For instance, are you carrying the proper identification?
Small dog peering over stack of suitcases
Credit: Diane Fields

Our pets have become part of the family. For some, this means that the dog gets to travel to visit other family members during the holiday season. "And it can be very stressful for the animals," says Dr. Rhonda Smith, veterinarian and co-owner of Emerald Animal Hospital in Cleveland and Sandstone Animal Hospital in Berea, Ohio. Traveling with pets can be tricky, and you want to make sure that your animals are comfortable and safe for the entire trip. Planning ahead of time will make all the difference.


Before you put your pet in the car or on a plane, make sure that your pet has the necessary identification in case he or she should become lost. "Sometimes animals will get spooked in an unfamiliar environment and run off," Dr. Smith says. "If that happens, a microchip means that a vet or animal rescue will be able to scan for your information to contact you." In addition to microchipping, a collar also provides necessary ID of your pet. Label the carrier too. The ASPCA recommends labeling the carrier with "Live Animal" and including your name, pet's photo and cell phone information if placing the animal in the cargo area of a plane.


For some types of travel, proof of health may be required. "Have their vaccinations up to date. You might need a health certificate to travel out of state or to fly, and you'll need to have it at least 10 days before departure," Dr. Smith says. If traveling out of the country, check with the destination country to see if they have other requirements for animals before you book that flight. Up-to-date vaccinations will also mean that your pet will be less likely to pick up an illness while on your trip.


When traveling by car, you'll want to ensure that your animal is secured within the vehicle. "Have the proper carrier if bringing your cat. Dogs can go in carriers or be secured with seat belts that connect to their harnesses," Dr. Smith says. "They shouldn't be in the front seat to protect them from getting hit by an air bag if you were to get into an accident." You'll also want to prepare the animal ahead of time for a long car ride by introducing them to the vehicle and helping them to get used to riding around in it for shorter trips. According to the ASPCA, you might also need to bring proof of rabies vaccine so make sure your pet's vaccinations are up to date and bring along all of that information, whether traveling by car or by plane.

If traveling by plane, you should purchase a USDA-approved shipping crate. Get one that is large enough for your pet to move around and stand up. According to the ASPCA, you should also include some soft bedding or paper in case your pet has an accident. You can secure a bag of food in the crate to allow airline personnel to feed your pet if there's a layover. The ASPCA also recommends that the crate's door be closed but not locked, in case of an emergency. Pack other necessary items like a leash, medications and travel documents.

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Dr. Smith recommends putting in items that smell like home, such as blankets or toys. Whatever you do, do not use a sedative. "Sedatives can be dangerous. If your pet is in the cargo of a plane and sedated, the animal could suffer from temperature changes within the cargo hold or have trouble breathing." Using thunder shirts, which are special shirts that hug an animal, can also produce a calming effect.


Because the cargo hold does undergo extreme temperature changes, you should book a direct flight. Animals will sometimes be left outside during layovers, which can be dangerous in extreme weather. "Pick midday flights to avoid majority of the extreme temperatures," Dr. Smith says. Plus, midday is warmer in the winter. Another reason to book a direct flight is to make sure your pet isn't mishandled by airline personnel during a layover.


Traveling by car means that you can set up rest breaks during the trip. "You'll want to stop a few times throughout the trip for bathroom breaks and food and water," says Dr. Smith. "Water is especially important because dehydration can cause kidney failure." Dogs might also want to work off some pent-up energy, and a rest break can be the perfect opportunity to get exercise during a long car ride.If you stop at a rest area or park, take your dog for a short walk or run.


Traveling in the cargo hold of a plane can be dangerous for animals, so let airline personnel know that you have a live animal on board and want to make sure the animal is safe and treated properly. "More deaths and injuries can occur in the cargo hold than they would in the cabin of an airplane," says Dr. Smith. "So telling everyone at the airline that you have an animal and will do everything possible to keep your animal safe will go a long way." In some cases, it might even be necessary to get off the plane with your animal, especially if you feel uncomfortable about the care your pet is receiving.

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