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News / Life / Pets & Wildlife

How to travel with your pet responsibly

Start with a check-up and keep well-being in mind

By Laurie Baratti, TravelPulse
Published: February 23, 2024, 6:18am

As recently as a decade or so ago, it was the norm for people to kennel their pets or, ideally, find a pet-sitter when they went away on vacation. Nowadays, I see Instagram reels of adventuresome cats hiking the backcountry with their owners unabashedly.

Meanwhile, hotels are increasingly adopting a “pets welcome” policy, so no one looks at me funny when I say I want to bring my dogs along on a trip.

While my animal cohorts and I might stick to the car simply for the sake of ease, plenty of people are flying with their furry friends, or bringing them aboard trains and, less commonly, boats. And although inviting along your four-legged family members can greatly enrich your trip, it also involves careful consideration, thorough preparation and overall great responsibility for each stage of the journey.

We’ve looked at studies and questioned pet experts to help illuminate some of the most common and complex issues that come with the decision to include a pet in your travel party — whether that’s camping during a domestic road trip or flying across international borders. After all, your animal companion’s health and happiness are just as important as the major logistical factors you’ll face during the trip-planning process.

Pre-trip health checks

On a very basic level, you should schedule a visit to your veterinarian before hitting the road or taking flight, just to ensure that they are healthy and current on their core vaccines. Depending upon the hazards that are present in your destination, you may wish to consider other inoculations, such as Leptospirosis, Lyme, Canine Influenza Virus Rattlesnake vaccines, says Nicole Savageau, a distinguished veterinarian with the national, in-home service, The Vets. You should also consistently administer any preventive medications, such as those for flea, tick and heartworm (transmitted by mosquito bite) prevention.

Be sure to carry your pets’ documentation, including vaccination records and medical history, with you during your trip. It’s also wise to research 24-hour emergency animal hospitals at your destination and have the information at the ready, because medical emergencies always seem to strike at the most inopportune times and, if something does happen, it’s difficult to remain clear-headed at that moment.

You can find listings of Veterinarians & Pet Emergency Hospitals in the United States on the American Animal Hospital Association website. With the rest of your pet’s paperwork, be sure to keep the National Animal Poison Control’s number (888-426-4435) handy, in case your pet should ingest something potentially toxic.

Booking pet travel

If you’re flying, you’ll need to make an airline reservation for your four-legged friend when you make one for yourself, since only a limited number of pets can be transported per flight. According to Gayle Martz, CEO and President of the Sherpa Pet Trading Company, and creator of the award-winning airline-approved “Sherpa” soft-sided pet carrier, you should also do your research to determine whether there are any special restrictions for pets that are flying in the passenger cabin.

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Just as important as contacting your airline or rail provider about their pet-related requirements and restrictions is reaching out to your intended accommodations—hotel, vacation rental property or campsite — about their pet policies. While plenty are billed as pet friendly, there are varying degrees of pet friendliness.

Many will have breed or weight restrictions, or charge additional fees or deposits for guests who plan on bringing their animal companions along during their stay. Some properties go out of their way to make pets welcome, with special amenities, menus, etc. available that cater specially to furry family members.

Pet travel requirements

What requirements need to be fulfilled for companion animals to travel across state borders or internationally? Such prerequisites are set by the destinations to which you’re traveling, but sometimes airlines have their own requirements that must be met, so be sure to check with your carrier, as well. When it comes to meeting such conditions, pet parents should realize that preparation (often well in advance) and proper timing is of the essence.

Why? Because a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (“health certificate”) which must be obtained from and signed by a federally accredited veterinarian, are only valid for a certain amount of time. Again, this largely depends upon your destination’s requirements, but the window is typically within 10 days of border crossing. You may also need additional documentation from your veterinarian attesting that your pet is up-to-date on required vaccinations.

USDA endorsement of the certificate can also be a provision for international travel. For more in-depth information on this subject, visit the American Veterinary Medical Association’s resources on Animal Travel and Transport, and Basic Timeline for Interstate and International Travel with Animals.

Note that the state of Hawaii and many foreign countries also have quarantine requirements for animals, meaning you’ll be separated from your pet and they will be kept in isolation for a pre-determined period. This can be an important consideration when it comes to deciding whether or not to bring a pet along on your trip. For information about the various pet travel requirements of your destination country, you should contact the Consulate or Embassy in that country and learn about their regulations.

Proper identification

It happens. Animals panic and escape from their carriers or handlers. In unfamiliar surroundings, they have no way of making their way back to their owners after they recover from whatever may have spooked them. Making sure that your pet travels in a secure, airline-approved carrier when flying, or remains on a leash while they’re out and about is a fundamental part of ensuring their safety. Even so, they should be wearing up-to-date ID and licensing tags, and really should be microchipped, as well.

When it comes to microchipping, the steps aren’t necessarily straightforward, so make sure that you’re getting the right sort implanted and — this is critical, but frequently overlooked — register the chip number using your current contact information. Without this step, a microchip is useless because it doesn’t work as a GPS locator as many owners seem to believe. The chip itself only transmits a unique number, detectable by a special scanner, and only once it is entered into a database and registered to the owner’s information does it become useful. If you’ve adopted a previously owned pet, contact the microchip company to re-register the chip with your information. Old and outdated owner contact information is equally useless.

It’s also important to pay attention to the type of microchip you’re having implanted. The usual kind that are used in the U.S. may not help you if your pet get lost abroad. In fact, some countries will require that pets receive an International Standards Organization-certified microchip just to enter their borders. Luckily, these days, many of the biggest pet microchip manufacturing companies are ensuring that their products are ISO-certified, and can therefore be scanned and recognized in other nations.

Prioritize well-being

Bringing your fur baby along on a getaway won’t be much fun for anyone if they are stressed out, and physically, mentally or emotionally off-kilter. Besides considering their basic health and safety, you’ll need to plan ahead to ensure their broader well-being by bringing along the things they need to feel safe and comfortable in unfamiliar surroundings.

First, says Martz, you can prepare your pet for being in their carrier well ahead of your trip by getting them comfortable around it. “At the very least, get the carrier a month before your trip, and work with your pet on creating a pleasant experience for them when they are in the carrier. Plan a few easy, short trips with them traveling in the carrier to places like a dog park so they get excited to go into the carrier.”