For many people, the holiday season can mean several hours spent in the car or the sky as you travel to distant relatives. While the celebrating is usually worth the time spent in transit, it is important to question if you should subject your pets to the stress of long car/plane rides. We normally recommend boarding your pets if you have to leave town, but it is possible to travel safely with your furry companions. There is a more extensive guide to traveling in our previous blogpost, Getting Your Pet Ready for Travel, but we’ve included some of the key points here, as well as new information on boarding pets.
Traveling by Car
- Keep pet confined to a single seat. A pet moving around and constantly exploring the car may cause harm to your pet or distract the driver. It has even been proven that seatbelts/restraints can protect your pet in the case of a car accident.
- NEVER leave your pet alone in a vehicle. Even during the cooler months, a quick stop at the grocery store can turn lethal for any pet left alone in the car. Not only is it impossible to control the temperature, but an unattended pet is also more likely to be kidnapped/stolen.
- Make sure your pet is comfortable by taking frequent pit stops along your journey. Pull over whenever you get the chance for food, water, and bathroom breaks. Having an opportunity to stretch their legs can also keep your pet from feeling restless or hyperactive. A sleepy pet usually creates a peaceful car ride.
- Anticipate your pet’s needs and pack accordingly. This includes bringing all of their food, leashes, toys, and treats, and also making sure that their identification and microchips are up-to-date.
Traveling by Air
- Weigh the risks. It is not recommended to fly with your pets unless there are no other possibilities. For some pets, such as Brachycephalic pets (e.g. English or French bulldogs, Boston terriers, or Pugs),4 flying can be life threatening, as their short heads and muzzles mixed with the change of altitude can leave them vulnerable to oxygen deprivation and stroke.
- Prepare your pet long before flying. This includes updating their identification, securing a USDA approved carrier, and making sure that your pet is accustomed to being inside of it.
- Select the right flight. Ideally, you should pick a direct, non-peak flight. This is more difficult to make happen during the busy, holiday season, so try to secure your tickets as early as possible. Reduced layover time will directly reduce your pet’s stress.
- Check with the airline in advance to see what they require in order for you to fly with your pet. You may have to bring a veterinary health certificate with you to the airport.
Boarding your pet at a local facility is typically the best option for your pet if you are planning to be out of town for a few days.
Your local community of pet owners possess a wealth of information on the different boarding facilities in your area. Be sure to ask your friends, your neighbors, and your veterinarian about any facilities with which they have personal experience, and make a list of referrals. Once you have a few places picked out, schedule a tour of the facility prior to boarding your pet. If your pet has a more nervous temperament, then a loud, open facility with a lot of commotion may not be the ideal place for them. Alternatively, if your pet is very social and needs to interact with other animals, a more private, quiet place could leave them bored and/or anxious. This also gives you the opportunity to assess the quality of the kennel. Trust your senses with this. You want to board your pet in a place with no offensive odors, clean outdoor and indoor areas, and adequate temperature. Responsible kennel owners will be happy to show you where the animals are kept and will be willing to answer your questions about the animals’ routines (how often the facility is cleaned, what times the animals are fed, how often and for how long they are allowed outside).
In order to ease your pet’s transition and minimize anxiety, be sure to bring their bed or some of their favorite toys—familiar things that will remind them of home. It is also imperative to stay happy and positive; offer a quick goodbye, and then be on your way. If your pet senses your sadness and hesitation, they too will feel depressed and anxious. Think of boarding your pet like sending them on their own vacation. It should be a happy experience for them, so treat it as such.
- If traveling by car, take frequent breaks for your pet, keep them restrained within the car, and NEVER leave them unattended.
- It is not recommended to travel by air with pets. If you must, then try to get a direct, non-peak flight to minimize your pet’s time spent in the carrier.
- Ask friends and family for recommendations for boarding facilities.
- Trust your instincts when touring a kennel; if it smells terrible, looks dirty, and is generally secretive, consider looking elsewhere for your pet’s boarding needs.
- When saying goodbye to your pets, keep it short and positive. Pets hate sorrowful partings as much as we do.
- “Travel Safely with Your Pet by Car, Airplane, Ship or Train.” The Humane Society of the United States, www.humanesociety.org/animals/resources/tips/traveling_tips_pets_ships_planes_trains.html?referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2F.
- Jimerson, Doug. “12 Top Tips For Boarding Your Pet.” Better Homes and Gardens, 17 Feb. 2017, www.bhg.com/pets/care/pet-travel/tips-for-boarding-your-pet/.
- Club, American Kennel. “Dog Boarding Tips.” American Kennel Club, www.akc.org/dog-owners/responsible-dog-ownership/boarding-your-dog/.
- “Small Animal Topics Brachycephalic Syndrome.” American College of Veterinary Surgeons. https://www.acvs.org/small-animal/brachycephalic-syndrome.