Spending the holidays without our furry family members is, in a word, unimaginable. Still, the last thing you want is to make the journey miserable for your dog or cat (and by extension, you). Dogs and cats may not be in such a merry mood when their familiar surroundings and their routine are thrown into disarray. To help you plan a stress-free trip with your pet, use this guide to prepare for traveling with your pet this holiday season.
Should your pet travel with you or stay home?
When making a decision to travel with your cat or dog, consider this. Although you desire to have your beloved pet by your side, that doesn’t mean it would be a pleasant experience for the animal. You know your pet best. If they’re more likely to be miserable on the road, there’s nothing wrong with having a friend look in on them while you’re away, or going with a pet boarding service.
Is it OK to bring your dog or cat to someone else’s house?
Before you leave, the considerate thing to do is to take that extra moment for a gut-check. You’ll want to make sure your host is just as enthusiastic as you are about including your dog or cat in the holiday celebrations at their home. That also means doing your due diligence to make sure they understand the impact your pet would have on their house. (If your dog tends to bark a lot when he first arrives in a new place, be considerate and give them a heads up.) Here are a few useful questions to ask yourself:
- What’s their experience with pets?
- Will your pet be disruptive and interfere with, say, the family sleep schedule?
- Are there existing pets at the house? How do these pets respond to visiting animals?
- Is there plenty of space to meet your pet’s needs? If your dog or cat needs to be confined to a room during an activity, is there one available?
- Who else is visiting?
Which papers and documents does your pet need to travel?
Much like you’ll bring your wallet on your trip, you also need to round up some important details about your pet before you travel.
Identification: Is the information on your pet’s collar and tag accurate and updated, complete with your mobile number? In addition, have your pet microchipped for additional peace of mind (or make sure their information on record is updated).
Photo of you with your pets: In case the worst happens and your pet gets separated from you during travel and is picked up by the authorities, having a photo of you along with your pets is legal proof of your ownership. Many animals could not be reunited with their rightful owners during Hurricane Katrina, because the owners had no proof the found animals were theirs.
Medical records: Having your pet’s medical history can be helpful, even if you only plan to be gone a few days. Simply snap some photos of key documents with your phone, and they’ll be handy should you need them.
Certificate of veterinary exception (Official health certificates to prevent the spread of animal diseases across state lines): While most states provide exceptions for travelers, some don’t, particularly for dogs. To be on the safe side, consult this list before traveling with your dog out of state. This document must be issued by a veterinarian, so if you don’t already have this paperwork, schedule an appointment.
Proof of rabies vaccine: Again, requirements vary from state to state, so know what’s required of your pet. (Even if you’re a thousand percent sure you won’t need it, take along any documentation you have.)
Know the airline’s rules of travel: If you’re traveling by air, always check with the airline and get familiar with the rules and regulations about traveling with pets. If you’re traveling during the holidays, the airlines will be especially busy and packed. If you have special requests or your pet has special needs, clear it with airlines in advance of your travel dates.
Helping your pet travel comfortably
Because getting there is arguably the most stressful part of the trip for your dog or cat, you’ll want to do everything you can to keep them happy and comfortable and let them know everything is going to be OK.
Invest in a good carrier
For any trip, the carrier is a must have. If you don’t have one that’s suitable for travel, getting one and helping your pet acclimate to it can help them prepare for the journey ahead.
- Look for a carrier with a secure latch, that can be secured with a seat belt, and gives your pet enough space to stand up and turn around. For cats, the carrier should be roomy enough to hold a litter box.
- In the days and weeks leading up to the trip, set up the carrier in your home. Encourage your dog and cat to go inside and lay down by placing a familiar blanket inside the carrier, along with a favorite toy or two and a delicious treat. Once they’re willing to go inside and stay there, latch the door for brief periods. Once the pet is feeling at home inside the carrier, graduate to brief car rides in the carrier.
- During the trip, that carrier will double as your pet’s home base. Keep it ready and available for naps or whenever they need a break from all that holiday activity.
Switch to a high-quality diet
Pet parents often worry about their pet having tummy trouble when traveling, thanks to the effects of stress on their systems. If your pet has sensitivities to any ingredients in their current food, such as corn, soy and other fillers and byproducts often found in supermarket brands, you may see an increase in messes and accidents during travel. If your trip is three weeks or more away, consider upgrading to a higher quality diet. Doing so can make a big impact on your pet’s system.
Don’t overlook comfort
When packing, along with all the usual supplies, don’t forget the importance of comfort.
- Bring a blanket that has the familiar scents of home, along with favorite toys.
- There are also plenty of products on the market; check with your local, independent pet retailer for ideas and guidance. A pheromone collar, essential oils or a pressure vest can all work wonders on settling your pet’s nerves.
- Many pet parents will not travel without a prescription for a pet tranquilizer. There’s nothing wrong with this, as long as it’s prescribed specifically for your pet, with any medical issues accounted for.
Acclimating your pet to a new place
Once you reach your destination, some pets make themselves at home right away, while others need time to come out of their shell. Let your pet take the lead and follow these tips for a smooth transition.
Introducing cats to your vacation home
When it comes to cats, place the carrier in a quiet room, away from main traffic. Open the door and feed them a meal — eating can help cats feel more at ease. And then, just wait. When they’re ready, they’ll come out.
Introducing dogs to a vacation home
- Before heading inside your temporary home for the holidays, whether it’s your family’s place or a hotel, let your dog have a potty break. Accidents are more likely to happen during those exciting first moments.
- Once you head inside, keeping them leashed is a good way to keep them under control and make sure they’re ready to mind their manners.
- Allow the dog to sniff around and meet the “new” people, along with any pets that live there.
- Once the dog is calm and obeying commands, he can be released from the leash.
- Being taken into a new place and left alone while you sight-see or dine out, your dog can think they are being abandoned in this strange place. See the Raising Your Paws podcast, Vacationing with Your Dog: Prevent Separation Anxiety.
Maintain your pet’s routine during the trip
When traveling with your pet, maintain some semblance of a routine. Traveling often puts pets ill-at-ease, even if they seem to be going with the flow. But if you stick with the schedule for meals, walks and one-on-one time, that will provide the reassurance they’re looking for, that everything is OK.
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