Pet Articles

Pet Travel – Traveling Cats and Dogs

Many people love to travel. One worry that always crosses a pet owner’s mind is how their pet is doing back at home. Is he/she adjusting well? Is he/she being well taken care of? Some pet owners just feel lonely without their pet. The solution? Bring your pet with you!

However, bringing a pet on vacation presents many issues and requires some planning. There are several things to consider when bringing your pet on vacation with you. This article focuses on the different options you have for traveling with your pet as well as some travel tips to keep you and your pet happy.

Is your pet a suitable travel companion?

First of all, consider whether or not your pet is suitable for traveling. Most dogs and cats make excellent travel companions once they are accustomed to it. The younger the animal is when you first start traveling, the easier it is for the animal to adapt. That being said, it is never too late to ‘teach an old dog new tricks’ and an older dog can adjust quite easily. Every dog is different and only you know your dog the best. If your dog has never been on a trip before, it may be best to start with a short one and gradually increase the length of time. For example, if the dog only goes into the car to visit the vet, begin taking him/her on trips to the park or to the grocery store. The dog will begin to associate traveling in the car with a positive experience.

Traveling by car

During long car trips, it is best to keep your dog or cat secured in a kennel. The kennel should be large enough so that the animal can comfortably stand up, turn around and lie down in. However, larger does not necessarily mean better. If the kennel is too large, your pet could get hurt by being thrown around when the vehicle moves. For cats, it should be large enough to be able to include a small litter box. Some kennels come with food and water dishes attached to the inside, but that becomes messy if the ride is bumpy. You may want to hold off on the food and water until the ‘pit stops’. We will discuss more about that later. It may be easiest to use the kennel that the dog is already familiar with (i.e. the one you crate trained him/her in). Not only does the kennel keep your pet from roaming around in the car while it is moving (i.e. less distracting for the driver), but it also prevents the animal from being thrown out of the car in case of an accident. It also serves its purpose in a hotel room if you need to keep the animal confined. For example, if you know your dog likes to chew on things, you do not want the dog chewing up the hotel room while you are away.

If you plan to travel during the hot summer months, remember to never leave your pet unattended in a car! The interior of a car can heat up in a surprisingly short amount of time (even just a few minutes) and your dog or cat can easily suffer from dehydration, heat stroke, or death. During the winter months, you pet can be left in the car for short periods of time (about 20 minutes), but make sure you lock the doors and leave the windows open a crack to allow air to circulate.

Pit stops

So how often should you make ‘pit stops’ to allow your dog to eliminate and stretch his/her legs? The rule is simple: if you need to go for a bathroom break, your dog probably has to as well. There is no need to make extra stops along the way unless your dog is a young puppy and cannot hold his/her urine as long. Avoid stopping along the side of the highway because it can be dangerous as other cars are zooming by at top speeds. Make your stops at a gas station or other pit stop area. Use a leash at all times because your dog is in unfamiliar territory and you want to avoid the risk of him/her running off into traffic. You can give your pet a small drink of water during pit stops as well.

For cats, keep a fresh litter box in the kennel for the duration of the ride. To get your cat to eliminate before departure, fill your cat’s litter box at home with fresh litter. Most cats enjoy a freshly cleaned litter box and will take that opportunity to use the box. Then you can begin your trip knowing that your cat has an empty bladder and bowel.

Car sickness

Like humans, some pets are more prone to car sickness than others. Puppies are especially prone to motion sickness. To prevent car sickness, do not feed your dog or cat at least two hours before travel. Take away the water one hour before travel. You may feed your pet once you have arrived at your destination.

Other tips for car travel

Exercise your pet before departing because that will allow your pet to fall asleep more easily in the car. Take a large bottle of water with you for the car ride, so you do not have to worry about finding water for your pet during a pit stop. When considering the temperature of your car, remember that if you are uncomfortable (too hot, too cold), chances are your pet is uncomfortable as well. In hot months, keep the windows open a bit or the air conditioning on. Do not allow your dog to stick their head out the window while the car is in motion. This is dangerous because stones or other road debris can easily hurt the dog’s face. Remember that those stones are often being thrown from other cars and, in combination with how fast your car is going, they can travel at speeds of over 200 km/hr! In addition, your pet’s eyes and throat can get very dry from the wind.

Pet-friendly hotels

Check with the hotel that you plan to stay at to make sure they accept pets. Many hotels are now pet-friendly, but often require a small daily fee for the pet to stay. Some resorts do not allow pets in the rooms, but will provide ‘pet lodges’ where they can keep your pet at a kennel nearby.

Traveling by plane to other countries

Every country has their own requirements for importing pets into the country, even if just visiting for a few days. As soon as you have planned your vacation, do some research and be aware of the documents required. Some countries require an international health certificate as well as up-to-date vaccinations. These forms require veterinary attention, so you will have to book an appointment to have a full physical exam done. There may be other forms that your veterinarian has to sign as well, so have those all prepared before your appointment. Keep the pet’s vaccination records and health certificates with you at all times during travel and be prepared to present them at the airport.

Most airlines require pets to be in specific carriers and you will have to check with the individual airline to see what their maximum size/weight is. Check your airline’s regulations far in advance in order to give yourself plenty of time to purchase the necessary carrier and prepare your pet’s documents. As well, airlines usually provide space for animals on a first-come-first-serve basis. Therefore, book your pet’s space as soon as you know your travel plans. Keep objects in the kennel to a minimum. Line the bottom of the carrier with paper to absorb any accidents and a soft blanket or towel. Do not put toys or other favourite objects in because it could increase the chance of accidents if the carrier gets jostled. For cats, place a small litter box in the carrier as well. Instead of using clay litter, use shredded newspaper because it is less likely to spill all over the carrier. Do not put food or water in the carrier because it will also spill and create a mess. Prices for traveling with your pet on the plane depends on whether or not he/she goes with you as a carry-on or in cargo and varies from airline to airline.

When traveling by plane, it is best not to feed your pet at least six hours before the flight to avoid motion sickness. Take away the water one hour before departure.

Sick, frail, or pregnant animals should not fly because they may not be able to handle the stress of traveling and change of altitude. These animals are best left at a kennel in a veterinary hospital so they can be monitored or given medication as needed.

If you know your pet gets extremely nervous or stressed while traveling, but it must be done (i.e. moving to a new home), some people recommend giving the pet a tranquilizer before departure. Visit your veterinarian to discuss this option and if it is appropriate for your pet. Do not give your pet any medication without veterinary approval because human medications differ greatly from animal medication and you could seriously harm your pet.

Identification tags

Your pet should have identification on them at all times, even when not traveling. It is especially important, however, to have identification on while traveling in case the animal gets lost or runs off. A dog tag should include the dog’s name, your name, phone number, and address. Ideally, having your pet microchipped is the best option because even if the dog tag or collar falls off, your pet can still be identified by humane societies or pounds if found. If your dog is licensed, put that tag on the collar as well.

Additional Information:
Car sickness in dogs

By Amy Cheung – writer

Leave a Comment

(Additional questions? Ask them for free in our dog - cat - pet forum)