15 Tips for Safe Travel with Pets

Dog Staring at Camera Dog Staring at Camera We share so much of our lives with our pets that many of us wouldn't even consider taking a trip without them. But traveling with pets can be challenging and involves a good amount of planning ahead. Everything from choosing the right mode of transportation to deciding where to stay and what to do requires careful consideration. Here are 15 tips that will help ensure fun, safe vacation for the whole family.

1. Make Sure Your Pet is Suited for Travel

The most important factor to consider is whether you'll be able to manage your pet without sacrificing your own enjoyment. According to New York dog trainer Andrea Arden, "That can be a hard assessment for people to make because they're so colored by wanting their pet to be with them or by feeling guilty for leaving them behind." As a general rule, Arden says that if your pet has a temperament where he doesn't adjust quickly to new environments, you're better off leaving him home with a trusted caregiver or boarding him in a good kennel. "It doesn't make sense to bring him since, by the time your pet adjusts, the trip will be over," she says.

2. Choose Your Destination Wisely

Much like traveling with children, some destinations are more appropriate for animals than others. And just because a place is family-friendly, that doesn't mean it's pet-friendly. For instance, most of the national parks ban pets from trails, including those in Yosemite, Yellowstone and Grand Canyon National Parks. (Check nps.gov for guidelines.) Pets are also restricted access to many public beaches, so be sure to do your research. Petfriendlytravel.com is a good place resource for finding beaches and campgrounds where pets are welcome.

Dog on beach Dog on beach 3. Don't Shock Your Pet's System

Part of what makes traveling so great is that it gives us a chance to break out of our routine and explore new places. Animals share that adventurous spirit, but they're also creatures of habit so it's best to avoid bringing them to radically different environments where they're likely to feel overwhelmed. "A trip to Manhattan probably isn't the best vacation spot for a dog that's only ever lived in the suburbs," says Dr. Anne Cloudman of City Veterinary Care in Manhattan. The sights, sounds and smells of the big city can be difficult to adjust to, and your dog may react by either cowering or becoming hyper. Similarly, if your dog's regular regimen amounts to little more than a stroll around the block, it's unwise to take him with you on a strenuous hike.

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4. Keep Strangers at a Safe Distance

It might seem like a fun idea to bring your pet to your family reunion, but it's unlikely that your dog will enjoy catching up with 75 of his long-lost relatives as much as you will. "There's an unrealistic expectation about how our pets are going to feel and behave in social environments," Arden says. "We may be feeling happy and loved, but our animals may be feeling overwhelmed and stressed." In fact, she says she gets the most calls about aggression cases right after the holidays when people have been traveling to visit relatives. It's also important to remember that strangers and small children don't know or understand your dog, so it's up to you to run interference. "If they approach, explain that this is a new place for your pet," Arden says. "Tell them, 'I know you want to say hello, but let's let him take a nap now and you can say hello later.'"

5. Find a Hotel That is Truly Pet Friendly

As more travelers embark on adventures with their pets, the hotel industry has responded by extending their hospitality to our four-legged friends. Some luxury hotels even offer amenities like doggie massages, cozy canine beds and special treats. But keep in mind that just because a hotel allows pets, it doesn't mean it's necessarily pet-friendly. Some hotels charge fees or require a security deposit. Others impose weight limits or breed restrictions. For specific policies at hotels across the country, check out the website petswelcome.com. And since many hotels limit the number of rooms allotted for pets, be sure to call ahead and book your accommodations as far in advance as possible.

Dog at Vet Dog at Vet 6. Visit Your Vet First

It's always a good idea to let your veterinarian know about your trip so you can plan accordingly. "Although fleas and ticks may not be a problem where you live, your pet may be exposed to them while traveling," says Dr. Cloudman. Your vet will be able to advise you about parasite protection and other health considerations that may be different at your destination. If you'll be traveling across state lines, bring along a copy of your pet's rabies vaccination records since some states require this proof at certain crossings. If you'll be flying with your pet, you'll need to get a certificate from your veterinarian stating that the pet is in good health and free from any contagious diseases. Don't assume that you can pick up this document last-minute since your pet may need a physical exam before your vet will sign the certificate.

7. Plan Six Months Ahead for Trips Overseas

If you'll be traveling internationally, keep in mind that each country has its own requirements and restrictions, so be sure to clarify these well in advance of your trip. "I had a woman come in recently who wanted to bring her puppy to Turks and Caicos for the summer," says Dr. Cloudman. "But Turks and Caicos, requires a certain rabies test followed by a three-month waiting period before the animal could enter the country." The U.S. Department of Agriculture lists requirements for most countries on its website, but it's best to check with the individual country's foreign consular office to make sure the information is up-to-date.

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8. Pack for Fido

In addition to health records, take along food, water, bowls, a leash, grooming supplies, a pet first-aid kit and a few favorite toys. Just as you would for yourself, pack any special items that will help keep your animal comfortable and safe in the new environment. For instance, if you'll be traveling to a sunny location and plan to spend time outdoors, Dr. Cloudman suggests outfitting your dog with sunglasses called Doggles that will help protect his eyes from UV rays.

- by Michelle Leifer

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