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How to Travel With Your Pet

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My dog wheeled away from the floor to ceiling windows where he had been watching traffic swirl past, fifteen stories below.

Trotting to the hotel room door, he whined once. My other dog, a Golden Retriever, glanced up from where he was sprawled on the floor. Little golden tufts of fur spotted the carpet around him. It was a hot day in San Francisco.

Staring at the hotel room door like it had offended him, he flipped a U-turn, trotted into the room and whined again. Insistently.

Clipping a leash to his collar, I grabbed a key card, and we speed-walked to the elevator. As I hit the elevator call button, he whined again; this time more urgently.

Getting outside was taking longer than it did at home.

Punching the call button again I soothed him with, “We’re fifteen stories up, buddy. It’ll take a minute. Just hold on.”

He made tight little circles in the elevator as it descended waiting for the doors to beep open.

Nails clattering, we ran across the echoing stone lobby with its glittering white pillars and blonde women drinking at the hotel bar, through the revolving front door, and sprinted past the startled doormen.

Relieved, my dog squatted to a square of sidewalk just past the hotel’s front door, glancing embarrassed apologies in all directions for the indecency his stomach was about to perform.

Traveling with your pet is a new kind of adventure. One that can quickly go awry if your dog gets carsick and vomits in the backseat (been there — you’re welcome, Los Angeles!), or your cat meows for ten straight hours during a move.

Here’s how to go traveling with pets on a variety of adventures.

Traveling With a Dog

traveling with pets
Taking your dog on a road trip is a great way to spice up your travels. If your dog adores human interaction — like my Golden Retriever does — a trip will make his year.

If you’re planning on staying in a hotel with your dog, beware: some hotels have weight and breed restrictions, so read the fine print of the hotel policies carefully. For dog-friendly restaurants, parks, and beaches, Bring Fido is a great resource.

In the Car

Hands down, this is the easiest form of traveling with a dog. Stopping whenever your dog needs a restroom break, or a run to let off extra energy, is no problem. Many dogs love car rides, so a road trip will be a natural extension of that.

Plus, it’s less stressful on a dog’s system than an unfamiliar, stressful plane ride. The added puppy bonus is that they get to stick their heads out the window, flap their cheeks in the wind, and smell the breeze.

Pro tip: Weeks before your trip, take your dog with you on car rides for any errands. Praise enthusiastically (or reward with treats) when he does a good job in the car. Make the association in your pet’s head that a car ride equals fun.

Packing List

  • Dog-proof cover for your car seat
  • Water bowl
  • Food in plastic grocery sack: as Fido eats through his food, the bag shrinks
  • Food bowl
  • Dog bed
  • Leash
  • Harness: which makes it easier to control your dog’s excited pulling than a choke collar does
  • Water: In a gallon jug or Nalgene
  • Puppy potty pad for hotel: If your dog is prone to peeing/pooing when excited or nervous

On a Plane

Flying on a plane with your dog is much trickier than a road trip. Especially if your dog is larger than 25 pounds and can’t fit under the airline seat.

Each airline has different policies regarding flying with your dog, so be sure to check out the airline you’re flying. If you’re flying internationally, it’s a different ballgame with new rules. In this post, I’ll outline the standard rules for flying domestically with your dog .

Preparing your hound to enjoy hanging out in his carrier before your flight is a good idea. In the weeks leading up to your trip, give your pup some carrier time so that he learns to like it in there.

When planning your trip, keep in mind:

  • The weather conditions for the time of day, and season, to lessen the health risk of overheating
  • Avoid weekend and holiday travel
  • Aim for nonstop or direct flights
  • Feed your dog four hours before the flight to minimize stomach upset
  • Give yourself a full two hours at the airport in advance of your flight

When you buy your plane ticket, call the airlines to make your reservation and make arrangements for your dog. 24-48 hours before your flight, call your airline to re-confirm that you’re flying with your dog.

Label Everything

Mark your dog’s carrier with “Live Animal” and arrows pointing the correct positioning of the carrier. Also, mark the carrier with your dog’s name. Include ID tags with your home address and phone number, as well as the address and phone number of someone who can be reached at your destination.

Packing List

  • Water bowl
  • Food bowl
  • Food: Bring just enough for the first two feedings and plan to buy more at your destination
  • Leash
  • Harness
  • Approved dog crate for your dog’s breed
  • Rabies immunization and good health certification issued by a vet no more than 30 days before your flight
  • Thundershirt can relieve anxiety

On a Train

If your dog is under 20 pounds, he can go on a Amtrak train with you, on specified pet-friendly routes of up to seven hours duration, for a fee of $25.

To make your reservation, call Amtrak directly at 1-800-USA-RAIL. Only five pets are allowed on each train, so book your reservation early if pup is traveling with you.

In Europe, you can bring your small dog on a train. Except on the Eurostar from London to Paris. This article explains various workarounds to that issue.

Beware: On Spanish trains, your dog may need to be muzzled. If you’re traveling to the UK from other European countries, your dog will need to be micro-chipped, have a pet passport, and have a rabies vaccination.

Packing List

  • Water bowl
  • Food bowl
  • Food: Bring just enough for the first two feedings and plan to buy more at your destination
  • Leash
  • Harness
  • Doggy poop bags (for poop or vomit disposal)
  • Dog carrier
  • Muzzle, just in case

Traveling With a Cat

Ah, you crazy fool, traveling with a gato. I’ve tried this foolhardy practice once or twice on a road trip, until my cat grew too mature for my tricks and demanded to stay at home in her comfortable nest of blankets on the couch.

However, sometimes you need to travel with your cat.  I’ve seen an adventuring cat with my own two eyes, off on a road trip, no carrier in sight, meandering through a car with the nonchalance of a dog.

When traveling, the ASPCA recommends that you stick to your cat’s normal routines as closely as possible. Pick a cat carrier that’s big enough for your kitty to move around in; she’ll be more comfortable in it versus one where she’s tightly crammed in.

In the Car

Feed your cat at least three hours before you hit the road to prevent any unwelcome vomit-gifts. I like to give my cat a warning and chance to use the litter box before I scoop her into her carrier. Your cat may (or may not) use the litter box on the road.

Try to set up a small area for your cat inside your car with the carrier open and litter box easily accessible. If you’re brave — and a predictable (aka not-crazy) driver — you could set up a water bowl with a small amount of water for kitty.

Use at your own discretion. Kitty may seek revenge for this travel by peeing in your car.

Packing List

  • Water bowl
  • Food bowl + food
  • Cat carrier with soft blankets inside
  • Leash: Depending on your cat
  • Rabies vaccination certificate may be required (I’ve never had issue with this when crossing state lines)
  • Litter
  • Litter box and scooper

On a Plane

Check with your airline to see if your cat can travel with you in the main cabin. Make sure your cat’s ID tag has your address and phone number on it. Include your destination and cat’s microchip number.

Aim for direct or nonstop flights to lessen your cat’s stress from transfers and airline workers handling the carrier (if your cat isn’t in the main cabin with you).

On your cat’s carrier, write “Live Animal” with directional arrows pointing which side is up. Also write your name and destination address on the carrier.  Since many cats are escape artists, the ASPCA recommends taping a picture of your cat on the carrier’s outside.

Pro tip: line the interior of your carrier with a puppy potty pad to soak up any bathroom breaks your cat has along the way.

Packing List

  • Water bowl
  • Food bowl + food
  • Cat carrier with soft blankets inside
  • Leash: Depending on your cat
  • Rabies vaccination certificate
  • Health certificate from vet issued 10 days before flight
  • Thundershirt can relieve anxiety

On a Train

If your cat is under 20 pounds (heaven help us), she can go on an Amtrak train ride with you. On specified pet-friendly routes up to seven hours with the same $25 fee that is charged for dogs. To make your reservation, call Amtrak directly at 1-800-USA-RAIL.

Packing List

  • Water bowl
  • Food bowl + food
  • Cat carrier with soft blankets inside
  • Leash: depends on your cat
  • Rabies vaccination certificate
  • Thundershirt can relieve anxiety

Travel With Your Horse

In the Car

By no means am I an expert in horses, or in car travel with a horse. My research shows that horses require quite a bit of planning for a trip. You can’t just up and go with a horse on a road trip like you can with your dog.

Before your trip, get your horse used to drinking water that tastes different from your home water. That way your horse will avoid dehydration on the road due to funny-tasting water.

Bring a horse buddy along for companionship for your horse. It’ll also help to prevent shipping fever: a strong cough that happens in stressed horses. And, be sure to place bedding in your horse trailer to prevent leg stress.

Packing List

  • Hay bag for each horse
  • Hay from your home barn to last 1-2 weeks
  • Water tank
  • Well-stocked first aid travel kit
  • Health documentation: Health certificate, brand inspection, negative Coggins test
  • Check with states you’re traveling through on proper documentation needed (i.e. rabies test)

On a Plane

If you’re willing to shell out over $3,250, your horse can ride on a custom Boeing 727 that transports million-dollar racehorses around the country. Little too spendy for your tastes? Opt for a car ride.

In a Train

You caught me: a horse exceeds Amtrak’s 20 pound weight restriction.

Travel With Your Bird

On a Plane

It can be done!

First contact the airlines to see if they accept birds in the cabin. If they do, make a reservation now. Some airlines only allow up to two pets per flight. You want your bird to be one of those pets.

Before your flight, clip your bird’s nails and wings, and attach a rough-surfaced rope or perch to the interior of the cage. A food dish can be attached to the door.

Good choices to put in the food dish to provide hydration:

  • Watermelon
  • Cantaloupe
  • Grapes
  • Green, yellow, or red bell peppers
  • Cooked acorn
  • Cooked pumpkin squash

Label the cage with “Live Animal” and directional arrows pointing which side is up. Also, mark on the cage your phone number and destination address. Don’t line the bottom of the cage for security reasons or you might be asked to remove your bird and cage contents for it to be searched.

Packing List

  • Airline-approved cage to fit under seat in front of you
  • Health certificate from vet within 10 days of your departure
  • Food (see above)

Traveling With An Unusual Pet

Rodents

To bring your pet rat on a road trip, gradually acclimate your rat to car rides by taking him on shorter rides before your longer adventure. Secure his cage by strapping him in with a seat belt.

Make sure your rat’s water bottle isn’t attached inside his cage during your road trip. The jerky movements cause the water bottle to leak and can make your rat sick. Build in extra time into your road trip to stop and give your rat a chance to drink from his water bottle.

If you opt to fly with your rat, he needs to be in a special rodent certified cage. Chances are high that he’ll fly in the cargo compartment.

Guinea Pigs

When you fly with your guinea pig, your best option is Frontier Airlines. This airline allows guinea pigs in the cabin. Many of the other airlines — like Delta and WestJet — allow guinea pigs but only as checked luggage.

Being able to bring your guinea pig into the cabin is a huge bonus. Guinea pigs are very vulnerable to changes in temperature and noise levels — givens when traveling in the cargo area. Keep your guinea pig comfortable in an airline-approved pet carrier lined with towels, or fleece, to block noise.

Frontier may need a certificate of good health to allow your guinea pig onto the plane.

traveling with pets

Duck

Feel like taking a duck on a 1,000 mile motorcycle trip around Vietnam? These Irish boys did with their duck adventurer, Rab. My sources say Rab especially enjoyed the boat rides before he was released into the wild to live out the rest of his duck days at a lake.

International Travel

Planning to traveling with a dog on an around-the-world trip? When traveling with pets out of the United States, you’ll need to comply with a variety of regulations for different countries.  Be sure to do your research thoroughly before embarking on your trip. Being denied entry to a country — or worse, spending a ton of flight change fees — is a possibility.

In some countries, your pet will be quarantined before allowed to fully enter the country. In other countries, traveling with a cat or dog requires a pet passport.

More importantly, find out which rabies classification your destination country falls into: rabies-free, rabies-controlled, or rabies high-risk.

If you’re leaving the US traveling with pets, you’ll need a USDA Health Certificate endorsement from your vet.

 

Beware: this certificate must come from an accredited vet. Your normal vet may or may not be accredited.

TL;DR

Traveling with pets can be tricky, especially when airlines are involved.

Always check with your airline to see if your pet can travel with you in the cabin. If it’s possible, find out what their rules are for pet travel.

Car travel will be the easiest option, especially when traveling with pets who are more high-maintenance (think horses and birds) since you’ll have more control over the situation.

Quick standard packing list for all pets:

  • Food and water bowls
  • Food and water
  • Leash
  • Carrier appropriate to the animal and airline approved
  • Rabies vaccination certificate
  • Health certificates from vet

Image Credit: 5-Nap, Author’s, Caters News Agency

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