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Traveling With Pets
August 24, 2010
My dogs and cats are pretty well-traveled. Apart from going with us on vacation all the time, they’ve travelled across Australia–all the way from Perth to Portland, OR. The trip across Australia was done by air for the cats, but the dogs were with us for every mile in a 2-seat pickup truck! Even though I’m a veterinarian, I don’t count myself as an expert when it comes to pet travel but I’ve done plenty so experience has to count for something. I’ll just talk about cats and dogs here; birds, reptiles and pocket pets present their own unique travel problems and I haven’t got any experience with those guys.
Pet travel, especially by airline, has received a lot of attention lately because of the incident with American Airlines but it’s generally quite safe, provided you plan ahead and take the necessary precautions. Basically, whether it’s by car or airline I’ve found that it all works best if you build your travel schedule around your pets – people with children will know exactly what I mean. The idea is to try to recreate your usual domestic routine while you’re traveling. Feed them the same food they’re used to at the same time each day, provide frequent access to water, protect them from extremes of temperature and from dangerous situations (which pretty much means not letting them out of your sight) and organize their veterinary needs well in advance. This is much easier on a road trip, but these things need to be considered for an airline trip as well.
Plan ahead and educate yourself and you’ll be fine. Pet travel companies can be especially helpful. Word-of-mouth is the best way to find a good one, but contact plenty and interview them too. Domestic travel is often easy enough to organize on your own, but if you’re not traveling with your pets by your side, these travel companies can be a godsend and they’re a must when your pets are traveling internationally.
Food – Take more than enough food for the entire journey and bring their usual food dishes, too. If they’re flying, take some food with you in your luggage or have some delivered to your destination and make allowances for special dietary needs well ahead of time.
Water – We can survive without food for weeks, but only a few days without water. Never leave on a trip without plenty of fresh water and water dishes. On road trips, stop every two hours at the most to give them a chance to drink. If your pets are in crates, you can fill the clip-on water dish and put it in the freezer a day or two before you leave. The ice will melt slowly, which will provide them with cold water and won’t slop all over their bedding
Temperature – Plan your journeys so that your pets are out of the heat. Again, this is easier on a road trip, but if they’re traveling by airline, check the forecast and book (or re-book if necessary) your flights for days where temperatures are over 45 and under 85. Airlines have strict rules about this, too.
If your dog or cat is brachycephalic (has a squashed-in nose), they don’t pant as efficiently and can overheat, so it’s best to take these guys into the cabin with you. Airline baggage compartments are kept at 62 degrees, which is great, but temperatures can get quite high while waiting to be loaded or while the plane is stationary. The ice-block in the crate’s water dish will help.
If your pet’s coat is long or thick, shave them. I don’t care how you think they look. Summers in Australia get really hot and I’ve treated heat stroke cases so I have strong opinions about this.
Dangerous situations – A sturdy, well put-together crate is your best friend. If you crash your car it will protect your Pet in the accident and it will stop them escaping on the tarmac – this is usually a bigger danger with pets and airports than the temperature.
I know that crate training is hard to do, but it’s worth putting in the time well before they travel so that they’re used to their traveling home. Always provide soft, absorbent bedding and put in something that has your smell. Don’t use anything that you’ll want to use again after the trip because accidents happen; assume that whatever goes into the crate will go into the trash afterward.
For cats, have a litter tray in your car and let them out into the car every couple of hours to give them the chance to use it (not while the car’s moving, obviously!). On longer airline flights, they may be in the crate for a while so you may need to rely on the absorbent bedding.
When the crate is in your car, use straps to connect it to the tie-down points so it can’t fly about. Most manufacturers make airline-approved crates, but check the airlines’ website or the IPATA site for guidelines about how the crate should be built. For dogs, make sure they can sit and stand without their ears touching the roof.
When your pets are out of the crate, always make sure that cats are in a secure enclosed area and that dogs are on a leash. You might just be letting them out for a pee at a rest stop, but if they chase something or get frightened then they may be gone for good, it’s not worth skipping the minor hassle of attaching a leash.
Veterinary – Making sure their vaccines and rabies shots are up-to-date is a no-brainer. You’ll need to plan ahead for office visits if they need any health certificates or medications dispensed. Make sure you have enough medications for your entire trip and store them appropriately. Don’t just plan on filling a script when you arrive. If your pets are travelling to a country with quarantine requirements, you’ll need to plan well in advance to make sure all their treatments, certificates and inspections are done at the right time. Don’t take this lightly; failing to meet quarantine requirements will make your life difficult. For a road trip, have a look for veterinary clinics along your route and for airline trips contact a clinic at your destination and let them know of your travel plans (some countries might require you to nominate a veterinarian before your pets depart).
I hope that helps. Pet travel can be difficult, but it doesn’t have to be; the better prepared you are the better your pets will be for it.
About Patrick Shearer, BVMS, PhD
Patrick Shearer graduated from Murdoch University School of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences in Perth, Western Australia. Dr. Shearer joined Banfield's Applied Research and Knowledge team (BARK) as an associate medical advisor in 2009. He and his wife, Danielle, have two dogs and two cats.
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