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

By Lindsay Tigar
December 01, 2020
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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 your pre-trekking check-list and veterinarian-approved tips.

What to Do Before Traveling With Pets

No matter if you’re crossing the Atlantic or finally taking that cross-country drive, there are some necessary precautions to take for your pet’s health and safety. Some of these can take months to complete, so do your best to get started ASAP, so you’re not caught in a bind on your travel day.

Make Sure Your Pet Is Properly Vaccinated

Whether traveling by train, plane, or car or staying in a hotel, vaccinations are extremely important, according to Jeff Werber, D.V.M., the chief veterinary officer for Airvet Telemedicine. He 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. Plus, 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 United States, they may require another vaccination. 

More often than not, your vet will provide a ‘Health Certificate’ that will be checked when entering a new state and/or country, according to Dr. Jerry Klein, the chief veterinary officer for the American Kennel Club. 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 since your beloved pet may not be admitted to your destination country without it. 

Credit: Corey O'Hara/Getty Imgaes

Consider Microchipping Your Pet

It’s every pet parent’s worse nightmare: your dog or cat gets away in an unfamiliar place, and you can’t find them. For your peace of mind — and to meet the requirements of some countries and states — Dr. Klein recommends ensuring your pet is microchipped before you travel. 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, according to 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, with their head hanging out the window and their tongue flying in the air. For others, the car signifies a scary experience since it’s often the culprit that drops them off at the groomer’s or the vet’s office. If you plan on taking your friend on a car journey, there are some ways to ensure they are 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. And this includes your car! Mary R. Burch, PhD, certified applied animal behaviorist and the American Kennel Club's family dog director suggests introducing your dog to the car as early as you can before your journey. How do you do this? Follow these steps:

  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 them a treat and let them out of the car.

3. Then, put them back in the car, and hop in the driver’s seat. Praise them in a happy voice.

4. Start the engine and wait a few minutes. Stop, and get everyone out of the car.  

Once they are comfortable throughout this process, you can begin to take short trips in the car, driving them down the street or to a park. Make sure to reward their 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 a harness that attaches to a seat belt or a carrier that’s enclosed. You might also consider using the crate they sleep in since it’ll be familiar to them. It can also be helpful to bring their favorite toys or chew sticks so that they can feel at 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 their legs, use the restroom outside, or run some laps to get out their nervous energy. 

Products to Make Car Rides Easier

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

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

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

Tips for Traveling by Train

Credit: 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 your dog or cat should be prepared to remain in an enclosed space for a lengthy period.

Make the Carrier a Happy Place

As Dr. Burch puts it, your main job will be getting your pet comfortable in a carrier because many trains require you to use one. 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 and enticing them to come near it with treats. Slowly, start to place them in the carrier and give them treats while they are inside of it. “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

You’ve been to a train station before: what did it sound like? Lots of horns, voices, and action that could be very loud to an animal. That’s why you should visit the train station leading up to your trip, so it’s not a terrifying experience from the beginning. Dr. Burch suggests starting by getting them used to the routine: walk down the steps to the train, walk along the platform, and go home. 

Figure Out Breaks

And in some cases, understand there may not be an opportunity for your pet to relieve themselves 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 longer than those in suburban or rural areas. 

Products to Make Train Rides Easier

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 them in this backpack that allows you to do your business while knowing they are safe. Plus, it’s great for hikes and bike rides, too. 

Some trains do allow dogs and cats to travel in a hard-side luggage like this one, as long as they can rest on the floor without blocking the path to the exits. Check before you buy your ticket, but this is a sturdy way to transport your pet if it's allowed.

It’s not the rosiest part of being a dog parent, but picking up after your pets is a necessary task. Make sure you pack plenty of these for those train stops. 

Tips for Traveling by Plane

Credit: Getty Images

First things first: all airlines have different restrictions when it comes to pet travel. It’s recommended to check their pet policy before booking your ticket, so you understand the size restrictions for under-the-seat transportation and for cargo. This will save you headache and heartache when you’re checking in since you’ll know where your pet will go on the plane. If you are keeping him or her with you on the flight, these tips can help. If they are going under the plane, check with your vet about the right measures to take for your specific animal. 

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 his crate or carrier for several hours, Dr. Burch says. Since you probably don’t have access to a plane to practice the sensation with them, you can recreate some of the experience. She recommends bringing them to an outdoor restaurant and letting them nod off in the carrier throughout the meal. Or, have them stay with you at home in a carrier. The goal is to work them up to a few hours, so it’s not a new endeavor for them on the plane.

For an additional layer of exposure, try to mimic wind sounds with a sound machine or a loud fan so that they 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 them feel at ease. And 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

Of course, you shouldn’t risk missing your flight, but 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

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. 

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.

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 they cuddle 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 their pet policies. Some are completely friendly to animals; others have size limitations, many charge additional fees, and a few 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 their feeding and walking schedule as much as you can. And, bring along their ‘stuff’ for the trip if you have room, including their toys, bedding, and bowls.

Prioritize a Pet-friendly Hotel

Credit: Getty Images

Once your dog is part of your life, it’s never the same again. Rather than thinking about what you need out of a hotel or rental property, think of their needs. As veterinarian and the director of medical affairs for Zoetis Petcare explains, 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 pet-friendly places will also smell like other pets, which is good news for Fido. 

Viner also suggests opting for a booking that has access to a green space or a beachfront, where you can easily give them the exercise they need.

Leave the Television on When You’re Gone

If you are going to leave the dog in the 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

Have them sleep with this cozy bag for a few weeks before you leave, and then take it along with you for the trip. It’s calming and relaxing, plus it’ll smell like their home, providing stress relief. 

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.