For many pet owners, planning a vacation means making a difficult and emotional decision: Do you leave your pet behind or take it along? Since so many people can't bear the thought of their animals spending a week or more locked inside a kennel or alone in the house with only the occasional visit by a babysitter, more and more owners are choosing to take their pets along for the trip.
Today, pet expert Marc Morrone offers advice on making traveling with pets as easy and comfortable as possible.
No pet that is very old or very young (younger than eight weeks) should travel on an airplane. When making travel plans, be sure to check the airline's policy on transporting animals before buying tickets; each airline has different regulations, and some don't accommodate animals at all.
Check-in time for passengers carrying pets may be earlier than for others, and you may need to carry a health certificate from your veterinarian verifying that your pet has had all required inoculations. If you are traveling internationally, find out in advance if there are quarantine regulations at your destination -- either the airline or consulate for the country you are visiting can provide you with this information.
If your pet is a small dog (under 10 pounds), cat, or ferret, you may be able to take it on board the airplane with you in a carrying case. This is the best and least traumatizing way to fly with a pet. Again, check with the airline for its specific policies on carrying pets onboard. Pet carriers cannot measure more than eight inches high, as they must be able to fit under the seat in front of you.
If your pet is larger, it will have to travel in the plane's baggage compartment. It's very important to buy a crate made specifically for this purpose: It should be sturdy, have a door that locks, and have enough room inside for your pet to move around. There should be ventilation on all sides of the crate so that air can circulate even if it is pushed up against a wall.
Put plenty of shredded newspaper in the bottom of the crate, but no blankets or towels, as these will get bunched up by a nervous animal and can keep it from getting a firm footing on the bottom of the container. Attach a water bottle on the outside of the container so that airline personnel can refill it without opening the cage in the case of unexpected delays.
Be sure to mark the cage on all sides with the words "Live Animal" and arrows indicating the upright position. It's even a good idea to label the cage with a photo of your pet, along with his name, your name, and your contact information (of course, this information should also be on the pet's collar). This not only helps identify the animal in case of a mix-up, but it may also encourage handlers to take a more gentle and caring approach to your pet.
Unless your vet specifically recommends it, tranquilizing your pet for travel is not advisable. Marc feels that an animal is better off in an unfamiliar situation if it has all of his faculties about it and can balance and maintain equilibrium when being moved about. In addition, the increased altitude can create respiratory and cardiovascular difficulties in some sedated animals, so it's best to avoid this practice.
Be aware also that some pug-nosed dogs and cats will have difficulty breathing at high altitudes, so always check with your vet before flying. Finally, allow your pet some time to get used to its crate or carrying case before the trip -- try putting it inside for up to a couple of hours a day for a week or so before traveling.
Nearly all pet owners take their pets with them in the car at some point -- whether it's for the occasional visit to the vet or for a long car trip. Allowing an animal to ride unrestrained is tempting, but not advisable -- if you stop short it could be disastrous for your pet.
A better option is to put a harness on your pet, and attach the harness to a seatbelt. Harnesses are made for animals of all sizes -- from large dogs to ferrets -- and are a good choice for a short trip because the animal has some freedom of movement but is still secure. For a longer trip, a crate is a better solution. There are models available with food and water containers built-in, and, for cats and ferrets, small, corner-shaped litter boxes. The crate can be secured to a seat with a seatbelt.
Good air circulation is essential for pets in the car, but since you don't want your dog riding with its head out the window, you might consider installing a car-window vent guard that allows air in but physically blocks the opening.
Never leave your pet unattended in a car, even with windows cracked -- especially if the day is warm. Even on a seemingly mild day, with temperatures in the 70s for example, heat can build up in the car and harm or even kill your pet. Ferrets, especially, cannot tolerate temperatures above 75 degrees.
Always make sure your pet is wearing proper identification and that you travel with an updated copy of his medical records. Keep in mind that ferrets are banned in some places, including California, Hawaii, New York City, and Washington, D.C., and if you're traveling to these places, you'll need proof that the animal belongs to you, as well as evidence of your current address and your pet's health.
If your pet is sick, very young or old, or high-strung, it's best to avoid travels altogether -- both you and your pet will be happier if you leave it in the care of a friend or reliable boarding facility.
During this segment, we used Doskocil animal and travel crates, as well as Four Paws dog harness. Also seen were Marshall harness-and-lead set (for ferrets and small animals), Marshall coupler (to accompany harness), Oster I.D. tag and reflector, and SPOT backseat rider net and car-window vent guard.
Marc Morrone, pet expert
Parrots of the World