Travelling and moving to new locations can be exciting and stressful for humans as well as our pets. When deciding between driving or flying to your destination, here are a few things to consider, as well as how to make the trip as fear-free and comfortable for your pet as possible:
If your dog or cat doesn’t mind the car or the carrier, driving might not be a bad idea. You can stop as often as you need to, and they can take a break at night in a hotel room. Websites such as bringfido.com list pet-friendly hotels and vacation spots around the country. Most rest areas in the country are also pet friendly.
It is important to have your cat in a safe, secure spot during travel. In most cases, this will involve a carrier. Prior to travel day, get your cat used to going into the carrier. Leave it out for a few days so your cat can explore. Carriers that allow entry from the top and the front permit your cat to decide which entrance they prefer. Make sure the carrier is sturdy – sometimes nervous cats can break out of a flimsy carrier – so, no cardboard! Try putting some of your cat’s favorite toys and treats in the carrier to provide positive reinforcement and encouragement. It’s also a good idea to do some short trips prior to your big journey to allow your cat to get used to the carrier and the car.
- Some cats, especially larger cats, may feel more comfortable in a larger crate (i.e. a dog travel crate) so that they don’t feel cramped. I found this to be very helpful for my cat, who hated carriers. He was quite content on our cross-country drive to be in a larger crate, and he was even the hit of rest areas when he would walk around inside the car and perch on the armrest in the front seat to people-watch.
- Make sure the carrier or crate is properly secured on a non-slip surface in the vehicle so that it does not slide around during travel. Also, make sure there is a non-slip surface on the inside of the carrier so your kitty doesn’t slide around.
- Spray Feliway (a pheromone, available on Amazon or in pet shops) on a towel placed in the carrier, to provide some comfort for your kitty.
- Place some of your cat’s favorite toys in the carrier. Sometimes an article of your clothing will provide additional comfort.
- Cats often like to burrow, especially when they are nervous, so be sure to provide a soft, comfortable towel or blanket in the carrier.
- When carrying your cat out to the car, always make sure to pick the carrier up from the bottom, like a package, rather than by the handle, to offer stability. A swinging carrier can be very stressful for a cat!
- If your cat seems to be very nervous from unknown sounds and smells, covering the carrier with a towel during transport can provide a sense of security.
- Prepare the car for your cat’s arrival and comfort.
- About 15 minutes before bringing your cat to the car, spray a pheromone, such as Feliway, or a scent like diluted lavender, in the car.
- Play classical or “spa” music, or music composed specifically for cats and dogs (available on Amazon or pet websites) to create a calm environment.
- Allow your cat to acclimate to the surroundings of the car for 5-10 minutes before starting your drive.
- Be sure to pack a “cat bag” containing your cat’s food, water, bowls, toys, litter, litterbox, trash bags, paper towels, clean bedding or towels, identification (like pictures), medications, and important medical and vaccination records.
- For nervous cats, herbal remedies such as Anxitane or Xylkene, or Rescue Remedy may be helpful before or during the trip.
- Speak to your cat in calm soothing tones. Cats can pick up on our stressful feelings, so try to maintain a calm demeanor prior to and during travel.
- Strongly consider having your cat microchipped prior to travel, so they can be easily identified and returned to you if you become separated.
- Consider treating your cat with a flea and tick preventative prior to travel – you never know who was in that hotel room before you!
- If your cat is showing signs of carsickness or extreme anxiety after a couple of trial runs, talk to us about the safe use of medication.
As with cats, safety, and security are extremely important in the car. For small and medium-sized dogs, a large travel crate can provide a safe haven without them feeling cramped and trapped for hours on end. You can put some bedding in for comfort, as well as toys and treats. Seatbelt harnesses (available online) may offer safety and some mobility in the car for some dogs. Some SUV’s can be fitted with a barrier or a sling across the back seat that keeps pets safely in the back of the car. Try different methods to see which works best for your dog, prior to your travel date. Whichever method you select, make sure there is a safe, non-slip surface under the dog and carrier.
- Prepare the car for your dog’s arrival and comfort.
- About 15 minutes before bringing your dog to the car, spray a pheromone, such as Adaptil, or a scent like diluted lavender, in the car.
- Allow your dog to acclimate to the surroundings of the car for 5-10 minutes before starting your drive.
- Perform trial runs in the car for short distances, and reward your dog with some treats when you get back home to give them something to look forward to.
- Be sure to pack a “doggie bag” with food, water, bowls, collars, leashes, toys, clean bedding, paper towels, treats, trash bags, medications, identification (including pictures), and important medical and vaccination records.
- Treat your dog with a flea and tick preventative prior to travel – especially if you’re going to stay in hotels. You never know what pets were there before you.
- For nervous dogs, herbal remedies such as Anxitane or Xylkene, or Rescue Remedy may be helpful before or during the trip.
- Speak to your dog in calm soothing tones. Dogs can pick up on our stressful feelings, so try to maintain a calm demeanor prior to and during travel.
- Strongly consider having your dog microchipped prior to travel, so they can be easily identified and returned to you if you become separated. At the very least, make sure your dog is wearing its collar with ID tags.
- If your dog is prone to car sickness or extreme anxiety on car trips, talk to us about the safe use of medications to help reduce the fear of travel.
- Prepare the car for your dog’s arrival and comfort.
- If your pets are not great travelers, and you want to get them there quickly, flying might be a better option. It is important to get them used to the carrier before travel day. If possible, 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, but 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 non-slip 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 in flight!)
- Spray some Feliway or DAP (dog appeasing pheromone) in the carrier before leaving. Nowadays you can’t bring a spray can on the plane with you, so spray everything before you leave.
- Prepare a “pet bag” that contains extra bedding, paper towels, and a trash bag in case your pet has an accident in flight, as well as some food or treats, a small bowl, medications, leash and collar, important medical and vaccination records, and identification (including a picture).
- 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, usually within 10 days of flight.
- Be aware of regulations for international travel with your pet (see the article about International Pet Travel on our website). 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 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 within transit.
- Treat your pet for fleas and ticks prior to flying. Again, you never know what they may come in contact with during travel.
- Try to fly non-stop and try to fly in the early morning or late at night. There are usually fewer delays and fewer passengers.
- 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 onboard.
- 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.
- What about sedatives? With very rare exceptions, I do not recommend sedating pets for air travel. Every pet responds differently to medications. If your pet experiences an adverse reaction to sedation at 35,000 feet 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 pheromones (Feliway or DAP) to see if he “mellows out”. Sometimes herbal treatments like Rescue Remedy or Xylene or Anxitane can be beneficial in reducing travel anxiety. Motion sickness can be prevented with medications if needed. If things are still not going well, talk to us about medications to help relieve anxiety. But again, plan ahead so you know how to prepare.
- Three essential things to do before air 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.
Moving is definitely stressful for everyone. But if you plan ahead, and assess how the travel options fit in with your pet’s personality, you can all have an enjoyable, fear-free trip to your new destination!