Dog in a car seat
If you’re like most pet owners, you want to take your fuzzy family members with you just about everywhere — including on vacation.

Whether you’re flying or driving, there’s a lot you need to know. From car carriers and airline requirements to motion sickness and anxiety, read on for all of the basics when it comes to traveling safely and comfortably with your favorite companion. 

How to Prep for Your Trip

A few common sense measures will go a long way: Make sure your dog is wearing a collar with an ID tag that’s securely attached,” says Dr. Lori Teller, DVM, DABVP, CVJ, who practices out of Houston, Texas. “Ideally, the tag will have your cell phone number or the numbers of your destination or emergency contact. So if Fluffy gets loose while traveling for some reason, the person who finds her can contact you.”

You should also take measures ahead of time to get your dog a microchip that’s registered with up-to-date contact information. Collars can slip off, so a microchip may be the only way to truly reunite you and your pet.

When it’s time to pack, don’t forget to bring along your dog’s own food, dishes, leashes, blankets, baggies to pick up waste, and washcloths to wipe off her feet in case one of your rest stops involves traipsing through puddles or mud.

Dr. Teller also offers some invaluable tips once you’re on the road: If you’re driving, take frequent breaks to let your dog stretch her legs. Offer her plenty of water, and “try to maintain her usual feeding schedule as best as possible,” advises Dr. Teller.

Finally, never leave your dog locked in the car, especially if it’s hot outside. When dogs are left unsupervised in a vehicle, they can fall victim to heatstroke and even theft.

Ways to Handle Motion Sickness

If your dog gets queasy when you hit the open road, she’s not alone: It’s estimated that 1 in 5 pets suffers from motion sickness, which can occur in a car, plane, train or boat.

Luckily, you have options to explore before your next vacation. “A lot of pet travel is about advanced planning,” says Dr. Jason Nicholas, The Preventive Vet. “Most dogs associate the car with the vet. So get them in the car, and drive them around on short, quick trips they’ll enjoy. You’re trying to make the car a very good experience for them. Most dogs will respond favorably.”

If your pet still gets sick — and you haven’t ever used a harness in the car (see the section below) — it might help, not to mention that it’s a safer way to drive with your pet. “I’ve had a lot of clients say that once they started restraining their pets, the motion sickness stopped,” says Dr. Nicholas.

But if your dog continues to experience motion sickness symptoms — like excessive drooling, panting or frequent swallowing (all signs that can precede vomiting) — you may want to try a motion sickness drug developed just for dogs.

If you think your pet could benefit from the medication, talk to your vet.

Why You Need Proper Car Restraints

If you’re used to letting your pup hang out the window or curl up on your lap in the car, you may want to put on the brakes: Experts across the board say it’s crucial to buckle her into a car harness or place her in a secured crate before you pull out of the driveway.

In fact, in a recent survey sponsored by AAA and Kurgo Pet Products, 29 percent of respondents admit to being distracted by their dog while driving, but 65 percent admit they have participated in at least one distracting behavior while driving with their dog.

“While traveling by car, dogs should be fastened into a harness attached to a seat belt or in a carrier,” explains Dr. Teller. “The carrier should be large enough for him to stand up and turn around in, but not so large that he can slide back and forth as the car is in motion.”

Just in case you’re involved in a collision, this will prevent a pet from becoming a projectile missile — and will likely save her life. It will also help keep the dog from getting loose and possibly running out into the road or highway, causing further risk to the animal and others.

Dr. Nicholas has also seen incidents in which unrestrained dogs have gotten into medicine or chocolate in the time that it took owners to grab a quick coffee. Getting the right pet restraint gear for the car is about peace of mind — for you and your animal.

“You would never not buckle in your child,” says Gordie Spater, president of Kurgo, a leading harness maker. “In the same way, the dog should be buckled in. A good harness is relatively inexpensive — between $20 and $30 — and very easy to use.”

Note: Smaller dogs may also need to sit on a booster seat, or you can put your pet in her regular carrier, and then belt it in.

The Basics of Flying the Pet-Friendly Skies

When traveling by air, you must reserve a spot for your dog as soon as you know she will be accompanying you. “This is true whether she flies in the cabin or in cargo,” says Dr. Teller. “Check with the airlines for specific requirements, including crate size and vaccination requirements.”

Most airlines require a health certificate from your veterinarian documenting that it’s safe for your pet to fly. In general, airlines request that a pet is examined within 10 days of your departing flight, which will be reflected on the health certificate. Also, bring along proof of your dog’s rabies vaccines and other immunizations.

You should also discuss with your vet any specific vaccine and quarantine requirements at your destination as well as basics such as heartworm and flea and tick medication, especially if you’re heading to a warmer locale in winter.

As for your carrier, the size you choose will be based on each airline’s requirements, but your dog should be able to stand up, turn around and lie down comfortably without too much sliding around when the plane is in motion. Crates flown in cargo must be hard-sided plastic; metal or wire crates are not usually accepted. If your dog will fly with you in the cabin — based on whether she meets the weight limit of the individual airline — the carrier must fit under the seat in front of you.

It’s not advisable to use tranquilizers for dogs flying in cargo, although motion sickness medication may be a good idea for dogs who are susceptible. If your dog will be in the cabin, and you’re worried about barking, talk to your vet about anti-anxiety medication.

Dr. Nicholas recommends trying pheromone sprays called DAP (dog-appeasing pheromone). “That helps to soothe dogs and prevent anxiety,” he says.

For additional information about flying with your pet, the Air Transport Association, the trade group for the nation’s airlines, offers information on its website. Click on the "Air Travel for Your Pet" link. The ATA details how to prepare your pet for air travel, how to set up the carrier and even how to check on your pet en route.

When You May Want to Leave Your Pet at Home

If your dog has an ongoing medical problem, speak to your vet about how to handle any problem while on vacation — or if it would be better to keep her at home.

Once your pet gets the go-ahead for travel, make sure to pack a complete supply of her medications, as well as a copy of her medical history, just in case you need to visit a vet while you’re away.

Dr. Nicholas recommends not flying animals in cargo, if you can avoid it: Extreme temperatures, as well as pets who escape from their carriers, have led to some fatalities.

Certain airlines have even banned “short-nosed” breeds from flying in cargo, including Boxers, Bulldogs and Pugs who may experience difficulty breathing while in flight. Regardless of your pet’s pedigree, always check with your vet before booking any flight or hitting the road.

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