At this time of year, lots of people are travelling and moving to new locations with their dogs and cats. But travel can be very stressful for our pets.

Many years ago when I was moving across country, my cat Salem knew something was amiss for weeks. When the day finally came to pack up and go, he put his feet down and said ‘no.’ He decided he liked it right where he was and went into hiding. In fact, his hiding place was so good, I couldn’t find him for 2 days. I looked everywhere humanly possible (but obviously not everywhere feline-ly possible!). I finally had to leave my parent’s house without him, and I was heartbroken! An hour after I pulled away, my mom called me to say Salem came out of hiding and was happy as a clam that he had eluded capture. We decided that I would go on my way and that mom would fly out with him once I was settled in my new home. Seemed like a plan. But you know what they say about the best laid plans…

When the time came for mom and Salem to fly out West, mom was able to get him into his airline approved crate (with a fight that mom still tells tales about !). As soon as the car pulled away, Salem let out a blood curdling scream and urinated and defecated all over himself and his crate. And they hadn’t even left our street yet. He cried all the way to the airport. At that time pets weren’t allowed to fly in the cabin, so he had to fly in the belly of the plane. I can only imagine how loud and bumpy it was down there, and how stressful it was for him. Let’s just say, when he arrived at the end of his journey, he was wide-eyed and VERY unhappy. He hid under the bed in our new home for 10 days, and refused to let me pet him for about 3 weeks. He was known to carry a grudge – and this was a big one.

Several years later, it was time to move back East. Flying was out of the question. So was the cat carrier in the car. What else could I do? I did a trial run with him just sitting in the car without the carrier to gauge his reaction. It took a few minutes, but he settled down. Then we did short driving trips, each time a little longer and a little farther. After about a week, he would happily go into the car and sprawl out on the back seat. And that’s how I got Salem across country. He just hated being confined and stressed. I put a litterbox on the floor of the back seat, left some food and water out for him, gave him his favorite toys, and he was content to sleep on his bed in the back seat all the way to New York. In fact, he was the hit of every rest area between CA and NY, because he would sit on the arm rest and people watch!

What did I learn from my experiences with Salem? I let him tell me how he was most comfortable travelling, and took it from there.

So here are a few things to consider when deciding between air travel and driving with your pet:

DRIVING

  • Consider the personality of your pets. If they don’t mind the car, or the carrier, driving might not be a bad idea. They can also get a break at night when you take them into the hotel room. Websites such as www.bringfido.com list pet friendly hotels and vacation spots around the country. Now, for safety reasons, I don’t advocate letting the cats roam around the car. I got lucky with Salem (and I was young and foolish!). But, you might consider getting a large dog crate, or a large travel crate that would provide a safe haven for the cats and small dogs without them being cramped and trapped for hours on end. You can put some bedding in there for comfort, as well as a small litterbox and toys and treats. There are also harnesses and seatbelts that might offer pets safety and mobility in the car. Some SUV’s can be fitted with a barrier that keeps pets safely in the back of the car.
  • Do trial runs in the car for short distances (and not to the vet!), and reward your pets with some treats when you get back home to give them something to look forward to.
  • Spraying phermones such as Feliway (for cats) or DAP (Dog Appeasing Phermone, for dogs) in the carrier, on the bedding , and in the car can help make the environment more comfortable and mellow for your pet.
  • Be sure to pack a “pet bag” with food, water, bowls, toys, clean bedding, paper towels, litter, litterbox, trash bags, and medications.
  • Treat your pets with a flea preventative prior to travel – especially if they’re going to stay in hotels. You never know what pets were there before you.

FLYING

  • If your pets are not great travelers, and you want to get them there quickly, flying might be a better option. If at all possible, get them used to the carrier before travel day. I recommend trying to fly with cats and small dogs in the cabin, rather than in the belly of the plane. Most airlines now allow a certain number of small pets to fly in the cabin, and you must reserve their slots ahead of time. Larger dogs will need to fly in special pet-friendly, pressurized areas of the plane. Be sure to bring a few things with you:
    • Place a sheepskin or other comfortable bedding in the bottom of the carrier, especially something that your pet can burrow under if she needs some security. (Exceptions are always made for pets that are chewers – we don’t want anyone eating the bedding!)
    • Spray some Feliway or DAP in the carrier before leaving. Nowadays you can’t bring a spray can on the plane with you. So spray everything before you leave. You might be able to douse a few towels or cotton balls with it and bring it with you in case you need to re-dose in flight.
    • Bring extra bedding, paper towels and a trash bag in case your pet has an accident in flight.
    • Place an article of your clothing in the carrier with your pet so there is a familiar scent.
  • Most airlines require a health certificate and rabies certificate prior to flying. If this is the case, your pet will need an exam within 10 days of flight.
  • Be aware of regulations for international travel with your pet. Some countries are very strict about paperwork prior to admission. Be sure to visit the USDA website: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/pet-travel as soon as you are considering international travel with your pet. It can take 6 months or more for all requirements to be made for travel to some countries!
  • Make sure your pet is up to date on at least the core vaccines (FVRCP and Rabies for cats, DHPP and Rabies for dogs) prior to flight – you never know who or what they may come in contact with in transit.
  • Treat your pet for fleas prior to flying. Again, you never know who or what they may come in contact with.
  • Try to fly non-stop and try to fly in the early morning or late night. There are usually fewer delays, and fewer passengers ( be prepared from some dirty looks from non-pet-lovers on the flight).
  • Don’t feed your pet for at least 6 hours before travel, in case she gets a little nauseous.
  • Make sure the carrier is airline approved, is labeled with your contact information, and is securely latched both in the terminal and on board.
  • Some airline terminals are equipped with quiet pet areas where your pet can walk around or relieve themselves prior to boarding the flight. Be sure to look for these areas and ask your airline.
  • If your pet does need to fly in the belly of the plane (again, not recommended for small pets, but sometimes a necessity), here are a few additional recommendations:
    • Check with your airline on restrictions. Some airlines will not let pets fly if the temperatures at the departure or arrival city are too high or too low. Sometimes you won’t find out until you get to the airport. So check this information before you leave.
    • Let a member of the flight crew or cockpit crew know that your pet is “down below.” The pet area is pressurized and temperature controlled. But in case of emergency, it’s never a bad idea for someone on the crew to have met you beforehand. On some aircraft, the crew might even be able to check on your pet in flight.

OTHER THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND

  • What about sedatives? With very rare exceptions, I do not recommend sedating pets for travel. Every pet responds differently to medications. If your pet experiences an adverse reaction to sedation at 35,000 feet or on a deserted stretch of highway, there is no way to help him. As part of your “planning ahead”, first see how your pet responds to the carrier and/or the car. Then try with phermones (Feliway or DAP) to see if he “mellows out”. Sometimes herbal treatments like Rescue Remedy can be beneficial in reducing travel anxiety. If things are still not going well, talk to us about “medical intervention.” But again, plan ahead so you know how to prepare.
  • Three essential things to do before travel: MICROCHIP, MICROCHIP, MICROCHIP ! It is imperative that your cat or dog can be quickly identified and returned to you in the event that something happens while travelling. Make sure the microchip company has your cell phone and another number on file so that they can reach you while travelling.
  • When looking for a new vet, ask for recommendations from your neighbors and co-workers. Internet searches and social media can also be good sources. You can also visit www.abvp.com for a list of board-certified canine and feline specialists your new area.

Moving is definitely stressful – for everyone. But if you plan ahead, and assess how the options fit in with your pet’s personality, you can all have the enjoyable trip that Salem wished he’d had.