Whether you're carrying precious cargo with Fido inside, or you're worried about Hemingway your hamster, traveling with pets is a delicate task. Much like traveling with a baby or small children, you've got to plan and prepare well in advance. Want to know about air travel? Or, maybe just what you should bring on your road trip with your kids and the cat? Don't worry; we've got you covered on planes, trains, and automobiles, with everything you need to know about bringing along your animals.
Planning and Practice:
Above all, planning is key. "The number one thing people forget is that animals don't understand travel like we do," says Kirsten Theisen, Director of Pet Care Issues at the Humane Society of the United States. She adds, "You have to prepare your pet for the experience of traveling." What does that mean? Get your pet acclimated with their carrier. Make sure they know it's not a scary place. Throw treats inside and drive around with them in the carrier. This way, they understand not every trip inside the carrier means a stop at the veterinarian. And most importantly, make sure you praise your pet and reward them for good behavior in their kennel.
Make sure they're well enough. Much like you should have all your proper shots and be physically fit for travel, your pet should be the same. Take them to the vet to get a quick check up to make sure they're "physically fit," says Heather Hunter, spokesperson for AAA (American Automobile Association).
What to Bring:
Keep all your important pet information in a packet that you travel with. If your pet has any medications, be sure to pack extra. And "check in advance where the nearest animal hospitals are to where you're staying," Hunter notes. You never know what could happen. You should also have proof of "all current vaccinations, even when driving – if police stop you, they can request the paperwork," says Theisen. Just in case, always have a picture of you with your pet as well – if you lose them it helps prove ownership and helps locate the animal. Write down your pet's microchip information and keep it in your packet also.
Double check your pet's collars and leashes – they should be in good condition. Make sure all addresses and phone numbers are accurate and current. For extra safety, Theisen recommends you "put the local house's/hotel's phone number on a piece of tape and stick it to your pet's collar. That way if they run off and someone finds them, they will recognize that number as a local one," making it easier to reconnect you with your pet.
It's also a good idea to bring along some familiar items; always pack your pet's regular food, plus a few extra days. Bring some toys and, if possible, their feeding bowls and bed. "This will help them adjust much better to their new surroundings," comments Theisen.
Know that bringing your pet on an airplane is extremely risky, especially if you're planning on putting them in cargo. "You should be in constant communication with your airline about traveling with pets," says Theisen. Almost every airline has a pet limit for their flights and all have size restrictions for in-cabin animals, as well as what kind of carrier you have to use. Do your research before you get to the airport and make sure your carrier is airline-approved – a quick call to customer service is a must. Theisen also notes that the Department of Transportation has tracking for lost, injured, or killed pets during travel. She urges you to "look at the number of incidences on the airline you intend to fly on; ask the tough questions like what happens during a layover; what if you miss a connecting flight; where do you reclaim your pet; who's in charge of your pet on the tarmac?"
When you get to the airport, be fully prepared to walk your pet through security if you're bringing them on board. This means you should have a harness or leash so they can't get away. Even better yet, Thiesen recommends you ask for a secondary screening, which takes place in a closed room and is much lower stress for you and your animal.
In the cargo hold isn't the same as the passenger cabin. "They say it is temperature controlled, but requirements say that the temperature can be anywhere from 5 to 85 degrees," Theisen comments. In other words: Your pet is in a dark, loud space in very cold or very hot temperatures. Basically, "Your pet would probably be much happier boarding in a kennel or doggie spa!" notes Theisen.
Just because you're bringing your pet in the car, doesn't mean you don't need to plan just as much as if you were flying. "Take test trips to start," says Hunter. Make sure you always use a pet restraint too – "what people don't realize is that a 30 pound pet, traveling in a car at 30 mph will produce 900 pounds of pressure during a crash." Invest in a proper carrier (which should also be secured in place) or a harness so that you are never distracted. If your pet takes your eyes from the wheel, even for a second, that means you're at greater risk of getting in an accident.
Plan extra time into your trip. Especially if your pet is prone to carsickness, you'll need to stop more often to let your pet out, as well as stretch your own legs. Theisen says, "Especially with dogs, when they get overexcited, they also get hot faster, so you should make sure they get out and get some fresh air." Hunter says, "Try to stop every two hours, or 100 miles." She also notes that most rest stops have dog walk areas. If your animal does get carsick, limit food and water on the trip – try to feed them three to four hours before you leave, not right before.
On Amtrak, only service animals are allowed on the trains. However, if you're traveling via a local train system or commuter rail, check the rules before you go; some allow pets onboard. For instance, you can bring your pet on subways in New York City, but they must be in a carrier, or you will get fined.
"No one can look after your pet as well as you," says Theisen, which is why she discourages international travel with animals. If your pet is in the cargo hold, you're away from your pet for a very long period of time.
Possibly more important are the country's quarantine rules. If your pet must go into quarantine for two weeks or more, is it really worth it to bring them on a three-week vacation? Probably not. But, if you must travel long distances with pets (say for relocation), look into professional pet travel associations like the International Pet and Animal Transportation Association.
Best Western has countless pet-friendly destinations and all Kimpton Hotels allow animals. They even go as far as providing you with a goldfish if you didn't get to bring your pet with you! They don't charge extra for pets (you should always check first with your hotel about potential fees) and in select hotels even have a Director of Pet Relations!
National parks are great places to bring dogs on vacation with you, but Hunter says, "Make sure you're aware of the rules. Many accept pets, but for instance, some limit people with pets to certain trails." Dog-friendly beaches are also a great outing on vacation – some have entrance fees or specific hours to bring your pooch out, but many also have unlimited access like The Original Dog Beach in Ocean Beach, California or Fort De Soto Park Paw Playground in Tierra Verde, Florida.
A great site to check out before you leave is BringFido.com. You can find information about airline policies, pet-friendly restaurants, and everything in between.