Know Your Pet
The most important thing to think about when deciding to take your pet along on a trip is his own temperament.
Is your pet naturally calm or anxious? Does he bark at every movement in the backyard, or would he sleep through a home invasion?
Your pet’s personality is the greatest indicator of how well he will tolerate travel. If he tends to be nervous, subjecting him to changing environments may stress him out further. Extended crate time and airport baggage handling procedures can create enormous stress on an animal who simply can’t understand what’s going on.
Even long road trips can be difficult for an anxious pet. And not even the best road trip playlist can cover up the sound of Fluffy yowling in her cat carrier in the backseat.
But if travel is not a choice (or if Benji just loves to go along), here are a few tips to smooth the trip:
Keep Rover from Roving. It’s tempting to let your dog or cat roam freely around the car while you’re driving, but it’s really a bad idea. It’s dangerous, and in some states it’s illegal — you can be ticketed for having an unconfined animal in the vehicle. Note: the same goes for letting your dog ride loose in the bed of a pickup truck. Just don’t do it.
Furthermore, just like we humans wear seat belts to protect ourselves, you should always protect your pet from injury in case of an accident.
And even if there’s never a problem while you’re driving, the chances of him slipping out when you make a pit stop and bolting across a busy highway should be enough to realize the value of a safety harness, crate or kitty carrier.
Consider his needs. You are not Burt Reynolds and your road trip is not the Cannonball Run. True, pit stops will add a few minutes to your trip, but that time will far outweigh the misery (or even illness) that you might inflict on your poor pet by not stopping. While the change in routine and surroundings might stress him out and he might not eat, he still needs water and the chance to have some food.
Remember, too, his system is smaller than yours, so he needs to stop a little more often than you do. Make a point to stop every two hours, give him a chance to eat and drink, and then take him for a short walk to stretch and “do his business.”
Keep him occupied. Make sure he has a familiar toy to keep him comfortable and occupied during long stretches of confinement. Consider puzzle toys with a treat hidden inside to engage his mind.
Plan your itinerary carefully. Don’t pick the four-leg trip for your four-legged friend just because it’s $50 cheaper than the non-stop flight. Think about the stress of repeated takeoffs and the risk of missed connections.
Understand airlines’ policies and restrictions. Not only do airlines have complicated fee structures for flying with pets, they also restrict certain breeds and may refuse to transport your pet during certain times of year or when extreme temperatures are forecast. Research the policies fully and be sure to compare, as each airline’s policy is different.
“Package” your pet properly. Be certain to crate your pet in the smallest airline-approved pet carrier that will still allow him to stand and turn around. Contact the airline well in advance of your flight to reserve the flight for your pet and to make certain that you understand (and follow) all of their regulations. Those are in place to keep your pet safe and ensure that airline employees are able to care for your pet properly while he’s traveling.
Carrying on your pet. If your pet is small enough to stay with you in the cabin, remember that you still have to reserve space for him — you can’t just show up and stick him under your seat!! He will have to be in an airline approved, soft-sided carrier, and most airlines limit the number of pets allowed in the cabin on a single flight.
My pet is “special.” If you have a “unique” pet…a ferret, a snake, a hedgehog, a turtle, a lizard…be SURE to check airline restrictions. Most airlines only allow dogs or cats in the cabin. You do not want to show up at the gate, only to be told that Terry the Tarantula can’t come along. This is especially important if this is your child’s pet!!!!
Besides, imagine if one passenger brought his pet rat and the passenger across the aisle brought his pet snake. No one wants to see that in-flight movie!
Extreme Excursions – International Pet Travel
For international travel, all the above suggestions hold true…plus, you should make certain that you fully investigate the laws specific to your destination country regarding the importation of animals. While it might be possible to smuggle a pet chicken into Kenya, it’s probably not recommended!
Whatever your travel plans…
In the end, use common sense and good judgment when planning a trip with your pet. Consider him the way you would a small child—anticipate his needs, and meet them early and often.
And if you are honest with yourself and know that the trip would be too much for your pet, find a petsitter or a great doggy-spa for Rover to stay and play in his own hometown.
You might be wondering what happened to the two dogs waiting for their overbooked flight?
Back at the gate, the passengers began to board. As the gate agent cleared the last few people in line, the radio crackled again. “Ramp, go ahead and load those dogs!” (I was more relieved the dogs made it on than that I did!)