‘Tis the season for visiting relatives, and with the human/animal bond being stronger than ever, many people choose to include their pet in their travel plans over the holidays.
Before you head out, here are some Pro Tips for traveling safely with your pet:
Take to the Air
If you choose to fly with your dog, a health certificate will need to be written by the veterinarian within thirty days of travel. Please plan ahead and schedule an appointment because many veterinary centers are extra busy during the holidays. The health certificate’s purpose is to prove that your animal is free of any contagious diseases. Some airlines have regulations regarding rabies vaccine status, so check with your airline to make sure you have all the paperwork in order ahead of time.
Some airlines will allow smaller pets to board with you. It is recommended that you fly with your pet in the cabin as often as possible. It is much less stressful for them, has better temperature and pressure regulation, and allows you to keep a close watch on them while you are flying.
Again, check with the airline to find out what their policy is. If your pet is larger they may be placed in cargo. In this case, make sure your pet has a comfortable, ventilated carrier that is airline approved. Make sure your pet has been out for exercise and has used the bathroom prior to placing him in the carrier. Ensure he has access to water while in the carrier, but food is unnecessary in most circumstances.
Another important thing to realize is that most pets traveling under the plane may sit outside the plane for up to an hour with the luggage before being placed on the plane. Thus, if the temperatures are not comfortable outside during this time, flying with your pet may not be a good option. Most airlines have regulations regarding what ground temperatures must be for pets to fly. This is also breed specific, for example, a husky would be fine outside in the cold for an hour, whereas it would not be a good idea to keep a bulldog outside in a crate in July.
Traveling with Emotional Support Animals
Pet lovers have long recognized the soothing power of our furry friends during times of stress, and travel by airplane can be highly stressful for many. Fortunately, airlines have begun to make it possible for pets to join their owners in the cabin as long as they meet the requirements and have the correct documentation. Please see your airlines’ website for specific requirements. Documentation usually includes (at the minimum) an ESA form, a letter from a licensed mental health professional, proof of proper training, health certificates for your pet, and a recognized diagnosis.
Many people request sedation for pets to travel. The most common sedation prescribed for pet travel is a tranquilizer called acepromazine. Acepromazine is a common tranquilizer that’s safe if used as directed. Your pet should have a full exam before taking this medication. The most common side effect of acepromazine, other than sedation, is a drop in blood pressure. As long as your pet is healthy and you follow proper dosing instructions, any effect on blood pressure will not be noticeable. If tranquilization makes you uncomfortable, you can also give Benadryl.
Benadryl should be given one hour before travel. This will make your pet tired and will hopefully help them rest. Benadryl wears off in about four to six hours. Another class of medication that may be prescribed is benzodiazepines, or valium-like medications. Most sedatives are safe for car travel when you will be keeping a close eye on your pet. However, sedation is not recommended for pets traveling in cargo, because they are not closely supervised.
Whether traveling with your pet by plane or car, many people choose to use a crate or carrier. This is the safest way to travel with your pet for long rides. If pets are not safely restrained, they may become stressed in the car and want to sit on your lap for comfort or can even get under your feet. As you can imagine, this makes for very distracted and dangerous driving.
It is important that the first time you place your pet in his travel carrier is not the first car or plane trip. Your pet needs plenty of time to get used to his crate before the travel date. Introduce your pet slowly to his crate with positive reinforcement (using food or praise) several weeks to months before traveling. Let him get used to it slowly in a positive fashion. Also, don’t forget to make sure your crate is airline approved. Many airlines have specific height, length and width requirements.
Finally, you will need to plan months in advance if you are flying to Hawaii. Hawaii is the only rabies-free state, and the rules to bring any animal into the state are exceptionally stringent. There will be a significant time and monetary investment on your part to be able to take your pet into the state.