Traveling With Your Pet
by Dr. Jane Owel
Whether it's around the corner or across the world, there are some universal challenges to traveling with your pet. First, you must determine what your mode of transportation will be. Car and airplane are the most common methods of travel. Then you must make sure that where you are going can accommodate your pet. You must make sure that your furry friend is up to the travel, health-wise, and figure out how to ensure their safe arrival. Finally, there are regulations regarding animal travel and you must have the appropriate forms to make sure you don't have any complications once you reach your destination.
If you're staying with family or friends, you know your pet is welcome. But if you're intending to stay in a hotel, it can be more difficult. One way to find a pet-friendly hotel is to consult some websites such as:
Alternately, you can contact the hotel you are interested in and inquire whether pets are welcome. If they say yes, anticipate paying a bit more for the privilege and be sure to follow the rules they set. Some hotels prohibit leaving your pet in the room alone, for instance. And even if it's allowed, it's a good idea to place the "Do Not Disturb" sign so that no hotel employees enter your room while you are gone. Dog Park can help you find a dog park near your destination.
Make sure your pet has an ID tag on, or better yet, is micro chipped for identification. You can get tags made inexpensively, while you wait, at many pet stores and Wal-Marts, a precaution which will save you heartache if your pet gets lost. Be sure to put your travel address and phone number, or cell phone numbers (and not your home information), so your pet can be returned to you easily. Bring a photo of your pet for this purpose; it can make it easier for people to look for your animal. It is also a good idea to bring a copy of your pet's shot records and pertinent medical history, along with your veterinarian's phone number, in case your pet gets injured or sick on vacation.
Technically, if you are crossing state lines, you should have a health certificate for your pet. Realistically, these are never actually required. No matter how far you're going, you should use a carrier for your cat or small dog. If your car has a front passenger airbag, you should not allow your pet in the front seat whether it is in a carrier or not. Any animal loose in the vehicle should be secured to seat belts when the car is moving and attached to a harness and leash before anyone opens a door. Losing your pet in a strange place is very traumatic for everyone involved and adequate security can minimize the risk.
Be aware of excessive heat; it takes only a few minutes for a car to get dangerously hot when the windows are mostly closed in the sun. Don't leave your pet in the car alone for any length of time during the hot weather months. Make sure that you offer water regularly, i.e., whenever you stop, to avoid dehydration.
To minimize carsickness, don't feed your pet the morning of travel; wait until you're settled for the night before offering a full meal. We can recommend a medication for nausea if it is necessary.
With a few precautions, travel with your pet can be a very enjoyable experience for both of you. Please don't hesitate to ask us for advice before you head out. You can reach us via phone at (703) 360-6600 or via e-mail: Dr. Owel or Dr. Miller.
If traveling by air, you must have a health certificate for the airline from your veterinarian. This requires an examination and must be done within 10 days of your flight, in most cases. Consult your airline for specific rules. The USDA has some guidelines for air travel with pets.
We do not give tranquilizers to pets traveling in the cargo area, as they are less able to right themselves if their carriers shift in transit and cannot regulate their body temperatures, making it very dangerous if it gets hot or cold. Pets in the cabin may be tranquilized if they require it and are in good health. Talk to us when you come in for the health certificate and we can make appropriate recommendations.
To avoid nausea and airsickness, do not feed your pet the morning of travel. Offer water until an hour before you go to the airport. Make sure your pet has every opportunity to eliminate before you pack them up for the journey. For pets that get carsick or have been airsick before, we can recommend an anti-nausea medication at the time of the health certificate examination.
You must have an airline-approved carrier whether your pet is staying in the cabin with you or traveling in the cargo hold. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has recommendations about carriers and also general shipping information. If your pet is going to be in cargo, make sure you have a backup plan, as most airlines will not allow animals to fly if the temperature is under 45 degrees or over 85 degrees for more than 45 minutes of the flight time. Other airlines refuse to take pets in the cargo hold at all. Consult your airline for more information.
If it is necessary to ship your pet without you flying with it, it is advisable to consult a professional pet shipper. The Independent Pet and Animal Transportation Association, Inc, (IPATA) is the trade association of professional pet shippers and had guidelines and referrals at their website. Some airlines require you to use a professional pet shipper even if you are traveling with it; again, consult your airline.
For international travel, consult the embassy of the country to which you are going. Some countries have prohibitions on animals and others have specific requirements about vaccines, blood tests, permits or foreign language certificates that may be necessary. International health certificates require a veterinary examination and are usually valid for 30 days, though some airlines require them to be done within 10 days. Consult your airline. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) must approve the health certificates of pets going to certain countries, check with us and we will let you know if this applies to your destination. In those cases, the certificate must be express shipped or hand carried to the nearest USDA-APHIS office (Richmond or Annapolis) for approval prior to travel.
Make sure that you have an adequate supply of any medication your pet is taking, as it is often difficult to get refills in other countries. Taking your pet's own food and water supply is also a good idea to minimize stomach upset, whether you're traveling a short distance or across the globe.
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