Pet travel requires a bit of planning, but for some pet owners, a vacation feels incomplete without a four-legged friend. Preparing for a pet's trip means more than packing her toothbrush, however. Here's how to guarantee great memories.
Before You Go
Ask yourself if your pet is up to the journey. "Most cats are happier at home with a sitter," says Louise Murray, director of medicine at Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital, in New York City. For any pet, the next-best thing to staying home is feeling safe. Greg Kleva, trainer and host of "It's a Dog's Life," on Martha Stewart Living Radio, recommends familiarizing your pet with her carrier, since most transportation requires one. Leave it out and open for a few weeks before you depart.
Just before travel, cut your pet's nails, so they won't catch in the carrier. Make sure she wears her regular identification tag, plus a travel one with contacts at your destination. Since dangling tags can catch in the carrier grate, secure them to your pet's collar with tape. Label the carrier, too.
If you're flying with a small pet, choose an airline that will let her ride in the cabin, under the seat. If your pet is too large, consider driving or leaving her at home. "Cargo is unsafe and uncomfortable, plus frightening for the pet," Murray says. Think of it as a last resort.
Even for in-cabin travel, it's best to exercise your dog for at least 15 minutes before boarding to quell her anxiety (avoid sedatives, which can slow breathing, especially for dogs prone to respiratory issues). Since she'll be confined awhile without breaks, don't feed her for four to six hours before departure. (Do freeze water in the tray inside the crate, so she'll stay hydrated.)
"Trains tend to be a safe and comfortable travel option for short to medium distances," Murray says. Call ahead to make sure the train permits pets. Ask about crating rules, as well as any break time en route. Don't let your pet travel in cargo during the summer, since there may be no air-conditioning, and avoid sedation.
Hit the Road
Car travel is ideal, since you can make frequent stops to exercise your pet (don't forget her leash) and offer water. If she isn't used to driving, take short rides in advance, gradually increasing their length.
Many states require that owners use pet-restraint systems such as harnesses, car seats, and mesh vehicle barriers. Roaming pets can distract drivers and, in an accident, can become flying projectiles.
Some pets are prone to motion sickness. Calming a pet's nerves with toys or treats, cracking a window for fresh air, and taking rest stops every few hours can help. For serious car sickness, your vet may recommend a medication.
Creature Comforts: What to Pack
No well-traveled pet should leave home without these.
1. Sturdy, well-ventilated carrier or crate (labeled with owner's ID)
2. Leash, collar, and permanent and travel ID tags
3. Health certificate from a vet (often required when crossing state lines), medications, medical records, and a vet contact
4. Paperwork for international travel; the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service's website offers guidelines
5. Pet food and bowls
6. Favorite bedding and toys
7. Litter and litter pan for cats, training pads for dogs, if used
8. Grooming supplies, including a dental kit, pet wipes for spot cleaning, and nontoxic pet sunscreen
9. Pet flotation device if you'll be near water
10. Current photo, in case your pet gets lost