If it seems like there are more pets lounging in the lobbies of hotels, frolicking on the beach, or sitting at their owners’ feet on flights than ever before, you’re not imagining things. It is becoming easier to travel with companion animals as more businesses reach out to the 68 percent of U.S. households (84.6 million families) that own a pet.
The number of Americans traveling with pets has nearly doubled in the past ten years, according to the 2017–2018 National Pet Owners Survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association. About 37 percent of U.S. pet owners traveled more than 50 miles with their four-legged friends last year, up from 19 percent a decade ago.
If you’re considering traveling with your furry companions, here’s the ultimate guide to everything you need to know each step of the way.
Preparing Pets for Travel
Families travel with pets for many reasons. Sometimes it’s because they’re moving to a new town. For others, it wouldn’t be a family vacation with the entire family. Whatever your reason for traveling with your animals, it’s sure to go smoother with a little preparation.
- Schedule a pre-trip checkup. Make sure your pet is up to date on vaccinations, medications, and flea prevention. See your veterinarian within 10 days of departure to confirm that your pet is healthy enough to travel and get a health certificate. Even if your travel plans don’t specifically require a health certificate, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
- Discuss sedation with your veterinarian. Most pets travel fine without any medication, but if you believe a sedative would make your pet more comfortable on a long trip, be sure to discuss it with your veterinarian first. While some animals benefit from sedatives, it can alter heart and breathing rates and lead to injuries if their balance is impaired. Be sure to weigh the pros and cons before making a decision. Sedatives should be a last resort.
- Research the nearest vet or animal hospital where you’ll be traveling. Write it down ahead of time and keep it with your other papers.
- Get your pet used to the crate or carrier. If you’re going to use a carrier, leave it around the house and let your pet explore the inside. Put treats in it. That way your pet will accept it as a safe, comfortable space before you leave on that 8-hour flight.
- Rehearse with short drives. The best way to have a good experience traveling with pets is to acclimate them ahead of time. Start with short drives and then build up the time gradually. Let them get used to the motion of the vehicle.
- Visit the airport or terminal. Before traveling by air, rail, or bus, it’s a good idea to visit the airport or terminal and walk your pet around. Let them get used to the sights, sounds, and smells. Reward your pet and speak soothingly.
- Go for a brisk walk before boarding. On the day of travel, let your pet burn off some energy by walking or running around before you board the plane or start the car. Many airports have “pet relief stations” for potty breaks, but a quick round of exercise outside might be even better. If your dog is tired, he’ll be more likely to settle down quickly once the trip begins.
- Know your pet’s temperament. Not all pets enjoy travel. If you’re going on vacation and aren’t likely to be able to spend a lot of time with your dog, he might be happier at home than stuck in a crate at the hotel. The Humane Society notes that as a rule, cats are almost always better off in their own home. Of course, if you’re relocating you should definitely bring your pet. But for vacations and recreational trips, use your judgment.
What to Pack for Your Pet
While you’re packing your own bags, it’s a good idea to pack a travel kit for your pet as well. Here are some of the essentials you should bring with you.
- Gather your pet’s records. You should have a file containing vaccination records, vet contact info, and a recent photograph of your pet.
- Make sure your pet has a collar and ID tag. Before traveling, make sure your pet is microchipped and has an ID tag with a number where you can be reached while in transit. (Your home phone won’t be much use if you’re two states away.) Consider getting or making a temporary travel tag with your cell phone and destination details.
- Bring at least 3 days’ worth of your pet’s regular food. Travel is not a time to change your pet’s diet. Bring enough of your pet’s food to tide you over until you can buy more. On the day of travel, you’ll want to feed a light meal three or four hours before departure. During your trip, keep feeding as consistent as possible. Avoid feeding your pet in a moving vehicle.
- Consider giving your pet bottled water. Drinking water from an area your pet isn’t used to could result in digestive discomfort. Especially if your animal has a sensitive stomach, bottled water is the way to go.
- Other things you might want to bring include:
- A small collapsible bowl
- Leash and harness
- Waste scoop and plastic bags
- Medications and first aid items
- Tweezers – for tick removal if you’re traveling to an outdoorsy area
- Low-sodium chicken broth – If your pup was sick during the ride or seems a little under the weather, add some low-sodium chicken broth to their water. It helps them feel better and is full of nutrients.
- A favorite soft toy, blanket, or pillow
- Treats and dental chews
- Grooming supplies
- A pet flotation vest – if you’re going to be swimming or going on a boat
- A dryer sheet – to eliminate static electricity from your pet’s fur. This is especially helpful if you have a fluffy animal and you’re traveling by plane or going to an area with high altitude, low humidity, or cold weather.
- A squeegee – for removing pet hair from car seats or furniture
- Windex wipes – to clean nose prints off windows
- Baking soda – If your pup has an accident (which can happen to even well-trained dogs in a new environment), it’s a cheap, easy way to get stains and smells out of carpet.
Travel by Car
Road trips are a great way to travel with your pet, but it can be risky to leave animals loose in the vehicle. Animals should never ride on the driver’s lap or by their feet. And while television and movies often show gleeful dogs with their heads out the window, the ASPCA advises against it. Here are some tips to hit the road safely with your furry friends.
- Keep pets in the back seat. For your safety and theirs, pets should ride in the back seat. An AAA/Kurgo survey found that 65 percent of dog owners admit to engaging in at least one potentially distracting activity while driving with their dog. In many cases, it was using hands or arms to restrict the dog’s movement between the front and back seats. Looking away from the road for only two seconds doubles your risk of being in a crash. Also, similar to a young child, the front airbag system in a vehicle can be deadly to a dog sitting in the front seat during a crash.
- Use a carrier or restraint. The safest way for pets to travel in the car is in a crate that has been secured to keep it from shifting or bouncing around. Carriers can be hard or soft-sided, but AAA recommends that pet owners restrain their pet inside the vehicle not only to avoid distraction, but to protect the animal and other passengers in a crash. An unrestrained 10-pound dog in a crash at 50 mph will exert roughly 500 pounds of force, while an unrestrained 80-pound dog in a crash at only 30 mph will exert approximately 2,400 pounds of force.
- Keep their heads inside! Pups who are allowed to stick their heads out the window can be injured by road debris or get sick from cold air rushing into their lungs. Never transport a pet in the open bed of a pickup truck.
- Gadgets can make the ride more comfortable. There are more products than ever to make travel safe and fun for you and your pet. Foam or inflatable seat extenders fill the gaps in your back seat to create a continuous flat surface. Nets or barriers can block access between the front and back seats. Booster seats let small pets see out the window, which can ease motion sickness. Travel harnesses or short leashes can clip into your existing seat belt system. Calming vests, pheromone collars, and lavender oil can help soothe anxious pets.
- Never ever leave a pet alone in a parked car. Even if you’ve cracked the windows, the temperature in cars can soar On a 70-degree day, a car’s interior can climb to 90 degrees. On an 85-degree day, it takes only 10 minutes for a car’s interior to top 100 degrees. Twenty-seven states have laws that either prohibit confining animals in cars or provide legal protection for those who act to rescue a distressed animal from a vehicle.
- Take frequent breaks. It’s a good idea to stop every 2 hours or so to let your pet take care of business. You can find grassy patches at any strip mall, but it’s better to seek out rest areas with pet zones. After your dog lifts his leg, you can play tug or do a quick obedience training session to burn energy and fend off boredom. Dog parks are increasingly common across the country. If you can find one, great. But unless you’re in a securely fenced area, never let your dog off the leash while traveling.
- Use the buddy system, if possible. Traveling with pets is a lot easier if you can share the driving and pet caretaking duties with a friend or family member. Drivers are less likely to be distracted by four-legged passengers if someone else is able to tend to the animal’s needs on the road. And it’s a lot easier to get food or use the facilities at rest stops if you have someone you trust to keep an eye on your furry friend.
- Most car rental agencies are pet-friendly. Talk to the rental company directly about their pet policy before the trip. You may need to sign an agreement or pay a small deposit upfront. Most companies require pets to be restrained while riding in rental cars. Be sure to return the car clean with no pet hair on the seats to avoid cleaning fees. (A squeegee is great for this!) Here are the policies of most major companies:
Travel by Plane
Air travel can be risky for pets, so it’s important to weigh your options before deciding to fly. If you’re going to fly with your pet, find out whether they can travel in the cabin with you. Most airlines allow cats or small dogs in carriers in the cabin for an additional fee, but you must call the airline well in advance to book your pup’s spot and make sure there is room for him. There are limits to the size and the total number of animals allowed on any given flight, and usually only one pet per passenger is allowed.
Here are the pet policies of most major airlines:
- Alaska Airlines: Alaska Air Pet Travel Program
- Allegiant Air: Allegiant Pet Travel Program
- American Airlines: American Airlines Pet Travel Policies
- Delta Air Lines: Delta Pet Policy and Options
- Frontier Airlines: Frontier Pet Travel Policy
- Hawaiian Airlines: Hawaiian Airlines Animal Travel Policies
- JetBlue: JetPaws Program
- Southwest Airlines: Southwest Pet Policy and Pet Reservations
- Spirit Airlines: Spirit Rules for Pets Onboard
- United Airlines: United Airlines Travel for Animals
- Virgin Atlantic: Virgin Atlantic Flying Paws Program
When booking your pet’s flight, the Humane Society recommends that you ask the following questions:
- Will the airline allow you to take your cat or small dog in the cabin with you?
- Does the airline have any special pet health and immunization requirements?
- Does the airline require a specific type of carrier? Most airlines will accept either hard-sided carriers or soft-sided carriers (which may be more comfortable for your pet), but only certain brands of soft-sided carriers are acceptable to certain airlines.
- If you can’t take your pet in the cabin, does the airline have any restrictions on transporting your pet in the cargo hold?
Here are some other things to consider before flying:
- Does your pet have a ‘pushed-in’ face? Be careful flying with animals like bulldogs, pugs, Pekingese dogs, and Persian cats that have wrinkly, smushy faces (the medical term is “brachycephalic”). These pets have shorter nasal passages that leave them especially vulnerable to oxygen deprivation and heat stroke. Check with your veterinarian before flying in the cabin of a plane. These pets should not travel in cargo holds.
- Pay attention to size limits for in-cabin travel. The size of your dog is the most important factor in whether you can bring him in-cabin with you. Airlines have strict regulations when it comes to the size of pet carriers. They must be able to fit underneath the seat in front of you (therapy or service dogs are an exception). While each airline varies slightly, most require the carrier to be between 16 and 19 inches long or less, and about 10 inches tall. Don’t try to make your pup fit in a carrier that is too small for him. Typically dogs around 15 pounds or less can fit comfortably in airline-approved pet carriers.
- Be prepared to pay extra fees. Most airlines charge between $100–$150 per pet for a one-way flight. This is usually waived for service dogs and emotional support animals, but airlines have been cracking down recently as a result of rampant abuse of these provisions.
- Rules regarding emotional support animals are changing. Did you hear about the woman who tried to board a United Airlines flight with an “emotional support peacock”? How about the man mauled in-flight by another passenger’s 70-pound emotional support dog? Delta announced in January that it was cracking down on rampant abuse of emotional support animal waivers with the following statement: “Customers have attempted to fly with comfort turkeys, gliding possums known as sugar gliders, snakes, spiders and more. Ignoring the true intent of existing rules governing the transport of service and support animals can be a disservice to customers who have real and documented needs.”
If you are able to take your pet in the cabin with you:
- Remember that your pet carrier is now your carry-on. That means you can only bring one other personal item in the cabin and you will have to stow it overhead to keep your pet by your feet. Consider getting a carrier with extra pockets for your book, phone, or boarding pass.
- Plan for chilly conditions on board. Some planes have floor air conditioners, which can make your pet cold during the flight. You can prepare for this by lining his carrier with a favorite blankie or one of your T-shirts. The familiar scent will be comforting and it will enable him to burrow for warmth.
- Don’t be alarmed if your pet doesn’t want to eat, drink, or play with toys during the flight. Even the calmest of animals can get anxious on a plane. Just like humans, nervous pets may not be interested in food or toys. Don’t push it. Most animals are just fine without food or water for a few hours.
While most animals that travel in the cargo area of airplanes are fine, there are instances each year of animals that are lost, injured, or killed on commercial flights. Since January 2015, the Department of Transportation has required every airline to report the loss, injury or death of a companion animal during transport. Check the airline’s performance record before choosing to fly your pet in a cargo hold.
If your pet must travel in the cargo hold, here are some tips for a safer and more comfortable trip:
- Use direct flights. This will prevent mistakes related to airline transfers, delays, or missed connections.
- Stay with your pet as long as possible. Ask the airline if you can watch your pet being loaded into the cargo hold.
- Notify the captain and flight attendants that your pet is traveling in the cargo hold. Tell every airline employee and flight crew member that you interact with that you have a pet traveling with you. Sometimes airline staff will seek out pet owners and let them know that their pets have been loaded safely onboard, but this is not always the case. If you haven’t already been notified before takeoff, don’t be afraid to ask the airline staff to confirm your pet’s whereabouts.
- Choose flight times with the mildest weather extremes. If you’re traveling in the summer, early morning or late evening flights are best. In the winter, afternoon flights are better.
- Make sure your pet and its carrier are both labeled. Your pet’s collar should have a permanent ID with your name, home address, and phone number, as well as a temporary travel ID with an address and phone number where you can be reached while traveling. The carrier should be clearly labeled with your name, permanent address, phone number, final destination, and where you or a contact person can be reached as soon as the flight arrives.
- Clip your pet’s nails before travel. Make sure that your pet’s nails have been trimmed so they don’t get hooked on the carrier’s door, holes, and other crevices.
- Take away your pet’s food 3 to 4 hours before the trip. A full stomach may make your pet uncomfortable during the flight. However, you can give them small amounts of water. If possible, put ice cubes in the water cup attached to the inside of your pet’s carrier. This is less likely to spill. Be sure to offer your pet water immediately when you arrive at your destination.
- Avoid peak travel days. Try not to fly with your pet during busy travel times such as holidays and the summer. Your pet is more likely to undergo rough handling during hectic travel periods.
- Carry a recent photo of your pet. If your pet is lost during the trip, a photograph will make it much easier for airline employees to search effectively.
- Check your pet as soon as you arrive at your destination. When you’re done kissing and snuggling your pal, do a quick examination. If anything seems wrong, take him to a veterinarian immediately. Get the results of the examination in writing, including the date and time.
- See something, say something. Don’t hesitate to speak up if you witness anyone mishandling an animal – either yours or someone else’s. Ask to speak with an airport or airline official immediately and report the incident both in person and in writing.
Look for pet relief stations in each terminal. As of August 2016, all major airports that service more than 10,000 passengers a year are required by federal law to have at least one “relief area” for service dogs inside each terminal. Usually, it is only a small patch of fake grass, but some are quite elaborate. Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport not only offers pet areas, but also a 1,000-square-foot dog park to accommodate pets and service dogs. Check out the American Kennel Club’s list of Top 10 Dog-Friendly Airports in the U.S.
Plan ahead for security screening. Animals are supposed to be taken out of their carriers when going through security. That might not be a big deal for dog owners, but it could pose a significant challenge for travelers with cats, birds, or other types of animals When going through security, be sure you have a harness or other method of restraining your pet while its carrier is being X-rayed. Alternatively, you can request a secondary screening, but expect to be patted down and wait longer.
Look up your destination’s pet travel rules well before you travel. Planning an international trip with pets is challenging, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture has taken some of the mystery out of researching health requirements and quarantine rules with this useful search tool that includes more than 135 countries.
Call the appropriate embassy in Washington, DC to confirm the entry requirements for the country you are visiting. Some embassies will provide forms printed in English and in the host language for your veterinarian to complete. Note that you may not be able to take your pet everywhere. Some countries do not allow importation of animals or have very long quarantine requirements.
Schedule a timely visit with your veterinarian. No matter where you go, you will likely need to see your veterinarian a certain number of days before travel for shots and a health certificate. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend talking to your vet about your travel plans as early as possible. Pay attention to the timelines, so your health certificate is valid for the days of travel. Even though they are not always required, it is recommended that you include shots for distemper and hepatitis.
Pet Passports are not available outside of the EU at this time. The United Kingdom pioneered a pet passport program that allows animals to travel freely between EU member countries without quarantine. Pet Passports usually include multiple forms, certification of rabies vaccination, and the animal’s microchip or tattoo number. Unfortunately, you cannot obtain a pet passport in the U.S. at this time, but you might be able to get one if your travels take you to Europe.
Travel by Bus
Greyhound is strict about the animals it allows on its buses. With the exception of certified service dogs, animals are not allowed on any Greyhound buses, either in the cabin or below the bus in the storage compartments. Emotional support dogs are not permitted.
Travel by Train
Amtrak began allowing pets on board in October 2015. The Amtrak Pet Policy now allows pets up to 20 pounds on most routes up to seven hours (though they must be in a pet carrier and booked only in coach class).
There are nearly 30 commuter rail systems serving metropolitan areas across the country. Most allow pets in carriers or leashed animals, but it’s a good idea to check before traveling.
Many trains in European countries allow pets. Generally, it’s the passengers’ responsibility to feed and exercise their pets at station stops.
Travel by Ship
With the exception of assistance dogs, animals are not welcome on the overwhelming majority of cruise lines. Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 permits pets in private cabins on transatlantic crossings, but most other ships either ban pets entirely or confine them to kennels.
Contact your cruise line in advance to find out its policies and which of its ships have kennel facilities. If you must use the ship’s kennel, make sure it is protected from the elements and check on your pet frequently.
How to Handle Pet Emergencies Away from Home
You always hope for the best when planning a trip, but emergencies can happen. What do you do if something happens to your pet when you’re away from home? We have some tips.
- Make sure your pet’s identification is up to date. Ensure your dog or cat’s identification tag and microchip details are up-to-date.
- Take photos of your pet and store them in your wallet and mobile phone.
- Know where to go. Before you leave home, look up the address and phone number (both daytime and after hours) of the veterinarian or animal hospital nearest your destination. Keep this with your pet’s health records.
- Call ahead before going to the emergency vet. Make a quick call before you head to the clinic. Describe the problem and ask them for the best way to get there.
- Have a transportation plan. If you don’t have your own car or a rental, plan for how you would transport your animal to the veterinarian. Know what your options are for taxis or public transport.
- Be prepared for payment. Know how you would cover the cost of emergency treatment. If you don’t have sufficient savings to deal with an unexpected bill, consider getting pet insurance.
- Share your pet’s health history. Bring your health and vaccination records with you. Tell anyone who is caring for your pet about any medications he takes or conditions he has.
- If your pet gets lost, the sooner you take action, the better. Lost animals can travel up to 3 miles per hour. Some animals go in a straight line, but more commonly, they will circle or do a pattern of run/hide, run/hide until they find a safe spot to hole up. Pets who jump out of cars or get lost while traveling generally stay close to the area where they last saw their owners, waiting to be found. Ask people around you to help you search. If you haven’t found the pet within a few hours, make fliers and use the power of social media. Call the local animal shelters and humane societies. Put food and bedding near the spot where the pet went missing. Contact local veterinarians, groomers, and pet shops. With luck, you and your pet will be reunited.
- Pet transport services can take your pet back home without you. If you become ill or unable to care for your pet and need to send him home on his own, there are professional pet transport services that can help. Identify a trusted friend or family member who is willing to receive your pet when he arrives. For international emergencies, the International Pet and Animal Transportation Association can help.
Signs of Pet Anxiety or Distress
If you haven’t traveled with your pets before, it’s hard to anticipate how they’ll react. Pay attention to your animals’ behavior and look for signs of anxiety and distress. Pets have a variety of ways of showing that they’re nervous or unhappy. In some cases, it will be subtle changes in body language. In more severe situations, your pet might get destructive or aggressive.
Some of the signs to look out for include:
- Tail low and tucked between legs
- Avoidance behaviors such as hiding or cowering
- Reduced activity
- Clinging and seeking comfort
- Uncharacteristic panting, yawning, or drooling
- Obsessive licking or self-grooming
- Unusual vocalizing – whining, barking, or howling
- Destructive behavior
- Urinating or defecating indoors
- Vomiting and diarrhea
If your pet is displaying unusual behavior and you think he is suffering from anxiety, there are several steps you should take:
- Avoid punishing or scolding your pet. He’s not misbehaving to be naughty, but because he is in distress.
- Speak soothingly, but don’t praise or pat them excessively. This could inadvertently reward and encourage your pet’s anxious behavior. Try to project calm confidence and reassure your pet that you have the situation under control. Most pets are pack animals. As the leader of the pack, you can be a source of security and comfort.
- Try to identify what your pet is reacting to. If there is a specific stimulus that is triggering your animal’s anxiety, see if you can remove it, lessen it, or gradually desensitize your pet to it with controlled exposure and positive reinforcement.
- Get creative with homemade remedies. Build a blanket fort for your pet in a quiet corner. If your pet is fluffy, pet him with a dryer sheet to eliminate static electricity from his coat. Play music or white noise to mask sounds your pet doesn’t like.
- Give anti-anxiety products a try. There are several calming products that pet parents swear by. Among them are Thundershirts, which wrap around dogs’ and cats’ torsos with Velcro and provide gentle compression. Rescue Remedy for pets is a homeopathic blend of flower and herb essences. Pheromone-scented “calming collars” or diffusers can help. Many pet stores sell treats and nutritional supplements with lavender and lemon balm extract or other soothing ingredients such as L-Theanine.
- Seek help from a canine behavior expert. Trainers and dog behavior experts might be able to use conditioning techniques to help anxious dogs.
- If the problem persists, consult a vet. There are medications that can help dogs and cats with anxiety, but drugs are not right for every pet and are typically used only as a last resort. Talk to your vet to determine the best option for your pet.
Pet Travel Etiquette (or “Petiquette”)
It’s hard to believe anyone could look at your four-legged friend and not love them as much as you do, but many people are uncomfortable around animals. There are also people with severe allergies to pet dander. American society is becoming more pet-friendly, but animal lovers should take care to be courteous and manage their pets’ behavior to keep the trend growing. Here are some etiquette pointers for traveling with your pet:
- Make sure your pet is welcome. Ask about pet policies when you make travel and hotel reservations and make sure the person on the phone knows that you plan to bring an animal. Planning ahead and following the rules can prevent unpleasant surprises when you arrive.
- Clean up after your pet. The single biggest complaint people make about pets is their waste. Poop happens. Make sure you have bags with you at all times and pick it up!
- Physically prepare your pet before you go. Get it groomed – freshly bathed, nails trimmed, less inclined to scratch and be uncomfortable.
- Be willing to switch seats. If you’re seated next to someone who is dismayed by your pet, let the flight attendant find a different seat for you or your neighbor. Be courteous and flexible. Don’t engage in any conflict.
- Always keep your pet leashed or in a carrier in public.
- Train your dog in the “down” command. People tend to be less anxious around an animal that is in a submissive, non-threatening position.
- Don’t allow your pet to jump up on people. It goes without saying that animals should never jump on or claw at people.
- Consider a muzzle for vocal dogs. Dogs that bark can be intimidating, even if they aren’t aggressive. You might want to have a muzzle if your pet is yappy or prone to growling.
- Bring your own blankets to cover seats or furniture.
- Change cat litter pans often to prevent smells.
- Don’t leave your pet alone for extended periods. Dogs left in hotel rooms often bark and annoy other guests.
Family vacations are no longer just for human family members. Keeping your pet comfortable and healthy while traveling takes some effort, but it is well worth the time. There are more resources available than ever, including GPS-enabled pet trackers and pet travel apps for your smartphone. With some planning and preparation, most pet owners can hit the road or take to the skies with their animals successfully.