Traveling With Pets: Your Guide to Flying or Driving With a Furry Friend

Here's everything you need to know before traveling with pets.

Furry and loyal, our pets are part of our families. So when we go on adventures near and far, we want to take our four-legged friends along for the journey. As with any other part of pet ownership, preparing for long car or train rides, air travel, or hotel stays requires a little extra research and work before your departure day. Here's everything you need to know before traveling with pets, including a pre-departure checklist and veterinarian-approved tips.

How to Prepare for Travel With Pets

Whether you're crossing the Atlantic or simply crossing over state lines, there are some necessary precautions to take for your pet's health and safety. Some of these can take months to complete, so it's best to get a head start.

Make Sure Your Pet Is Properly Vaccinated

Whether traveling by train, plane, or car, staying in a hotel or at a campground, vaccinations are extremely important. Jeff Werber, D.V.M., the chief veterinary officer for Airvet Telemedicine says there's typically a core set of vaccines that are given in a series when your pet is young and then updated every three years. Your vet may recommend additional vaccines depending on your location, your lifestyle, and other factors. Every shot is different and has a varied timeline for immunity success, so Dr. Werber recommends letting your vet know about your travel plans ASAP. If you're going to a destination that could put your dog or cat at a higher risk of infection for a disease that's not common in the U.S., it may require another vaccination.

More often than not, your vet will provide some sort of health certificate that will be checked when entering a new state and/or country, says Dr. Jerry Klein, the American Kennel Club's chief veterinary officer. In some cases, this certificate must be vetted by a USDA-accredited veterinarian and may require a notary stamp for verification. This document is particularly important for international travel; your beloved pet may not be admitted into your destination country without it.

Vet scanning microchip of white fluffy dog
dardespot / Getty Images

Consider Microchipping Your Pet

Losing a dog or cat in an unfamiliar place is every pet parent's worst nightmare. For your peace of mind — and to meet the requirements of some countries and states — Dr. Klein recommends getting your pet microchipped before traveling.

Your vet will do the simple, fast, in-office procedure, and the chip will be connected to your current contact information. "A tag is included when you have a microchip that has the microchip number and a mobile contact of the owner, so if the pet is found, they can use the tag to determine ownership without having to contact a veterinarian," he adds.

Pack Extra Food

Try to keep your pet's food consistent when traveling. Generally speaking, it's best not to feed your pet the morning of your travel day to reduce nausea, says Dr. Brian J. Bourquin, the founder and chief medical officer at Boston Veterinary Clinic. He recommends measuring out your pet's food and bringing enough for each day, plus some extra, in case there are delays or changes in your travel plans. And as every owner knows, there are never enough treats to reward good behavior or provide comfort, so be generous with them.

Tips for Traveling by Car

For some pets, there's nothing quite as exciting as a drive down a windy road, head hanging out the window and tongue flying in the air. For others, the car signifies a scary experience, largely associated with a visit to the groomer or the vet's office. If you plan to take your friend on a road trip, there are some ways to ensure it's as cozy and calm as possible.

Regularly Introduce Them to the Car

With puppies, the more you expose them to different aspects of your lifestyle, the more comfortable they will be as they grow. Mary R. Burch, PhD, certified applied animal behaviorist and family dog director at the American Kennel Club, suggests introducing your dog to the car as early as possible before your journey. Here's how:

  1. Put the dog in the backseat for a few minutes, close the door, and stand outside.
  2. Once the dog appears quiet and calm, give it a treat and let it out of the car.
  3. Put it back in the car, and get into the driver's seat, all while giving praise.
  4. Start the engine, and wait a few minutes.
  5. Stop, and get everyone out of the car.

Once your dog gets comfortable with this process, you can begin to take short trips in the car, driving down the street or to a park. Make sure to reward its good behavior with treats and a positive attitude.

Make Sure Your Pet Is Constrained

While in a dream world, your faithful companion would remain snuggled in your lap every mile of the way, it's not safe for you, other passengers, or your pet. Instead, Dr. Werber says your pet must be properly restrained while in a moving vehicle. This could be with a harness that attaches to a seat belt or an enclosed carrier. The crate your pet sleeps in is also a great option because it's familiar and comforting.

One way to make this more comfortable for your pet: Bring its favorite toys or chew sticks from home.

Map Out Pit Stops

Before packing up the car and hitting the road, travel expert Josh Viner likes to map out the drive so he can be aware of construction zones or heavy traffic and make sure his dog, Frankie, will have access to pit stops along the way. Every few hours, he says it's beneficial to let your dog stretch its legs, use the restroom outside, or run some laps to get out the nervous energy.

Products to Make Car Rides Easier

Harry Barker Kennel Club Food Storage Bag

This modern and sturdy food storage bag provides easy access to kibble, all while locking in freshness and preventing moisture from getting in.

K&H Pet Products Travel Safety Pet Carrier

This spacious carrier comes in three sizes and allows your pet to walk or roam around while still remaining safely enclosed.

mumi Reusable Zip Up Food Storage Bags

Fill this washable, reusable bag up with plenty of treats so you can give your pet a pick-me-up when it needs it.

Tips for Traveling by Train

Woman backpacker and a dog riding on the mountain train in Swiss Alps
Anastasiia Shavshyna/Getty Images

For the most part, your pet will need to be in a carry bag to be permitted onto a train. There are exceptions for service animals, but you should be prepared for your dog or cat to remain in an enclosed space for a lengthy period.

Make the Carrier a Happy Place

Your main job will be getting your pet comfortable in a carrier, Dr. Burch says. This work begins at home, long before the departure day on your ticket. She recommends using a well-ventilated carrier with both a top and a side opening so they can practice getting in and out of it. She suggests starting by letting the dog or cat smell the carrier before luring it closer with treats. Slowly, start to place your pet in the carrier, and reward it with treats while it's inside.

"When they are comfortable with this, pick up the carrier and walk a few steps, then set them down and let them out," she continues. "Work up to being able to walk around the house with your dog in the carrier and the top and side openings closed. Then go outside and eventually into the car to ride short distances before working up to the train ride."

Visit the Train Station

If you've been to a train station before, then you know firsthand that all the horns, voices, and action can be overwhelming. It can be even more overwhelming — and downright terrifying — for an animal. Visit the train station with your pet in tow prior to your trip. Dr. Burch suggests getting it used to the routine of walking down the steps to the train, walking along the platform, and going home.

Figure Out Breaks

In some cases, understand there may not be an opportunity for your pet to relieve itself on a train ride. Viner suggests talking to the staff to understand which stops will be the best options for your dog to get outside and take a relief break. Usually, these are stops at major cities, which pause for longer than those in suburban or rural areas.

Products to Make Train Rides Easier

K9 Sport Sack Air Plus 2

If you're traveling alone and you need to go to the restroom, you may not want to lug your pet's large carrier into such a confined space. Instead, put your furry friend in this backpack that allows you to do your business while knowing it's safe. Plus, the backpacks is great for hikes and bike rides, too.

Tips for Traveling by Plane

Dog looking through an airplane window
Getty Images

First things first: All airlines have different restrictions when it comes to pet travel. Check the pet policy before booking your ticket so you understand the size restrictions for under-the-seat transportation and for cargo. Knowing exactly where your pet will go on a plane could save you a lot of headache and heartache at check-in. If you are keeping your pet with you on the flight, these tips can help.

If it must be kept under the plane, check with your vet about the right measures to take for your companion.

Practice Long Sleeps in the Carrier

Whether you have a larger dog that will be in cargo or a small dog that will ride in the cabin, you'll need to teach your dog to tolerate and sleep in a crate or carrier for several hours, Dr. Burch says. Because you likely don't have access to a plane to practice the sensation, you can recreate some of the experience. She recommends bringing your pet to an outdoor restaurant and letting it nod off in the carrier throughout the meal. Or, have it stay with you at home in a carrier. The goal is to work up to a few hours, so it's not a new endeavor on the plane.

For an additional layer of exposure, try to mimic wind sounds with a sound machine or a loud fan so that it won't be as nervous for takeoff, says Kait Hembree, VTS, CVT, KPA, CTP, the head of training at GoodPup.

Pack Appropriately

Without the opportunity for breaks miles high in the air, Viner says pet parents need to make sure their pet's carrier is stocked with all of the necessities. This includes water, non-squeaking toys (so fellow passengers aren't annoyed), and many treats to help it feel at ease. But most of all — you!

"If your pet is stowed at your feet and becoming anxious, you can unzip their carrier every so often to offer physical comfort or slip in a few more snacks," he adds.

Check in Late

Although you shouldn't risk missing your flight, now is not the time to arrive far earlier than you need to at the airport. Instead, Hembree says it's crucial for owners to give their pets as much time out of the crate as possible before the flight. This makes it so they don't have to wait as long to relieve themselves. Also, she says to consider adding an absorbent material, like pine shavings, in your crate when flying so that accidents are quickly absorbed. Plus, pine shavings will help your pet maintain better heat when the temperature drops due to the aircraft's elevation.

Products to Make Flying With a Pet Easier

Sherpa Element Gray Dog Carrier

Soft and flexible, this carrier is compliant for most aircrafts and fits comfortably under the seat. The removable pad is also machine washable, so you can clean up easily post-trip.

Arcadia Trail™ Collapsible Double Diner Travel Bowls

Keep one of these inside the carrier so your nervous pup can stay hydrated during the flight. Just like it's taxing for us, it's the same for our dogs, and having access to water is essential.

Smart Pet Love Snuggle Puppy Behavioral Aid Dog Toy

Comfort toys, like this cute one that looks like a pup, are great to have in stressful experiences. They provide a heartbeat sound, which can help your pet relax as it cuddles up to it.

Tips for Staying at a Hotel or Vacation Rental With Your Pet

Before you hit confirm on an Airbnb or a hotel, read its pet policies. Some are completely friendly to animals while others have size limitations, charge additional fees, or outlaw furry companions completely. You never want to risk sneaking in your pet for fear of fines or being kicked out of the property altogether. Once you find one that welcomes you and your animal, follow these tips to keep them happy.

Keep Their Routine Consistent

If you're on vacation, you probably want to sleep in, rest up, and soak up the sun or hit the slopes. Your pup, on the other hand, thrives on routine. So, Dr. Werber says it's helpful to stick to the usual feeding and walking schedule as much as you can. If you have room, bring along your pet's most prized belongings, including toys, bedding, and bowls.

Prioritize a Pet-friendly Hotel

Leonberger dog in hotel room
Getty Images

Pets are like children; rather than thinking about what you need out of a hotel or rental property, think of their needs. Pet-friendly spots are more likely to have everything you need for your doggo, including in-room water bowls or dog beds. It may not seem like a big deal, but these places will also smell like other pets, which is good news for Fido.

Viner also suggests opting for a booking that provides access to a green space or a beachfront, so pets can easily get the exercise they need.

Leave the Television on When You're Gone

If you are going to leave the dog in your hotel room, Dr. Burch recommends leaving the television on and giving the dog something to do in the crate, like a toy stuffed with a treat. And consider your trip's purpose, too. "If you are going to be gone all day and evening while your dog is in a hotel room alone for 12 or 14 hours, your dog might be more comfortable at home with a pet sitter," she adds.

Products to Bring to Your Hotel or Rental

Best Friends by Sheri The Original Calming Bed

Easy to pack for a trip, this calming dog bed is ideal for a hotel stay. It's super soft, comes complete with a blanket, and will help any place feel warmer and happier for your pet.

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