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Summer is here and it’s without a doubt the busiest travel time of the year.
When it comes to vacation and traveling with pets, there are a lot of things to consider depending on where you’ll be going, how far away your destination is, your method of travel, and how your furry friend will cope with the changes busy travel brings.
In this article, you’ll find 10 useful tips to help you navigate the choices everyone is confronted with when thinking about bringing their pet on vacation, as well as advice on planning trips with your pet in mind, and some details on needed essentials you won’t want to leave home without.
Before You Go: The Planning Stage
1. Initial Considerations: To Bring or Not to Bring (Your Pet)
When planning a summer trip, the first thing to consider is whether or not to take your pup or kitty with you at all in the first place.
Many pets, especially dogs, may enjoy a road trip or may handle a plane ride without too much stress. But for others, travel can be incredibly stressful. Think about the last time you brought your pet with you in the car for a short trip. If your pet has a hard time with brief travel excursions, you may want to reconsider a full-length road trip. Similarly, if a short trip in the car is an issue, plane travel is likely to be an even bigger problem.
Also consider where you’re traveling, what your activities will be like, and if you’ll be able to meet your pet’s needs. Does your pet need regular medication or treatments? Will you be able to bring your pet with you once you reach your destination? Some beaches and boardwalks, for example, don’t allow pets.
Alternatives to bringing your pet with you include hiring a pet sitter to come to your house, or having your pet stay at a boarding facility or kennel.
These two options have benefits and detractors. While boarding facilities can provide frequent care and monitoring, a new location and high volume of other pets can be very stressful for some, especially dogs with all of the continuous barking.
Having a pet sitter come to the house can be less stressful for a pet since they don’t have to change locations, but make sure you’re using a well-reviewed professional service or a trusted friend or relative.
2. Developing a Travel Plan
If you are bringing your furry friend with you, you’ll need to make your plans with your pet in mind. If you’re going on a road trip, make sure you check for rest-stops where you’ll be able to let your pup out for a well-needed potty break.
Make sure to look for pet-friendly hotels for both any overnight stays while traveling, as well as for your final destination. Some locations on AirBnB, Vrbo, and similar sites have properties that may or may not allow pets, so pay close attention to the details. Resources like www.bringfido.com or www.dogtrekker.com are great places to find pet-friendly hotels, restaurants, and attractions.
And like we just talked about, make sure places you’ll be visiting on vacation, like beaches, boardwalks, parks and other locations, are pet friendly.
On Your Way There
3. Traveling with Pets in the Car
If you’re embarking on the classic road trip in the car, there are some very important considerations to keep in mind during the summer.
Heat stroke is a very real danger for dogs in warm weather, especially when it comes to car travel. Every year, dozens of dogs die from heat stroke in hot cars. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, the temperature inside a vehicle can rise almost 20 degrees F in just 10 minutes. In just 70 degree weather, what most would call cool and mild, the temperature inside a car can still reach over 100 degrees in about an hour. But in 95 degree weather, it reaches over 120 degrees in just 20 minutes.
Cracking the windows makes very little difference at all. The bottom line is that you should never leave your pet in the car if it’s over 70 degrees outside, even if it’s just for a “quick” bathroom break or to run into a convenience store to get a drink or snack. At the very least, make sure to keep your car on with the A/C running.
Does your pet get carsick? Signs of motion sickness can include vocalizing, drooling, and certainly vomiting. While sedatives can certainly help the stress of travel for some pets, others may additionally need help with the nausea. Your vet can help provide you with dosages for both over the counter medications like dramamine, as well as prescription medication to help your friend’s tummy stay settled.
Another thing to keep in mind with road travel is to keep your furry friend safely restrained. Although it’s hard not to smile at the happy dog with his head sticking out and his tongue flapping in the breeze, this is also a pup that isn’t safely restrained in a high speed vehicle.
Just like we need to wear seatbelts, our pets need safety measures too. With so many folks out on the road, unpredictable things can happen and the last thing you want is for your pup or kitty to get injured, so make sure to consider a car harness, carrier, or crate.
Check out the AVMA’s full article on traveling with pets in vehicles for more details on the multiple considerations concerning pets and car travel.
4. Traveling with Pets by Plane
If a road trip isn’t for you and you plan to travel by plane, consider your options carefully, as plane travel with pets can sometimes be risky and complicated.
For small pets, most airlines will allow them to travel in the cabin, but only in a carrier that can fit under a seat. This size requirement can vary depending on the particular flight. Larger dogs need to be checked as cargo, which can be a stressful experience.
Although pets should in theory be transported into the plane’s hold efficiently so that they’re not sitting on the hot tarmac for long, heat stroke is always a very real concern if there are any delays loading or unloading the cargo hold.
Requirements and restrictions can vary a lot from airline to airline, so make sure to thoroughly read through your particular carrier’s rules and guidelines. For example, some carriers will not allow brachycephalic (smushy-faced) breeds at all due to their higher risk for breathing difficulty with enclosed spaces, stress, and heat.
Some destinations, both foreign and domestic, may also have their own restrictions, so make sure to check the requirements for any country or state you’re traveling to. All pets are generally required to have an updated rabies vaccination and you’ll want to make sure to have a signed certificate with you. If your pet isn’t old enough to have a rabies vaccine yet, some airlines won’t even allow them to travel.
Travel to countries outside the U.S. will require specific health certificates to be completed by a USDA accredited veterinarian. Some country certificates may have items that need to be completed many weeks in advance, so always make sure to check as a part of planning your trip. Your vet may have USDA accreditation, but don’t make assumptions--make sure to check well beforehand while initially planning your trip.
Last, the U.S. has recently placed a temporary suspension on dogs being imported into the U.S. from certain countries considered at high risk for rabies. Make sure to read the full notice from the CDC as well as the list of countries the ban affects. Even if you are a U.S. citizen traveling with your dog on a short-term basis to one of these countries, your dog will not be allowed re-entry into the U.S. while the suspension is in effect. If you do plan to travel to one of the listed countries this summer, it’s best to leave your pup at home.
Okay, We’re Here, Now What?
5. Staying in a Hotel
Whether you’ll be staying in a hotel just as a detour on your way to your final destination, or whether the Ritz Carlton (or Motel 6) is part of your final destination, there are some important considerations.
First, make sure the location you’re staying at is pet-friendly. If pets are not allowed and you try to smuggle your four-legged friend inside, you at best may get a hefty fine or at worst, you can get kicked out without a refund.
Second, remember that a hotel isn’t the same as home and is a new and possibly scary place for your pet. Even with the best housekeeping service, your furry pal will be able to pick up hundreds of individual scents you’re completely unaware of, possibly leading to marking behavior.
Other guests at the hotel may not have pets and may not be pet people at all. Make sure to respect other people’s space and privacy. If your pooch has separation anxiety issues like barking, howling, chewing and shredding, don’t risk leaving the room with her alone if you don’t want to have to worry about complaints or paying for any damages. Similar considerations may go for cats that scratch or claw furniture.
If you do leave your pet in your room for a longer period, make sure to put a “Do Not Disturb” sign on your door to prevent accidental escapes or encounters with housekeeping staff. It’s also helpful to leave a phone number with the front desk so you can be reached in case of an emergency.
6. Oh, the Heat.
Besides avoiding overheated cars and hot airport tarmacs, it’s important to just be aware of how outdoor temperatures at your destination may affect your dog.
This can be especially important if you’re traveling to a different region or country where heat and humidity is far worse than where you started.
Just like us, dogs can also get sunburn. This is especially true of light-coated and fair-skinned dogs. If your pup has a thin hair coat, was recently groomed, or has lighter skin tones, make sure to seek out shady options. If you’re going to the beach for example, make sure to have an extra umbrella or a small tent.
Although dogs seem to be made to walk on the ground in their bare feet, they can actually get burns and blisters on their feet just like us. Hot sand and pavement can lead to sore paws, so try to avoid those surfaces if possible and if not, make sure to limit time on them or consider a set of doggie booties.
7. Food and Other Edibles
Always make sure to plan ahead and bring your pet’s food with you. Forgetting it and trying out something new from a local store on the road may lead to digestive upset that you’d rather not have to deal with.
Also keep in mind what your dog might consume that isn’t supposed to be part of his regular diet. Consuming too much ocean salt water at the beach can lead quickly to dehydration or sodium toxicity. There can also be all manner of fascinating but gross things your pup might try to eat, so always keep a close eye.
Worried about your pup not eating well during travel? It’s possible the stress of travel may do this for some pets. If you know your pet has a picky appetite, it’s important to remember to bring as much as possible from home to make mealtimes as familiar as possible. Bring the same bowls, the same food, and don’t forget to bring favorite treats. Try your best to feed your pet around the same familiar mealtimes. If you know your pet’s appetite may decline during travel, make sure to speak to your vet about appetite stimulant medications that may be helpful.
8. Removing Stress from the (Ideally) Stress-Free Vacation
To help reduce travel stress, try to bring as many familiar items from home as possible, but certainly keep things reasonable. If a crate is a large part of your pup’s routine at home, and you’re able to bring it with you, this could be a great source of safety, stability, and sense of security for your dog (and for you).
Bring bedding and blankets that smell like home as these can be a source of comfort for both dogs and cats. Make sure to bring toys.
Calming aids that contain ingredients like chamomile, melatonin, and L-tryptophan can be helpful to provide a sense of relaxation. Ginger can help to settle an overstimulated tummy.
If your pet has serious anxiety issues, make sure to fully consider taking her with you in the first place. If the physical travel itself may be the biggest problem, your vet can help you decide if prescription anxiety relief medication or sedatives may be helpful for your pup or kitty to get through that 8 hour plane trip or cross-country drive.
Planning for the Worst
9. What if My Pet Gets Lost?
There may be nothing scarier or more likely to ruin a vacation than losing a pet while traveling, especially if you’re staying far from home in an unfamiliar place.
Having an ID tag on your pet’s collar or harness with a name and contact information is a great first step. But always remember that these can be lost or intentionally removed.
The number one protection against losing your pet, and to help ensure a lost pet makes it back home, is for your pup or kitty to have a microchip.
However just having a microchip isn’t enough. It’s important to make sure the chip is functioning and that your contact information is updated. It’s commonplace nowadays for veterinary practices to have microchip scanners, so before you head out on a trip, schedule a visit to have the chip scanned and make sure it’s working. This is especially important before international flights as some countries require microchips.
Even when a vet hospital scans a microchip, the number is useless if the pet parent’s contact info isn’t linked to it. This information is typically updated on the microchip manufacturer’s website. If you’re not sure who manufactured your pet’s chip, the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) has established a Pet Microchip Lookup website, where you can put in your pet’s chip number and get the likely manufacturer, whose website you can then visit to update your information.
If your pet does get lost, the manufacturer website is also where you need to visit to report that your pet is missing. If a veterinary clinic or shelter contacts a manufacturer when they scan a pet’s chip, it will be easier to connect you back with your furry friend if the manufacturer is already aware that your pet is missing.
If your pet doesn’t have a microchip, one can typically be placed by veterinary staff with a short visit, and they aren’t terribly expensive.
Although not as reliable as a well-updated microchip, always have an updated color photo of your pet available to be able to share in case he goes missing.
10. Pet Travel First Aid
We never know what might happen, so it’s always best to be prepared. Before traveling, it’s a good idea to scope out some veterinarians you’ll be passing on your way and in the area of your end destination so you have an idea of who’s close by. Save their locations and jot down their contact numbers.
Other useful numbers to have are for the Pet Poison Helpline (855-764-7661) or ASPCA Animal Poison Control (888-426-4435). A consultation fee typically applies, but the advice is invaluable and a veterinarian may require you to call in cases of some toxin or poison exposures.
The American Kennel Club has a free downloadable guide on emergency first aid for dogs, with many of the principles also applicable to cats. It’s not a bad idea to have a read through and bring a copy with you, just in case. As the guide says, first aid isn’t a replacement for veterinary care, but can provide some crucial first steps.
Having a first aid kit for pet travel can be really helpful for cleaning up a small wound or placing a bandage to keep things stable on the way to the vet. There are many commercial kits available, but below is a short list of some items to put together, just in case.
- Collapsible water bowl and extra bottles of water
- Collapsible shade/shelter
- Antihistamine like Benadryl (get a dose from your vet): always helpful for some early care for an insect bite or sting, or other allergic reaction. In pets, always avoid using the “D” form containing pseudoephedrine.
- Gauze (roll gauze and square gauze): useful for cleaning up small wounds and as basic bandages. Don’t use human adhesive bandages (like BandAids) on pets.
- Non-stick sterile pad
- Non-stick, self-adhering bandages (like Vetrap, etc.)
- White medical tape/bandage tape
- Cotton balls
- Hydrogen peroxide: a useful antiseptic, it can also be used to induce vomiting in dogs, but great care must be taken, as this is not always an appropriate step. If you suspect your dog ingested a toxic substance, call one of the poison control numbers first for advice.
- Disposable Gloves
- Antimicrobial spray/ointment
- Milk of Magnesia: can help to counteract some poisons and toxins. Again, make sure to call one of the poison control numbers first, before administering.
- Digital thermometer
- Bandage scissors
- Magnifying Glass and Tweezers
- Towel: it makes sense to have a simple absorbent towel on hand to help clean up after a swim, some mud, or whatever adventure your pup finds.
- Muzzle: even if your pup or kitty is the sweetest, trauma or pain can lead to biting behavior. Having a muzzle on hand helps to protect you and your pet in the event of a traumatic emergency. Do not use if your pet is vomiting or having breathing difficulty.
- Extra leash and collar/harness
- Oral syringe or turkey baster: this is useful either for oral dosing or for flushing wounds
- Saline eye solution: a simple natural tears solution can be useful to flush any kind of particles or debris from the eyes
- Travel bottle of liquid dish soap: dish soap like Dawn can be helpful and safe for getting oil, grease, mud, and other unwanted sticky stuff out of a pet’s fur.
Big Points to Take-Home Before Leaving Home
Traveling with pets, especially during the summer, comes with extra planning and a lot of considerations.
The biggest takeaway you should have is to plan as much in advance as possible and don’t leave things to the last minute. Even for a shorter road trip or closer destination, it doesn’t hurt to have a pre-travel visit with your vet, who can help ensure your pet is healthy for travel, and provide advice on over the counter remedies, as well as any prescription medications that may be helpful for motion sickness and anxiety.
A stress-free vacation is always what we want and is sadly not always 100% what happens. But you can get as close as possible by taking the right precautions and planning ahead for you and your furry companion.