Perhaps you’re thinking of going away for a long weekend or taking a trip. If so, you may be considering taking your pet along. One question, of course, is whether your should. Although it is natural to think that your cat or dog or other little friend should be by your side whenever you are out of the house for an extended period of time, there are reasons why this might not necessarily be best for her.
For one thing, your pet might simply be happier staying at home. Like many humans, most seem to be creatures of habit who enjoy being in familiar surroundings. Cats, for instance, seem to prefer their everyday home environment. They are less stressed with the “sameness” of a life they are used to. They are happy to sleep on your bed without you as long as their litter boxes are clean and food and water are available.
In fact, while there may be extra costs involved, it may be a better to try and find someone – a friend, family member, or even a professional house-sitter – to look after them while you are away. As with hiring a babysitter, you’ll want to make sure that person is caring and responsible. You don’t want to end up in a situation where your pet or your home are at risk or not getting the attention they deserve because the individual you chose didn’t do what he or she was supposed to do.
Sometime, of course, there is no option but to bring your pet with you. Perhaps you will be overly worried or stressed out about not having your best friend around. Maybe your pet needs extra help because she suffers from an ailment you are particularly knowledgeable about. Or perhaps she need to come with you because you’re heading for what are, hopefully, greener pastures. In fact, data suggests that moving home is the most common reason for traveling with pets.
Whatever the reason, below are a few of our top tips for safe travel:
Travel basics. In planning your journey, you’ll want to consider what modes of transport you’ll be using. Will your pet be traveling initially by car, and then by plane? Will she need to ride on a ferry to reach her final destination? In many cases, any common carriers involved will almost certainly have specific rules and requirements regarding equipment, handling, etc. that you will need to understand and follow.
Car. One key to ensuring your little one reaches her final destination in one piece is to keep her secure and protected, especially if you happen to experience some unwelcome turbulence along the way. The best bet is to transport her in a sturdy crate, which can be belted down or placed on the floorboard in front of a seat. Experience suggests that cats are less stressed on trips when housed in a hard-sided carrier, while dogs – especially those who are crate-trained – are often more relaxed when they are in their “den.”
Sometimes, of course, it may not be possible to use a crate or similar enclosure, either because it won’t fit in your car, for instance, or your pet is too large. In that case, you’ll want to invest in some sort of restraint designed for your pet and your vehicle, most likely a “doggie seat belt.” Keep in mind, however, that that not all seat belt harnesses are the same, and some have not been crash-tested. In deciding which one makes sense, you may want to review the list put together by the Center for Pet Safety.
Airplane. The best way to prepare for such a journey is to contact the airline(s) involved. Each has its own standards and requirements, especially when it comes to the issue of pets being transported in the cargo hold versus those that are permitted to remain in the cabin. Regardless, while it is easy to think that giving your little one something that would help her cope with stress is a good idea, veterinarians generally recommend not sedating a pet prior to boarding, especially if she is down below. Sedatives and tranquilizers can lower your dog’s blood pressure and potentially cause life-threatening issues mid-flight.
Ferry or ship. As with the airlines, each carrier is different; policies vary by company, location, and the length of travel. Some allow dogs, for example, to accompany you around most parts of the vessel, including your stateroom, while others may be much more restrictive about where she may or may not go. Regardless, most require that your little one be secured using a harness or collar affixed to a leash. Needless to say, maintaining control over your pet is important, especially if you must take her to a relief area on an outer deck.
In those instances where your pet is required to remain in the car below deck, you should take some things into consideration. First, you may want to ask if the vessel has a climate-controlled kennel area. In those parts of a ferry or other vessel where cars are parked, the temperature can become too hot for your pet, even if your vehicle’s windows are left open. More often than not, operators require that they be turned off during the trip, so your little one won’t have air conditioning available to keep her cool.
- Microchipping. Ensuring that your pet is microchipped before you head off on your journey is critical. As we discussed in “Keeping Your Pet Safe with Microchipping” microchips are transponders that are inserted under your pet’s skin. They generate a uniquely assigned identification number that makes it easier to reunite you and your little one should you become separated. When your pet is scanned with a specially-designed reader, the resulting ID number can be cross-checked against databases where your contact information is stored.
As always, good planning is essential when traveling, whether on your own or with a pet. It’s one thing to forget something when you stroll out into the neighborhood. But when you are going much farther afoot, perhaps to another region or continent, being prepared is particularly important. To make your trip as safe and enjoyable as possible, try to think of what might go wrong (or right, for that matter).
Of course, you don’t want to forget the basics, which might include rabies certificates, pet passport (if traveling within Europe), food, water, medication, leashes and clean-up supplies. If things turn out to be more challenging than you anticipated, you’ll be happy you did.