Planning Makes Travel With Pets Stress-Free

By Julie Rach

You consider your pet to be part of your family, which means you may want to take it along on your family vacation. With a little preparation and patience, the trip can be enjoyable for all family members.

Crates Are Great!

No matter what type of pet you have, it will need a crate in which to travel. Crates first became popular pet carriers for dog owners, and their popularity has become so widespread that crates are now available to accommodate everything from parakeets to Great Pyrenees. Pets that travel in crates are much safer than those that travel uncrated in a car, and airlines will transport only crated pets. (In the United States, pets are not allowed to travel on buses or trains.)

Select a crate that is large enough to allow your pet to move around comfortably inside while still providing security. For smaller pets, the crate should be small enough to be seat-belted in your car, while crates for larger pets should fit securely in the back seat of your car, the cargo area of your mini-van, or the bed of your pickup truck.

If your pet is unaccustomed to staying in a crate, leave the open crate on the floor for a few weeks prior to your trip so your pet can adjust to it. Praise your pet when it begins to explore the crate, and practice closing your pet in its crate for short periods of time once the animal is comfortable going in and out of the crate. Gradually extend the length of time the crate door stays closed and continue to praise your pet for its good behavior.

About a month before your trip begins, take your pet to its veterinarian for an examination. In some cases, well-pet certificates or other paperwork are needed for travel, and your veterinarian can explain when these papers can be issued to you. The examination also will ensure that your pet isn't harboring any illnesses that could crop up during your trip.

Hitting the Road

If you'll be traveling by car, be sure to bring along food dishes, grooming tools, favorite toys, and bedding to make the trip more comfortable for your pet. Also pack ample supplies of your pet's food, along with jugs of hometown water. Pet stores along your route might not stock the same brand of food your pet is accustomed to, and unfamiliar water may make your pet ill.

When planning your route, schedule frequent rest and exercise stops for you and your pet. During these stops, never leave your pet unattended in your car because the temperature inside a car can rise quickly on a hot day, leading to heatstroke and even death. Don't show off your pet to strangers, especially if it is unusual or valuable, because it may be stolen. Keep your pet leashed whenever it is out of its cage to keep it safe.

Call ahead to motels along your route to find out if they allow pets. Books that list pet-friendly lodging chains are available at your local library, bookstore, pet store, or Auto Club, and you can use these as guides to planning your lodging. Online resources for pet-owning travelers include: Companimalz  -; In Dogs We Trust -; PetFriendlyTravel  - and Pets Welcome  -

Plan your driving so that you can arrive at the motel in the early afternoon. This will leave enough time for you and your pet to unwind from the day's drive before bedtime.

Taking to the Skies

If your plans call for air travel, reserve a space for your pet on the flight as soon as possible. Pet spaces on major airlines are limited and fill up quickly. Some pets are allowed to travel in the cabin with their owners, while others travel in special, pressurized cargo holds in the belly of the aircraft. Ask your ticket agent where your pet will travel as you make your reservations. Also ask what paperwork the airline requires, such as proof of current vaccinations or a health certificate, to allow your pet to board the aircraft.

When arranging your flights, try to book a direct flight in the middle of the week. If that is impossible, arrange your trip to have as few layovers as possible. If your pet is traveling in the cargo hold, fly in early morning or evening to avoid the heat of the day, and ask what the airline's policy is on shipping animals in extremely warm or extremely cold weather if that will be a factor in your pet's travels.

On the day of your flight, arrange to have both you and your pet at the check-in counter well ahead of departure time. Your pet will have to spend the entire flight in its carrier whether it flies in the passenger cabin with you or in the cargo hold, so be sure to allow your pet an opportunity to exercise (if it's needed) before you check in.

If your flight is delayed on the ground and your pet is traveling in the cargo hold, alert the flight attendant to the situation. Monitor your pet's progress during layovers by asking counter agents whether or not your pet's crate was transferred to your connecting flight. When you arrive at your destination, pick up your pet promptly at the cargo counter, and let it out of its carrier as soon as you can do so safely.

If Your Pet Doesn't Travel...

Although you may think traveling will be a great adventure for your pet, not every pet travels well. Some pets do better if they are left at home in the care of a qualified pet-sitter or boarded at a kennel or your veterinarian's office. If your pet has a shy, retiring nature and doesn't seem to enjoy new situations and strange people, you may be wiser to leave your pet at home because it will be more comfortable in its familiar surroundings and normal routine.

Julie Rach is a freelance writer based in Oceanside, California.

Ampersand Communications

For More Information

Companimalz  - 

In Dogs We Trust -

PetFriendlyTravel  -

Pets Welcome  -

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