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Traveling with your Pet


Safe transport

traveling with petIn our mobile society, chances are good that your pet will be transported during its lifetime. Whether for a visit to your veterinarian or a weekend trip, your pet will travel.

To predict problems that may arise, consider the circumstances of the trip:

  • Is the trip more or less that two or three hours long?
  • If it is a long trip, will you have opportunities to visit with your pet?
  • Will your pet be within view or secluded in a separate compartment?
  • Will your pet be confined to a crate or pet carrier?

Prepare your pet for travel

When possible, prepare your pet by gradually exposing it to elements or sequences of the trip and then practice departures. If your pet is not used to traveling, brief frequent trips are the best way to expose your pet to this experience. As long as your pet's basic comforts are attended to, the trip should go well.

For short trips, remove food at least two hours before starting a trip. For longer trips, remove food several hours before the trip. You may feed your pet after the trip. Offer small amounts of water until an hour before travel. Depending on the length of the trip, water bowls can be left in the carrier or not.

Play with your pet or engage it in some kind of positive interaction before you leave home. If your pet is well exercised before it is confined, it will be more comfortable. Make sure your dog has a long walk or your cat has enough time to use the litter before its confinement. Your pet will be less likely to become nauseated or to soil itself during confinement if it is given every opportunity to void before departure.

Most pets become adjusted to travel with frequent travel opportunities. They may feel more secure if they are confined to a sturdy and well-ventilated carrier. Cats and small or medium dogs may learn to travel in pet carriers designed for travel. Large dogs, for example, may be confined behind special gates that section off the back of a motor vehicle.

Have your pet's general health evaluated by a veterinarian before you leave on a long trip. Ideally, this should be scheduled well before an anticipated trip and not left for the last minute. Vaccinations should be updated. Make a list of your pet's known physical disorders and any new problems that have developed since your last visit.

If you are going overseas, your veterinarian may be able to advise you regarding reports of pet health problems prevalent at your destination. Consult the embassy or consulate of the country you will visit for information on any documents or special vaccinations that your pet will require. Have these with you at the veterinary appointment. Your veterinarian's signature may be required to clear your pet's health status for customs officials.

If you are traveling within the United States, ask your veterinarian if there are any diseases in the area you will visit that are a threat to your pet's health. When you return, take in a stool sample for analyses in case your pet has acquired any intestinal parasites. You may wish to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to check for other parasites, such as heartworms or fleas, or any other problem noticed during the trip.

Fear & Anxiety During Travel

Regardless of the mode of transportation and the reasons for it, several behavior problems may arise because of fear. Fear may cause hyperexcitability and agitation, hyperventilation, vocalization, attempts to escape or hide, aggressiveness, nausea, vomiting, defecation and urination. Destruction to the interior of your car or pet carrier may indicate fear or anxiety, particularly if the pet is isolated from you. A pet can turn its fear or anxiety against itself by excessively self-grooming during the trip.

Fearful responses to travel may worsen or remain relatively constant over time. Your pet may become fearful before a trip if it learns to recognize signs of impending departures. Very young or aging pets can show affects after travel. The stress of travel can decrease a pet's resistance to disease. Intense fear can result in serious illness in animals with undiagnosed ailments.

Sedatives & Tranquilizers

Tranquilizers or sedatives intended to ease your pet's fear should be reserved for pets that suffer from extreme fear or anxiety during travel, and should only be used at your veterinarian's recommendation. The type of medication and its dosage must be appropriate for your pet's age, basic temperament, degree of emotional upset during travel, duration of travel and physical status. Most drugs used for this purpose are short acting, with a peak effect lasting only several hours. For longer trips, it may not be worthwhile to sedate your pet, though it may help it through the first part of the trip. If your pet's only problem during travel is nausea or vomiting, medication to combat motion sickness may be all that is required.

Travel Tips

  • No matter how careful you think you are, pets have a tremendous talent for getting loose at the most inappropriate times and then getting lost. Always make sure your pet is wearing appropriate identification tags that include your name, address, telephone number, and if possible, your pet's name.
  • Many campgrounds and virtually all national parks and foreign countries won't admit pets without proof they have rabies shots. It is always a good idea to carry the pet's health certificate with you.
  • Many pet supply stores sell traveling water bowls. You can also freeze a small dish of water or ice cubes ahead of time and then let the pet lick them as it needs to refresh itself. It is very common for dogs and cats to have upset stomachs when types of food are changed too quickly. Take their usual food.
  • Plan on frequent rest stops when traveling. This allows pets to stretch their legs, and dogs to do their business. Cats, unlike dogs who treat roadside stops as their own backyard, are reluctant to relieve themselves at the end of a leash and in unfamiliar territory. The best thing you can do is take their litter box and don't use fresh litter. Taking litter they've already used is the same as putting out a sign that says, "mine."
  • You should only fly an animal as a last choice. If this is absolutely necessary, book a nonstop flight. Fly together on the same flight. This way your pet won't experience the turmoil of being moved from plane to plane, and there's no chance of her becoming lost in a wrong connection. If the flight is delayed you're justified in having her unloaded so you can see to her care.