Traveling with Pets: Tips for Travel and Vacations with a Dog or Cat

Jango, a pit-bull-terrier-type dog looking out of a car's partially open window

Are you thinking of traveling with your dog or cat? There are various factors to take into account. For example, would it be better to take a pet with you or leave him at home under the care of a family member, neighbor or pet sitter? If you don't have anyone to come to your home to feed and care for your pet, have you investigated local boarding facilities?

Planning a trip with a pet

Planning and preparation are essential for a successful vacation with a dog or cat. Your ultimate decision about whether to include your pet in your travel plans may vary depending on the mode of travel and your final destination.

Many pets, particularly cats, would prefer to stay home where they are in a familiar environment. If your pet gets sick when traveling in a car, it might be better to leave him at home. Some pets do not do well traveling because of illness, age, injury or temperament. If this is the case, discuss options with your veterinarian.

If you will be staying with family or friends during the trip, find out in advance if your pet is welcome in their home. If you are staying in a hotel, motel, park or campground, make sure pets are allowed or kennel facilities are available. Also, check on weight or breed restrictions. Be sure to make a reservation, since many hotels have a limited number of pet-friendly rooms.

A brown tabby with white cat in a soft sided carrier slung over someone's shoulder, with his head sticking out

Some additional tips:

  • Ensure that your pet is properly identified with a current tag and/or a microchip. In addition to the standard ID tag, your pet's collar should include a special travel tag with information on where you are staying while away from home.
  • Carry a current photo of your pet with you to help with identification in case your pet becomes lost.
  • Make sure you have proof of rabies vaccination and a current health certificate if you will be crossing state or international borders.
  • If you will need to leave your pet alone in the homes of friends or relatives who are not comfortable with your pet being loose when no one is home, make sure your pet is comfortable spending time in a crate and bring the crate on your trip. (See the link below for crate training.)

Traveling by car with a cat or dog

If your pet is not accustomed to traveling by car and only rides in the car when going to the veterinarian, you can familiarize him with a vehicle by opening the door and letting him sit inside without the car moving. Feed him tasty treats to make it an enjoyable experience. Once he is comfortable with being in the car, start going on short outings and then gradually increase the length of the trips.

Helping a dog overcome car anxiety

Determine where your pet will ride during the trip. Harnesses, tethers, carriers and other accessories to secure pets during car travel are highly recommended and are available at most pet stores.

If riding in a car, a dog should not ride in the passenger seat if it is equipped with an airbag and should never be allowed to sit on the driver's lap. A dog should not be allowed to ride with her head outside the car window because pieces of dirt or other debris can get in her eyes, ears and nose, causing injury or infection. If your dog will be riding in a truck bed, she should be confined in a protective kennel that is properly secured.

A cat should always be confined to a cage or a cat carrier while in a car to make sure she feels secure and protected, and to prevent her from ending up under your feet or in your lap while you are driving. The cat's carrier should be secured by a seatbelt.

Whether your pet is a cat or a dog, if he is not used to being in a crate or carrier, work on crate training with him before asking him to ride in it for extended periods of time.

Instructions for crate training a dog

Keep your pet on his regular feeding schedule and give him his main meal at the end of the day or when you reach your final destination. Feeding dry food is the most convenient, assuming that is part of your pet’s normal feeding routine. If you use canned food, throw away any unused or uneaten food unless it can be refrigerated. Keep a plastic jug of cold water in the vehicle just in case other reliable water sources are not available.

If you’re traveling with a dog, make sure you have a leash with you, and plan to stop every couple of hours for exercise and potty breaks. There are many websites and apps that can help you find pet-friendly places to stop. And always remember that a pet should never be left unattended in a car during hot weather, even for short periods of time.

Druscilla the dachshund looking out the back window in a car

Traveling by airplane with your dog or other pet

Before traveling with your dog or cat by plane, consider getting your pet checked by your veterinarian to determine if she is well enough to handle air travel. Old, sick or flat-faced dogs (who can be prone to respiratory issues) may have more discomfort on a flight.

Each airline has its own set of rules for pet air travel, so check the airline’s website or call for information and make arrangements well in advance of your trip. When flying in the cargo area, animals must be in an airline-approved crate. Many airlines allow small dogs or cats to ride under the seat in an approved carrier.

Airlines often also have pet air travel rules and regulations regarding:

  • Breeds and sizes of dogs allowed
  • Number of pets allowed on each flight
  • Pets allowed in the main cabin
  • Pet health certificates (most airlines require that certificates be issued within 10 days of the departure date)
  • Proof of pets’ vaccinations
  • Checked kennel charges

Whether your pet travels in the cabin with you or in the baggage compartment, she should be completely comfortable with the kennel or carrier that she will be traveling in. Trying to escape from a kennel is one of the most common causes of injury to pets traveling by air.

To help reduce the stress on you and your pet, choose the most direct flight to your destination. And it’s a good idea to confirm your flights the day before travel to ensure that there have been no unexpected flight changes.

Get to the airport early, exercise your pet, personally place her in the crate, and pick up the animal promptly upon arrival at your final destination if you have to check your pet as baggage. When boarding the plane, let the flight attendant know that your pet is in the baggage compartment.

Ask your veterinarian for advice on feeding your pet prior to air travel. Air travel for a pet on an almost empty stomach is usually recommended. The age and size of your pet, the time and length of your flight, and your pet’s regular dietary routine will be considered when feeding recommendations are made. Tranquilizers are generally not recommended because of the increased risk of heart or respiratory problems.

A longhaired dachshund, wearing a Best Friends bandanna, sitting in the back of an open hatchback MINI

Pet health and first-aid travel kit

Make sure you have a pet first-aid kit in case of emergency or unexpected illness or injury while traveling. Consider including the following items in the kit:

  • Pet first-aid book
  • Emergency contact list (including phone numbers for your veterinarian, an emergency vet clinic and a national poison control hotline)
  • Your pet’s prescription medications
  • Coban self-adherent wrap
  • Kerlix gauze roll
  • Sterile gauze pads (in various sizes)
  • ABD (abdominal) pads
  • Ace bandage wraps
  • Antiseptic pads or alcohol wipes
  • Antibacterial cream or ointment
  • Instant cold packs
  • Emergency blanket
  • Tweezers
  • Blunt scissors
  • Exam gloves
  • Styptic blood-clotting powder
  • Sterile saline syringes (10 ml)
  • Cotton balls and swabs
  • Hydrogen peroxide (3%)
  • Headlamp or flashlight
  • Collapsible water bowl
  • Basket muzzle (if a dog is in pain, he may attempt to bite)
  • Sling for carrying medium-size or large dogs

In addition to the first-aid kit, don’t forget to pack your pet’s favorite foods, toys and dishes to make your pet feel “at home” away from home. An extra leash or harness, a towel and baby wipes can also come in handy.

If you have pet insurance, contact the company and find out how to handle emergencies when away from home. Ask your veterinarian if he or she can give you the name of a veterinarian at your vacation destination, or contact the local visitor’s bureau or chamber of commerce for information on local veterinarians and emergency veterinary clinics.

Is pet insurance worth it?

Pay special attention to your pet’s behavior while traveling, especially his or her eating, drinking and potty habits. Be on the lookout for any unusual discharge from the nose and eyes, excessive scratching or biting of any body part, abnormal elimination, or excessive water consumption. Contact your veterinarian if you are concerned about any physical or behavioral changes.

Preparation for traveling with pets

Whatever way you travel, you will want to plan ahead and prepare your pet for the experience. Some exercise, both physical and mental, before travel will help your furry friend be more relaxed. There are also many products on the market, such as wraps, sprays and balms, that can aid in calming your animal.

Tips for moving with a dog or cat