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How to Travel Safely with Your Pet

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Traveling with pets is becoming more and more popular. Today's dogs, and even some cats, are vacationing thanks to friendlier airlines, safety innovations, pet-friendly hotels, resorts, campsites, and restaurants with outdoor dining privileges.

Gregg Takashima, DVM, founder of the Parkway Veterinary Hospital in Portland, Ore., offers tips to keep pets safe while traveling:

By plane

In most cases, it's safe for your pet to travel  by plane if your vets give the OK. "Animals accustomed to traveling in a car, going out on walks and who are socialized tend to travel very well depending on their personalities,'' Takashima said.

Traveling internationally or even crossing state lines in a plane requires a health certificate from your vet. Additional ways to prepare:

  • Make sure vaccines (especially rabies) are up to date.
  • Consider an ID collar and a tag - even a microchip.

The trend nowadays is against sedation unless significant risks for pet injury exist. "Sedation can cause the pet to feel unstable and cause more fear,'' Takashima explained. "Cats tend to fly pretty well because they are usually allowed in the cabin in a cat carrier under the seat.''

Preparations for international travel with pets  can be complex and there may be extensive planning. Double check with the airlines and your destination's consulate to make sure you have the most up to date information about the papers you are required to bring.  Many documents for international travel require the signature of a certified USDA veterinarian which adds an additional step.  Pet travel companies, like travelpets.com, remove a lot of the guesswork. "It's very tedious to have to do the work yourself. You would have to start six months ahead of time,'' Takashima said.

By car

A few pointers for traveling safely with dogs in motor vehicles:

  • Have your dog always wear a specially designed dog seat belt or dog car harness in front and back seats.
  • Ensure adequate ventilation.
  • Never let your dog put its head outside the window, as this can lead to ear and eye injuries.
  • For cats, provide a good carrier, a place to sleep, and a safe place for the litter box. Make sure they cannot escape if the doors or windows accidentally open.

By boat

Some innovative products make boating and sailing with your dog reasonably safe. "There are dog life vests," Takashima said. "If they do fall overboard, you can pull them up.''

Dogs can also use puppy pads and artificial turf products for elimination. "Your pet can get acclimated fairly easily, but do that well ahead of time,'' Takashima said.

Basic tips

  • Make sure your pet is well groomed (not itchy or dirty).
  • Take along some comforts of home - bed, blanket, toys, litter box.
  • Rather than buying new types of food, carry your pet's familiar food from home when practical.
  • Carriers should be big enough for standing and turning around, with room for food and water.
  • Place absorbent towels on the carrier floor in case of accidents.
  • Have a pet first aid kit for emergencies.

Takashima's own dog sleeps in a carrier every night, even at home. "We turn off the television and he runs to his carrier. He's a good traveler,'' Takashima said.

Credit: Reviewed by Amy I. Attas, V.M.D.
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