideally near a walk area. Follow pet etiquette at all times to ensure pets continue to be welcomed guests :
- Keep your pet quiet (barking dogs are unpopular);
- Notify management immediately if something is damaged;
- Clean up after your pet inside and out and check with management regarding how to dispose of waste;
- Keep pets off the furniture (or bring blankets to cover furniture);
- Try not to leave your pet alone, if you must, crate him; and
- Keep your pet away from off-limits places such as the pool area, patio, restaurant or lobby.
Additional travel tips
Items to pack for your pet
When travelling be sure to pack all necessary items for your pet, which may include: food, water, leash, medications, toys, blankets, first aid kit, any required documents (e.g. proof of vaccinations), litter supply, carpet deodorizer, chew toys, grooming supplies, generous supply of food and a can opener and spoon for canned food.
Loss prevention tips
Make sure your pet wears a sturdy collar with current ID and rabies tags firmly attached, and consider microchipping as an extra precaution. The ID tag should include the phone number of an emergency contact. Also, keep a recent picture of your pet with you in case you need to search for your pet. If travelling by plane secure a recent photograph of your pet to the travel carrier and affix your name, pet's name, temporary travel and permanent addresses, and the flight number.