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Tips for Safe Travel with Pets

Planes, trains, and automobiles. All are options for getting to your vacation destination. But which is the best method of travel if you are bringing your four-footed family member along? And should you bring your animal companion or is he or she happier staying at home?

The first thing you need to determine is whether your furry friend likes to travel. Does he or she enjoy being in the car and seeing new people and places? If these stress your pet, it may be kinder to leave him in the care of a boarding kennel or professional pet sitter.

If you decide to take your pet on vacation, start to plan your trip early. You will need to research places that provide pets-welcome accommodations.  Next, determine if your pet will need a health certificate, and schedule a pre-vacation veterinary exam. You will want to make sure that you carry proof of a current rabies vaccination.

The following are some tips on traveling with your animal companion.

Traveling by Car:

  • Always be sure that your pet is safely restrained in the car. If he is accustomed to one, your dog can be restrained with a pet safety harness that functions like a seatbelt. Or you can use a well-ventilated, hard-sided kennel. To ensure that they don't distract the driver, cats should always be kept in their carriers when traveling by car. All animals are safer in the back seat.
  • Don't allow your canine companion to stick her head out the window when the vehicle is moving. Doing so can subject your pet to injury by flying debris. Never transport a pet in the back of a pickup truck; it is always dangerous for your dog.
  • Always provide frequent bathroom and exercise breaks. When outside the car, make sure that your pet is always on a leash and wearing a collar and ID tag.
  • Never leave your pet unattended in a parked car. On warm days, the temperature in your car can rise to 120 degrees in minutes, even with the windows slightly open. Also, an animal left alone in a car is an open invitation to pet thieves.

Traveling by Plane:

The Humane Society of United States recommends that pets be transported by air only if absolutely necessary. According to the Airline Transportation Association, an estimated 5,000 animals are killed, injured or lost during airline travel each year. Most injuries and deaths to animals traveling by airplane are due to extreme heat or cold, poorly ventilated cargo holds, mishandling by baggage personnel, and damage to kennels. If you must travel by air with your pet, keep the following in mind:

  • Take small animals on board with you in carriers that fit under the seat. Contact airlines for specific requirements, including type and size of carrier, for taking your pet on board.
  • Take direct flights to avoid mistakes and delays that occur with transfers, and schedule flights early or late in the day to avoid extreme heat.
  • Fit your pet with a collar that can't get caught in carrier doors. Instead of a dangling tag, affix identification on the collar and carrier with your name, address, and phone number, as well as a temporary travel ID with the address and phone number where you can be reached at your travel destination.

Traveling by Ship or Train:

  • Most cruise lines don't accept pets with the exception of assistance dogs. Contact cruise lines in advance about their policies and kennel facilities. If you must use the ship's kennel, make sure it is protected from the elements.
  • Amtrak currently does not accept pets for transport unless they are assistance dogs. There may be smaller U.S. rail companies that permit animals on board their trains. Many trains in Europe allow pets.

Travel Carrier Tips

  • Travel carriers are useful when your pet is traveling by car; they are mandatory when your pet is traveling by air. Your pet's carrier should be durable and smooth-edged with opaque sides, a grille door, and several ventilation holes on each of the four sides. Choose a carrier with a secure door and door latch. If you are traveling by air, your carrier should have food and water dishes. Pet carriers may be purchased from pet-supply stores or bought directly from domestic airlines. Select a carrier that has enough room to permit your animal to sit and lie down but is not large enough to allow your pet to be tossed about during travel. You can make the carrier more comfortable by lining the interior with shredded newspaper or a towel.
  • It is wise to acclimate your pet to the carrier in the months or weeks preceding your trip. Permit your pet to explore the carrier. Place your pet's food dish inside the carrier and confine him or her to the carrier for brief periods.
  • To introduce your pet to car travel in the carrier, confine him or her in the carrier and take short drives around the neighborhood. If properly introduced to car travel, most dogs and cats will quickly adjust to and even enjoy car trips.

Careful Preparation is the Key

  • When packing, don't forget your pet's food, food and water dishes, bedding, litter and litter box, leash, collar and tags, grooming supplies, and a first-aid kit and any necessary medications. Always have a container of drinking water with you.
  • Your pet should wear a sturdy collar with ID tags throughout the trip. The tags should have both your permanent address and telephone number and an address and telephone number where you or a contact can be reached during your travels.
  • Traveling can be upsetting to your pet's stomach. Take along ice cubes, which are easier on your pet than large amounts of water. You should keep feeding to a minimum during travel. (Provide a light meal for your pet two to three hours before you leave, if you are traveling by car, or four to six hours before departure if traveling by air.) Allow small amounts of water periodically in the hours before the trip.

Carry a current photograph of your pet with you. If your pet is lost during a trip, a photograph will make it easier for others (airline employees, the police, shelter workers, and others) to help you find your pet.

Many restaurants and tourist attractions do not allow pets. If you're not prepared to go the extra mile to accommodate your pet during travel, he or she may be safer and happier at home. Then research the pet sitting services and kennels in your area.

Additional information can be found here.

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