As hotels and airlines begin to cater more to our four-legged friends, many people are starting to enjoy the benefits of traveling with a pet. Some hotels go as far as pampering our animals with personalized beds, gourmet treats, and turndown service. And several airlines even offer frequent flyer miles for the dog or cat who's always on the go. However, before you start planning a vacation, it's important to prepare yourself and your pet for the road ahead.
Know before you go
The first step in planning a trip with your animal is considering what's in it for him or her. Oftentimes, it's more practical to hire a sitter or board your pet, so you want to be certain that he or she is going to get just as much enjoyment out of the journey as you will.
Once you've decided to bring your pet along, you need to think about safety. While packing extra food, water (ice cubes work wonders), and favorite toys, it's wise to take a minute to locate the closest veterinarian to where you'll be staying. Healthy pet is an excellent resource, and is part of the American Animal Hospital Association. In just a few clicks, you can print a list of doctors and directions to have handy in case of an emergency. It's also a good idea to pack a basic first-aid kit for any journey.
Make sure you have a current ID tag with your pet at all times. Microchips are also a safe and secure way of keeping track of your pet, especially for those traveling to a foreign country. Pack a few extra color photos in the event that you get separated.
Before any big trip, by flight or car, it's important to familiarize your pet with its kennel, carrying case, or car seat. Start by introducing the animal to it for short periods, and then slowly increase the amount of time for each session. If flying, make sure your pet's kennel is up to standard, is accepted by the airline, and fits your pet comfortably.
Most pets rely on routine, so it's important to keep things as normal as possible. Robert D. "Jake" Tedaldi, D.V.M., winner of Boston Magazine's 2006 "Best of Boston" award for veterinarian, suggests that you, "Try to make the arrangements and transitions as stress-free as possible by attempting to reproduce the living experience your animal is already accustomed to." For instance, keeping a regular feeding and walking schedule wherever you go will help your pet feel more secure. It's also comforting for the animal to have familiar items such as a favorite toy or blanket.
A doctor's visit is imperative before any big trip. Make sure your pet is up-to-date with vaccinations, especially rabies, as they are legally required everywhere you go. Let your doctor know your destination, duration, and means of transportation to help them know the best way to keep your pet healthy.
A veterinarian may recommend sedation for a longer trip, especially for an animal that's anxious or aggressive. If you decide to sedate your pet, Dr. Tedaldi recommends taking "any sedatives you're planning to use on your pet for a 'test drive.'" That is, try the sedative well in advance when you have the time to observe your pet's full response to the medication. He adds, "This way you'll know what to expect when the day arrives. Everyone, including your pet will be less stressed as a result." In addition to a veterinarian's recommendations, it's wise to do your own research before making any final decisions.
For domestic flights, some airlines require a health certificate acquired within the previous 10 days. For international flights, it's wise to make an appointment with a doctor six months in advance, as different countries have different restrictions and requirements. Keep copies of your pet's records and an extra photo of your pet with you in a safe place while traveling.
The first step toward ensuring a comfortable flight is in the booking process, especially since many airlines have special requirements, and some don't even accept pets. Several airlines have also implemented a pet embargo that restricts animals from flying in cargo during extreme temperatures (over 85 degrees or under 35 degrees). For instance, Delta Airlines will not allow animals to fly as checked baggage from May 15 through September 15. Before booking any flights, be certain the airline has no special restrictions that will prevent your pet from flying. Also, consider booking a nonstop flight versus one with several layovers. This may be more expensive, but it's safer and less stressful for you and your pet.
Reservations are required for both cargo and carry-on passengers. Smaller pets (weight varies by airline) are allowed as carry-on, and are required to remain in their airline-approved cases under the seat in front of you for the duration of the flight. Many airlines only allow a certain number of animals in the cabin, so be certain your pet has a guaranteed place with you before you fly. Larger pets are required to fly in the cargo hold. If you're traveling with an animal in cargo, alert flight attendants, so they'll know who to grab first in case of an emergency. Be prepared to pay extra when flying with your pet, as many airlines charge a fee for each way, which can be as much as $250. Check with your airline for its specific rates and procedures.
Depending on the duration of the flight, many vets recommend withholding food six hours before departure and water two hours prior to take-off. It's also wise to exercise pets before putting them in their crates. Place a visible tag with your pet's name and emergency contact information on the side of its carrying case.
When taking a trip to Canada or Mexico, it's always important to familiarize yourself with the most current requirements for pet transport. If you have any questions or concerns regarding the procedures, contact the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency before hitting the road.
A valid rabies certificate is mandatory for crossing both borders, but Mexico also requires a health certificate issued within the last 72 hours. The pet may be inspected at either border for illness, but it's merely a formality and patience goes a long way. To return to the United States, pets over three months old must have a valid rabies certificate issued at least 30 days prior to travel. Pets are allowed on most ferries, but many require animals remain on vehicle decks or in a carrier at all times.
It's a good idea to bring extra unopened cans or bags of food. It's not uncommon for opened food to be discarded upon entrance, and it may not be so easy to replace immediately. On a recent trip to Victoria, British Columbia, my mother, Victoria Hamman, had her pet food confiscated by U.S. Customs. She said, "I'm sorry we didn't bring two smaller containers instead of one large one, because we had to search for a place to buy dog food once we arrived in Port Angeles later that night."
Hotels and camping
Finding pet-friendly accommodations is becoming easier, but it still requires a little prior planning. Make sure your chosen hotel accepts the size and type of pet you're bringing. Be aware that some hotels may charge an additional fee for your pet, so be sure to speak to the hotel directly to avoid any extra charges. Find pet-positive lodging through one of these helpful websites: Pets Welcome, Pet Friendly Travel, and Trips with Pets. On each site, you can search by exact location, and many offer lodging discounts.
For a place to stay on short notice, stop at one of these hotels known for welcoming pets: Red Roof Inn, Motel 6, or Days Inn. For a more luxurious experience, stay at one of the many Kimpton Hotels located across the country. Each hotel welcomes your pet as if he or she is a VIP guest, and many have special programs tailored for the two of you.
Another option for lodging along the road is staying at a KOA Campground. For a little less than a hotel, the campgrounds offer a fun retreat for you and your pet. If you decide to camp, be sure to talk to your vet about fleas, ticks, and other creepy crawlies you might want to vaccinate against. Also, be considerate of other campers by keeping your pet with you at all times.
Traveling with your pet should be an enriching experience, not a stressful one. By following these tips and preparing yourself for the unexpected, you will learn to enjoy taking him or her with you wherever you go.