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By John Lamb
Unleashed! reporter@large

So you’re thinking about taking your pet along on your next vacation. Well, whether you plan to fly or drive, there’s plenty to consider before making the trip. 

First and foremost, of course, is whether your pet has the temperament and physical well-being to be a satisfying traveling companion. There’s nothing more disconcerting than facing a medical emergency with your pet away from home and your regular veterinarian. Remember, this is a critical decision to make and one that should be free of emotion from, say, the kids begging you to let the family dog go along. Face it — some animals just don’t travel well.

In the case of flying, airlines require that you obtain a current health certificate for your dog or cat within 10 days of your departure. While the Air Transport Association reports that 99 percent of the half-million dogs and cats that fly the friendly skies yearly do so problem-free, that still leaves about 5,000 of our furry loved ones that will suffer some health problems as a result. 

For plane travel, experts suggest you follow these basic guidelines: 

  • Above all else, your primary goal is to make sure your pet will not be exposed to extreme weather conditions. As a rule, pets should stay home if you can’t book direct flights (layovers of more than an hour can leave your pet exposed to the elements on the airport tarmac) and if temperatures are expected to fall below 45 degrees or rise above 80 degrees. Some small pets can be carried on board most major airlines (sometimes for a considerable additional charge and a limit of one pet per cabin.....by the way, NEVER let your pet out in flight. And in the case of Southwest Airlines, forget about it -- the company maintains a no-pets policy). Otherwise, it’s the cargo hold for larger pets. Kennels -- which your pet SHOULD get used to before traveling -- must be of legal size and construction, and reservations usually are necessary. Pets may also be shipped, alone, by air freight, but typically at an astronomical cost. If possible, ask to observe the loading of your pet onto the plane. Also, notify a member of the flight crew that your pet is in the cargo compartment. 

  • Think long and hard about taking your pet to a country with a lengthy required quarantine period. And be aware of immunization requirements. 

  • Don’t consider sedating your pet prior to travel. Most experts agree that a doped-up pet might not be able to react properly to any of the myriad movements it will go through in transit, injuring itself in the process. And the jury’s still out on how these medications affect animals at high altitudes. Go cold turkey, but make sure your pet has secured bowls of food and ice -- not water -- in its kennel. And maybe a familiar toy or piece of bedding to calm the nerves. 

  • If you discover your pet has taken ill during flight, contact a veterinarian at once and make sure an airline representative is alerted so he or she can observe the problem. Most of the time, airlines take a very imperialistic approach to pet problems, treating them in the same vein as damaged luggage with a maximum liability of $1,250. Some pet owners, however, have sued successfully to gain more compensation. But no one wants this kind of tragedy to occur. So do your homework!!

Driving with your pets requires similar but slightly more down-to-earth considerations: 

  • Your pet MUST have proper identification in case it gets separated from you. Include the number of a friend or relative who would be willing to take messages for you OR a number where you will be staying. 

  • Daily exercise is critical! For dogs, at least a half hour of out-of-car experience is recommended, preferably in a vibrant game of fetch or a jog. Short strolls twice daily for bathroom breaks. Cats, known to bolt from cars more easily than dogs, should be held in check with a harness and leash until they have settled into your trek. But be verrry careful if you decide to unleash your feline. Some experts recommend unleashing them, if necessary, BEFORE a meal to boost the odds of a quick return. And yes, you’ll need to pack a litter box for Fifi and disposable bags for Fido. 

  • Repeat this like a mantra: I will NOT leave my pet in a closed-up car on a hot day. Your car becomes a solar-paneled oven, leading very easily to heat prostration for your pet, a condition that can result in serious brain damage and, yes, death. Just say no. 

  • Again, take favorite items from home along on the trip -- toys, a sleeping basket, bedding -- whatever works to make your pet more comfortable. 

  • If your pet is prone to motion sickness, some veterinarians recommend encouraging your pet to lie on the floor of the car to prevent such an inconvenience. Others suggest adding an anti-stress supplement (a complete B-complex tablet) to your pet’s diet a week before leaving. Also be aware that your dog’s cute habit of riding with its head out the window can lead to some eye irritation. So pack an extra bottle of saline solution just in case. 

  • And finally, some advice that should go without saying -- treat the pet-friendly motels and campgrounds where you’ll be staying with as much respect as your own home. These places don’t HAVE to serve pet owners, so always be prepared to clean up after your pets, NEVER leave a dog alone in a motel room for a long period of time (barking and chewing won’t endear you to the manager), and bring only spayed or neutered pets along to avoid territory marking (ugh!) and meandering. 

Now, hit the road!! And have fun!!

copyright 2008 Unleashed!


Article Highlights:

Plane Trips
Car Trips


Camping with
your dog

ASPCA Pet Travel Page