Travel Safely with Your Pet
No matter how or where you're traveling, the first rule of thumb is always this: Unless your dog or cat can say "Hi, my name is FiFi and my phone number is..." make sure your pet has as much identification as possible! Every day, we hear from people who never dreamed their pet would get lost, and they did not have an ID tag or microchip. If FiFi becomes separated from you while you are on the road, it's even less likely you'll be able to find her. This makes proper identification your only chance of being reunited.
- Make sure to have ID tags on your pet's collar and, if at all possible, list your cell phone number on them. This way, if your pet gets lost, you can be reached wherever you are.
- Microchip your pet. Collars can slip off, and tags can and do break off collars, especially if your pet escapes through a narrow opening. Microchips are forever and foolproof.
- After your pet has a microchip, send in the registration paperwork to make sure your contact information will be in the database! That may sound like an obvious tip, but you'd be surprised how many people have a microchip placed in their pet and then forget to register their microchip. Don't put it off another day—do it now!
- Don't forget to label your pet's carrier prominently with your name, address and phone number.
If you're planning an airplane trip with your pet, keep in mind that some airlines don't allow animals at all, while some only allow pets to travel during certain months, especially if your pet must travel in the cargo container of the plane. These rules are in place for your pet's safety. In the hottest or coldest months of the year, the cargo hold could be a deadly place for living things.
If you have a very small dog or a cat, some airlines will allow you to bring him or her onboard with you to be stowed under your seat in a special soft-sided carrier. Most airlines only allow a few pets onboard at a time, though, so reserve well in advance.
Although air travel for pets is regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the International Air Transport Association, each airline also has its own rules and regulations to follow. Most will not allow pets that are under eight weeks of age to travel, vicious pets or sick pets. Check with your airline to learn its pet travel policies.
Remember, airline travel for pets is never 100 percent safe, especially for those that are checked as baggage. Many animal welfare organizations, including the ASPCA and Humane Society of the United States recommend you don't fly with your pet on a commercial airline flight unless he or she is small enough to accompany you onboard.
If you must fly and place your pet in the cargo hold, consider the following 10 tips to make your pet's trip is as safe as possible
- Consider your flight schedule and any time your pet might be outside being moved in and out of the plane. If you are flying during the winter or summer, schedule flights during the mildest time of the day. In summer, early morning flights are best. In winter, fly during the warmest part of the day and avoid evening and overnight flights. Choose the shortest flight possible.
- Book a direct flight with no layovers or transfers to reduce the chance of your pet being lost or exposed to harsh conditions on the tarmac.
- When you board the plane, let the cabin crew know that you have a pet traveling in cargo. Ask them to radio down to the loading crew to check that your pet has made it onto the plane. Another reason to notify the cabin crew is that the pilot may be able to control the temperature in the cargo hold to make your pet more comfortable. Don't be afraid to speak up.
- Your pet's crate should meet airline requirements and be clearly labeled with the words "LIVE ANIMAL" with an arrow pointing up. Don't lock the cage in a way that would prevent a crew member from opening it in case of emergency; use a plastic luggage tie to securely fasten the crate door closed so the crate can't open accidentally during transport.
- Don't feed your pet within three hours of the flight. Make sure to freeze water in the crate's water dish beforehand and place it in the crate right before you depart. That way, the water will not slosh out of the dish, but will slowly melt over the duration of the flight, giving your pet a constant supply of fresh water.
- Never sedate your pet before a flight without first consulting your vet. While flying can be stressful for pets—just like humans—others will be fine and sleep through the flight naturally.
- Schedule a checkup with your vet to make sure all shots are up-to-date. Ask your vet to issue a health certificate dated within 10 days of departure, and bring it to the airport in your carry-on along with certificates of vaccination.
- Be sure to remove your pet's leash so it can't become tangled in the crate and choke. Also, trim your pet's claws to keep them from getting caught in the crate.
- Pack something soft in the crate with your scent on it, such as a T-shirt you've worn for a few hours. This can be very reassuring to your pet during during the hours of loud noises and bumping.
- Always travel with a photo of your pet in case he or she becomes lost or you need to identify him or her as yours.
Once you arrive at your destination, here are some other tips for enjoying your stay with your pet.
- Try not to leave pets alone in your hotel room, even if the hotel allows it. No, they won't make a long distance call home that will show up on your bill. But if your pet gets nervous and agitated and starts to bark or cry, a well-meaning hotel staffer may enter the room to offer comfort. An open door could give your pet the opportunity to escape. If you do need to leave your pet unattended, most cities have doggy daycare services to watch over pets. Ask the hotel to help you locate one.
- Never leave any pet unattended in a car, even for a short time. If you think it's safe because your car is in the shade, think again. Shade is only temporary! Plus, someone might break into your car to steal something—even your pet. No amount of unsupervised time in the car is ever safe.
- Research the location of emergency vet clinics in your destination city before you leave for your trip and bring the information with you in an easily accessible place such as your carry-on luggage.
- Travel with a copy of your pet's vaccination records. Some daycare services and emergency medical care require that information.
- During car trips, make sure your pet is properly restrained in a carrier or with a harness.