The ways in which we treat our pets has changed greatly over the last decade, or so. To most people we know pets are not just pets anymore, but they are considered companions and family members. As such we desire to have them around us as much as possible, and that includes the travels on which we embark.

Therefore, it is of utmost importance that we are aware of our pets’ limitations, as well as of the limitations of travel with pets. It goes without say that we also must consider our pets’ needs for such ventures.

We have put together a basic list that will help you to prepare you and your pet for your next trip. Please be note that these are only suggestions, and you would be best advised to consult with your veterinarian before planning any travel with your furry friends.

Assess your pet’s readiness for travel

The United States Department of Agriculture ("USDA") regulates air transportation of pets and requires that all pets be at least 8 weeks old and weaned at least five days prior to flying in order to be transported by air.

Certain breeds including Boston Terrier, Bulldog, Boxer, Chow Chow, Lhasa Apso, Pekinese, Pug, and Shih Tzu dogs, as well as Himalayan and Persian cats should not be transported by air as these breeds are more susceptible to breathing difficulties caused by the thin air at altitude.

Be honest about your pet’s ability to travel

Make sure that your pet is fit to travel.  Age, pregnancy, illness, recovery from surgery and weather conditions can have an ill affect on your pet.  If you are in doubt, ask your veterinarian.

Be aware of the risks

Regardless of how cautious you and the airline are, there are always significant risks involved anytime you decide to transport your pet by air.  Ascertain all risks before you travel by speaking to your pet’s vet and by calling your airline of choice.

Schedule a visit with your veterinarian

  • Have your pet thoroughly checked before commencing travel.
  • Make sure you have all medical supplies and certifications, such as vaccination papers, etc., current and readily available during travel.
  • Ask your veterinarian about any flea, heartworm, or tick risks for areas you will be traveling to.
  • If your pet becomes carsick or restless when traveling, ask your veterinarian about appropriate medications or treatments.
  • Make certain that all vaccinations are up to date and obtain current health and rabies certificates no more than ten (10) days prior to your departure. You will be required to have these if your pet is traveling by air. And, if your pet does require emergency medical care, these will allow this to take place much more quickly and without the potentially dangerous duplication of vaccinations.

Obtain a secure carrier for your pet

  • You need a sturdy, properly ventilated crate of adequate size for your pet to stand up, turn around, and lie down in comfortably.
  • Print your pet's name and your name, address, and phone number for both your home and destination on the outside of the crate with permanent marker.
  • Never put a leash in the crate as your pet could get tangled in it.
  • Your pet should wear a secure collar at all times with current tags showing proof of rabies vaccination and your name, address, and phone number.
  • Never allow your pet to wear a choke, pinch, or training collar while traveling. Safety collars, which attach with elastic or Velcro, are recommended for cats.

Before you leave

  • Clip your pet's nails and brush your pet to remove all loose hair.
  • If your pet has fleas, obtain and complete the necessary treatment before traveling to avoid infesting its new surroundings.
  • Get a sturdy leash and an extra collar.
  • Get an old blanket or sheet for the back seat of your car or wherever the pet's carrier will be secured.
  • Get old sheets to cover bedding and furniture at your destination, and some of your pet's bedding.
  • Get sufficient amount of your pet’s food, unless you are sure that you can obtain the same brand at your destination.
  • Get a food/water bowl set, and don’t forget your pet’s favorite treats and toys.
  • Get a first aid kit, and have all necessary grooming supplies on hand.
  • Find lodging before your departure to ensure that your pet will be welcome.
  • Exercise your pet before you place it in its carrier or crate so that it may relieve itself.

While you are traveling

  • Keep fresh water available at all times.
  • Avoid sudden changes of diet.
  • Obey all leash laws and make certain to keep your pet on a leash or in a carrier at all times when not securely in a room.
  • Clean up after your pet.
  • While in your room place your pet's food and water bowls in area where they don’t have to be moved; the same applies to litter boxes.
  • Avoid leaving your pet alone in the room. If you must do so, inform the front desk, turn on your radio or television to keep your pet entertained, and make sure your pet is securely crated to avoid the startled pet escaping through an open door when the housekeeper enters or, worse, attacking the housekeeper. Be aware that some hotels will refuse servicing your room while a pet is in the room alone.
  • Always keep your pet leashed in new surroundings, and always clean up after your pet.

Never give your pet sedatives or tranquilizers unless under a veterinarian's prescription. Air travel while under the influence of these medications is especially dangerous as exposure to increased altitude can cause respiratory and cardiovascular problems.

Consider your flight options

We strongly discourage the use of other than nonstop or direct flights, especially for pets that will not be traveling in the cabin.

The USDA prohibits the shipment of animals where temperatures at either the origin or destination are below 45 degrees or above 85 degrees. Many airlines have further temperature-related restrictions.

Allow up to two extra hours for check-in and, if your pet is not traveling with you in the cabin, arrival procedures.

Contact the airline

Each airline has its own rules and regulations, beyond the USDA's minimum requirements.  Airlines may have any of the following transportation options for your pet: In cabin, checked baggage, or as cargo.

Be sure to reconfirm with the airline 24-48 hours before departure that you will be bringing your pet, and be aware that charges for pet transportation will vary by carrier.

If your pet will be traveling in the cabin

Make certain to have a leash or harness with you, as most airports will require that the pet be removed from the carrier at the security-screening checkpoint so that the carrier may be sent through the x-ray machine. Your pet will not be allowed out of the carrier during the flight.

Be prepared

While no one likes to think about it, many pets do become separated while away from home. To increase the chances of a safe and quick return, bring a recent photograph and written description of your pet including call name, breed, sex, age, any microchip or tattoo numbers, and a description of coat, color and markings including any unusual markings, scars, or other identifying marks, as well as weight and height. These will be invaluable if your pet does become separated.