Toothbrush? Check. Wallet? Check. Furry, four-legged companion? Maybe yes, maybe no. Bringing your dog or cat with you when you travel isn’t as straightforward as packing up a suitcase. But with a little advance planning, you can make the experience a positive one for both you and your pet. 

Should your pet travel with you?

Before you hustle Fluffy or Fido out the door with you, ask yourself if bringing your pet on a trip is the best idea for him or her. Start by answering these questions:

  • Will my pet be welcome at my destination?
  • Will my pet enjoy the trip?
  • Is my pet in good health?

Rut-row! If you answered “No” to any of those questions, it would be best to choose either a sitter or boarding service instead of traveling with your pet. If you board your dog or cat, make reservations well in advance, especially for major holidays. The Humane Society of the United States recommends that owners leave their feline friends at home whenever possible, as cats tend to be most comfortable in familiar surroundings.  

Car travel and pets

If you answered “Yes” to all three questions above and plan to travel by car, start by getting your pet used to short rides. In advance of your trip, take short drives each day and gradually increase the length of each ride. Does your pooch act like cars are for the dogs? If he can’t adjust to a short ride, avoid taking your pet on a longer car trip.If your pet adjusts well to car rides, follow these tips for keeping her or him safe and comfortable on longer trips:

Before you leave

Make sure your pet is wearing a collar with an ID tag. Don’t feed your pet for at least three hours before leaving on a trip. If you have a dog, take him for a walk just before you start the drive so he’ll be more comfortable as the drive gets underway.

In the car

  • Carriers. If you car has enough space, use a carrier; it’s the safest way for your pet to travel. Never put the carrier on the sunny side of the car, where your pet may become overheated. For everyone’s safety, cats should always be transported in carriers.
  • Dog harnesses. If a carrier is too doggone difficult, try using a restraining harness for your dog. They come in different sizes to fit all breeds. Just make sure it’s made to work as both a leash and car restraint.

Feeding

  • Food. Feed your pet shortly after you arrive at your destination or when you have stopped for the day.
  • Water. During stops, provide fresh drinking water for your pet.

Safety

Always put your dog on a leash before letting him out of the car. If you walk your pet on busy streets at night, wear reflective strips on your clothing and put a reflective collar on your dog for visibility and protection. Cat harnesses with leashes allow you to take your kitty out of the car without a carrier. Get your cat used to the harness well before your trip though, as many cats don’t take to them naturally.

Leaving pets unattended in cars

If you travel during hot months, don’t leave your pet in the car. Temperatures inside a car can climb dramatically, quickly topping outdoor temperatures even if a window is left cracked open. Animals left in hot cars can suffer heatstroke and much worse. 

Air travel with pets

It’s not uncommon for dogs and cats to travel by air but it does require owners to do more advanced planning. It can also involve greater risk for pets’ health and safety, which is why The Humane Society recommends leaving pets at home or boarding them whenever possible.If you plan to fly with your beloved critter, follow these guidelines to ensure the trip is as safe and comfortable as possible:

No-fly breeds

Pets with “pushed in faces” like pugs, bulldogs and Persian cats have shorter nasal passages, which makes them more vulnerable to oxygen deprivation and heatstroke. For their safety, don’t ever fly with these types of animals. Not sure of your pet’s breed? Consult with your veterinarian to be sure.

Choose the cabin

If your pet flies with you, bring him or her in the cabin with you if possible. Contact airlines before booking your flight to find out if they allow pets in the cabin as well as their requirements for carriers, animal immunizations and more.

Cargo hold considerations

This area of the plane is pressurized and climate controlled for temperature but will not be as comfortable as the cabin. If your dog or cat must fly in the cargo hold, book a direct flight and always fly on the same flight as your pet. During the winter, try to fly in the middle of the day when it’s warmer. In summer, aim for early morning or evening flights, when temperatures are lower.

Health and safety

Many airlines will require documentation from a veterinarian certifying that a pet is fit to fly. Even if it isn’t required, it’s a good idea to have your pet’s health checked before the flight. Don’t give your pet tranquilizers unless prescribed by your vet; make sure your vet knows the drug is for use on a plane ride. Finally, make sure your pet is wearing a collar and ID tag, and attach to your pet’s carrier not only your contact information but also your destination. 

Got all that? Purr-fect. Remember that traveling with your pet is a lot like deciding where and when to take a vacation: It all depends on a number of circumstances. So even if you decide to travel with your pet (or not) on one occasion, it might make sense to do the opposite in the future. As a loving pet owner, looking at each case individually and making the best decision for your pet each time will also be the best thing for you. 

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