Traveling with Pets

Martha Stewart Living, May 1999

For those who really bond with their pets, the prospect of a week, or even a weekend, without their beloved is a mixed joy. But these days, the family pet doesn't have to stay home. There are several guidebooks that list the hotels and motels that accept pets (between 15 percent and 20 percent of lodging facilities do), and there are even travel agencies that specialize in harmonious pet-owner-and-pet trips.

Among pets, dogs are probably the most frequent travelers; they often enhance a trip, providing a different perspective on new places and easy introductions to locals who are out with their dogs. But lately, cats, parakeets, hamsters, and even fish have been spotted in hotels, airports, and train stations making the journey with their owners. These animals aren't likely to tag along on sightseeing vacations, but they can travel comfortably when their owners move, rent a summerhouse, or spend weekends in a second home.

When planning a trip with your pet, it's important to anticipate the stresses of the journey. Pets experience a change of setting differently than people. Cats in particular are creatures of habit; they like things to stay the same: same house, same routine, same people. Since dogs were originally pack animals, they form strong social bonds; they don't mind traveling as long as they're with their owners.

Of course, traveling with pets, like traveling with children, imposes certain limitations. Not only are pets forbidden in American restaurants; they're also not welcome in many art galleries, museums, and stores. Travel plans can suddenly be disrupted; if the weather is much colder or much hotter than expected, for example, a plane won't carry a pet in the baggage compartment. Also, your pet has to be fully housebroken to travel.

If you do decide to take your pet on a trip, make the new surroundings familiar: Bring along a favorite toy, snacks, its regular dish and food, a leash or collar, and anything else that will remind your pet of its usual routine. With more reminders of home, it will feel like it never left.

Before You Go
The ASPCA suggests taking your pet to the veterinarian for a checkup a week before your trip and packing an up-to-date record of vaccinations. Four hours before the trip, give your pet food and water. Just before you leave, take your dog for a walk, and offer your cat some fresh litter.

Before traveling overseas, find out if you'll need any international health documents or permits for the country you are entering; also check quarantine regulations.

Packing Your Pet
For many people the most difficult part of the trip is getting their pets into the carrying crates or bags Some cat owners find it easiest to prop the crate up on end and lower their cat, hind legs first, into it. Reluctant or excitable dogs may need a snack or toy to lure them into a crate. If you have space in your house, leave the carrier sitting out all the time so it will feel more familiar, and less frightening, to your pet.

Write the words "Live Animal" in large letters on top of the crate and on all sides. Use arrows to indicate the upright position. Also write the name, address, and phone number of the destination, and whether the pet is traveling with you or being picked up by someone else.

For long flights, attach a bag of food to the top of the crate if it's going in cargo, or in your carry-on bag if it's going in the cabin. Do not tranquilize your pets.

 Car Travel
Before a car trip, take some time to prepare your cat or dog for the experience. Almost all cats should stay in crates or soft-sided bags when they travel; cats are easily spooked and are capable of leaping out the window of a moving car. Dogs that are relatively calm can travel in the backseat, but those that are excitable should also be in crates. Make sure your pet fits comfortably in the crate that will be used on the trip -- it should have room to stand up and to turn around. Then take it for a trial run, perhaps a drive of an hour or so, to check that all is well. If any problems occur, like car sickness, call the veterinarian to see if medication will help

A big part of making pets comfortable on trips has to do with knowing their idiosyncrasies. Some cats seem to accept traveling, but only if the owners treat them just so. The way their cages are placed in the car can get a good or bad response; if the music in the backseat is too loud, they will howl, as they may if there isn't a towel over the carrier.

Air Travel
Always follow the airline regulations, because most of them exist to assure safety. Airlines have specific rules on carrying cases; the types they approve can be found at pet-supply stores. Before you make your reservations, find out what the rules for your airline are. Most will allow a small dog or cat in the cabin if its carrying case fits under a seat. Airlines will not allow pets in cargo if the temperature anywhere that the plane will touch down is colder than 45 degrees, or hotter than 85 degrees. Check with your carrier; the regulations on temperature limits vary. If you're traveling to a hot-climate destination, fly at night. Your chances of a smooth trip are higher if you book a nonstop flight.



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