It’s summer, which can only mean one thing: vacations. Be it a road trip, a foreign excursion or a cross-country trip to visit relatives, thousands of Americans are packing their luggage, shouting at their other half, and trying to remember whether or not they’ve turned the oven off. For many pet owners, however, vacations aren’t as simple as bundling clothes into a bag and heading for the airport. If you have a cat, dog, or any other variety of creature living with you, a dilemma presents itself. Do you take your pet with you, or leave them in either a kennel or at home to be looked after by a friend?
If you choose the former option, and decide to travel with your pet, be prepared to face some big hurdles. Traveling with pets is a potential minefield of problems, but, if you’re dedicated to bringing them, with careful research and attention paid to the welfare of your pet, it can be somewhat manageable. We’re here to streamline the travel process, offering some essential tips that every would-be traveler needs to know.
For starters, if you’re traveling by car, make sure your pet is secure. If you have a dog or cat, don’t be tempted to let them roam around the car. Dogs may look adorable as they stare out of the window, and the thought of spending a long road trip with your cat curled up on your lap may fill you with fuzzy warmth, but the reality is that you’re putting both yours and your pet’s life at risk. The safest way for any pet to travel is in a crate or carrier. Line the carrier to make sure they’re comfortable, and include any snacks if you want to make sure they have something to nibble on, but above all secure the carrier to something to stop it from sliding around. There are seatbelts marketed as working for pets, but they aren’t guaranteed and, in the event of a crash, a loose pet can become a heavy missile which can injure or kill you and your passengers, as well as the pet itself. The same applies for airbags — they’re designed for humans, so keep all pets in the back of the car to prevent an activating airbag from injuring them.
If you choose to ignore these warnings, at the very least don’t let your dog hang its head out of the window. It may look cute, but you’re leaving it susceptible to having pieces of debris forced into its lungs due to the rush of the air as you drive. Your dog could easily get sick from this, and that’s going to ruin any vacation. Instead, make sure they get some fresh air and exercise with regular pit stops. You may not need to pee or get a fresh drink, but your pet will need to stretch its legs and use an outdoor bathroom. Just be aware to keep any pet on a leash or collar — you’ll be somewhere unfamiliar and they’ll be curious to roam and explore.
The last advice for traveling by car is simple: never leave your pet unattended in the car. The Humane Society warns that, while you may not think you’re gone for long, the effect on your pet could be devastating. On a 72-degree day, your car can rise to 116 degrees in an hour. Bump the exterior temp up to 85 and your car interior will break 100 degrees within ten minutes. Stop off for a coffee and a snack? In half an hour, your pet will be facing 120 degrees and potential organ damage or death. Don’t risk it, take them with you whenever possible.
Air travel is an entirely different ballgame. For starters, you’ll need to check the rules of your chosen airline to see if they’ll even allow pets to travel with you. Many will require health certificates confirming your pet’s ability to make the journey, and there could be other rules and regulations limiting travel that you don’t want to face at the airport. United Airlines, for instance, will allow small animals to travel in the cabin with owners, but they must remain in their carrier and be placed under the seat in front for the duration of the flight. However, if you’re flying First or Business class, only one pet is allowed per plane, so you’ll need to make sure you’re not bringing more than one pet if you’re upgrading to a nicer cabin. (Economy cabins are allowed to accommodate a maximum of four pets.) For pets too large to travel in the cabin, United offers PetSafe, which will deliver your pet to your destination with specific drop-off and pick-up locations. Of course, it comes with even more restrictions, as only certain types of animals and breeds are allowed, and regardless of whether your pet flies in the cabin with you or in the hold, there are countries — such as Australia — which won’t let you bring an animal, regardless of what type. This is just one airline — these rules won’t apply elsewhere, and many airlines won’t allow animals but instead will ask you to ship your pet via another service, such as IAG Cargo.
Traveling by plane adds more stress for your pet, including the fact that they’ll need to fast before traveling to ensure they don’t need the bathroom in flight. A dog defecating in First Class is guaranteed to get you more than a few dirty looks from your fellow passengers. If you’re determined to fly with your pet, make sure to remain as calm as possible — your stress will affect your pet — and, once you reach your destination, make sure to let your pet get some exercise as soon as possible.
Of course, check any destination you are traveling to, such as a hotel or cruise ship, as these will also prevent their own problems with regards pet accessibility. Many hotels don’t allow pets, and it’s a similar story for cruise ships unless they’re confined to a cabin or kennel. If your pet can come, be aware that the new sights, sounds and smells of your vacation can be disorienting to them, so make sure to pay extra attention to their condition.
Of course, there’s one easy tip for would-be pet travelers: don’t bring them. Seriously, just leave them behind. Think how stressful traveling can be for humans, and then imagine an animal that has no idea why it’s been removed from its home and taken to an unknown and unfamiliar setting. It may feel difficult to leave your pet behind, but they’re likely to be better for it. Find an excellent kennel nearby, where your pet will be cared for by experienced helpers, or get a friend or neighbor to look after them in your house — which will help them feel more at ease with your absence.
Every time you hear a crying baby on a plane and wish the parent had left them at home? Every rowdy teen causing noise in the hotel room next to you? That’s going to be your pet. Take one for the team and leave them at home. You’ll enjoy your vacation even more.